Theosophia / Theosophy / Divine Wisdom / The Secret Doctrine / Gupta Vidya
“Theosophy, in its abstract meaning, is Divine Wisdom, or the aggregate of the knowledge and wisdom that underlie the Universe ― the homogeneity of eternal GOOD; and in its concrete sense it is the sum total of the same as allotted to man by nature, on this earth,”
“Theosophy is the shoreless ocean of universal truth, love, and wisdom, reflecting its radiance on the earth.”
“Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent.”
“Theosophy . . . is the fixed eternal sun, and its Society the evanescent comet trying to settle in an orbit to become a planet, ever revolving within the attraction of the sun of truth. It was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities.”
— H.P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy
“. . . the essence of Theosophy is the perfect harmonizing of the divine with the human in man, the adjustment of his god-like qualities and aspirations, and their sway over the terrestrial or animal passions in him. Kindness, absence of every ill feeling or selfishness, charity, goodwill to all beings, and perfect justice to others as to oneself, are its chief features. He who teaches Theosophy preaches the gospel of goodwill; and the converse of this is true also — he who preaches the gospel of goodwill, teaches Theosophy.”
— H.P. Blavatsky, Letters to the American Conventions
“The Secret Doctrine is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system: e.g., even in the exotericism of the Puranas. But such is the mysterious power of Occult symbolism, that the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs. The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated into the very kernel of matter, and recorded the soul of things there, where an ordinary profane, however learned, would have perceived but the external work of form. But modern science believes not in the “soul of things,” and hence will reject the whole system of ancient cosmogony. It is useless to say that the system in question is no fancy of one or several isolated individuals. That it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another, of the teachings of higher and exalted beings, who watched over the childhood of Humanity. That for long ages, the “Wise Men” of the Fifth Race, of the stock saved and rescued from the last cataclysm and shifting of continents, had passed their lives in learning, not teaching. How did they do so? It is answered: by checking, testing, and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts; i.e., men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic, and spiritual organisations to the utmost possible degree. No vision of one adept was accepted till it was checked and confirmed by the visions — so obtained as to stand as independent evidence — of other adepts, and by centuries of experiences.”
— H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol I, pp. 272-73
“It is now very difficult to say what was the real ancient Aryan doctrine. If an enquirer were to attempt to answer it by an analysis and comparison of all the various systems of esotericism prevailing in India, he will soon be lost in a maze of obscurity and uncertainty. No comparison between our real Brahmanical and the Tibetan esoteric doctrines will be possible unless one ascertains the teachings of that so-called “Aryan doctrine,” . . . and fully comprehends the whole range of the ancient Aryan philosophy. Kapila’s “Sankhya,” Patañjali’s “Yog philosophy,” the different systems of “Saktaya” philosophy, the various Agamas and Tantras are but branches of it. There is a doctrine though, which is their real foundation and which is sufficient to explain the secrets of these various systems of philosophy and harmonize their teachings. It probably existed long before the Vedas were compiled, and it was studied by our ancient Rishis in connotation with the Hindu scriptures. It is attributed to one mysterious personage called Maha. . . . . . . . . .
The Upanishads and such portions of the Vedas as are not chiefly devoted to the public ceremonials of the ancient Aryans are hardly intelligible without some knowledge of that doctrine. Even the real significance of the grand ceremonials referred to in the Vedas will not be perfectly apprehended without its light being thrown upon them.”
—T. Subba Row, “The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principles in Man“, Theosophist, January, 1882
From the writings of H. P. Blavatsky
What is Theosophy?
WHAT IS THEOSOPHY?
According to lexicographers, the term theosophia is composed of two Greek words–theos, “god,” and sophos, “wise.” So far, correct. But the explanations that follow are far from giving a clear idea of Theosophy. Webster defines it most originally as “a supposed intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment of superhuman knowledge, by physical processes, as by the theurgic operations of some ancient Platonists, or by the chemical processes of the German fire-philosophers.”
This, to say the least, is a poor and flippant explanation. To attribute such ideas to men like Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, Proclus–shows either intentional misrepresentation, or Mr. Webster’s ignorance of the philosophy and motives of the greatest geniuses of the later Alexandrian School. To impute to those whom their contemporaries as well as posterity styled “theodidaktoi,” god-taught–a purpose to develop their psychological, spiritual perceptions by “physical processes,” is to describe them as materialists. As to the concluding fling at the fire-philosophers, it rebounds from them to fall home among our most eminent modern men of science; those, in whose mouths the Rev. James Martineau places the following boast: “matter is all we want; give us atoms alone, and we will explain the universe.”
Vaughan offers a far better, more philosophical definition. “A Theosophist,” he says–“is one who gives you a theory of God or the works of God, which has not revelation, but an inspiration of his own for its basis.” In this view every great thinker and philosopher, especially every founder of a new religion, school of philosophy, or sect, is necessarily a Theosophist. Hence, Theosophy and Theosophists have existed ever since the first glimmering of nascent thought made man seek instinctively for the means of expressing his own independent opinions.
There were Theosophists before the Christian era, notwithstanding that the Christian writers ascribe the development of the Eclectic theosophical system to the early part of the third century of their Era. Diogenes Laertius traces Theosophy to an epoch antedating the dynasty of the Ptolemies; and names as its founder an Egyptian Hierophant called Pot-Amun, the name being Coptic and signifying a priest consecrated to Amun, the god of Wisdom. But history shows it revived by Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic School. He and his disciples called themselves “Philalethians”–lovers of the truth; while others termed them the “Analogists,” on account of their method of interpreting all sacred legends, symbolical myths and mysteries, by a rule of analogy or correspondence, so that events which had occurred in the external world were regarded as expressing operations and experiences of the human soul. It was the aim and purpose of Ammonius to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith–a belief in one Supreme Eternal, Unknown, and Unnamed Power, governing the Universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which at the beginning was essentially alike in all countries; to induce all men to lay aside their strifes and quarrels, and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions, by degrees corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element, by uniting and expounding them upon pure philosophical principles. Hence, the Buddhistic, Vedantic and Magian, or Zoroastrian, systems were taught in the Eclectic Theosophical School along with all the philosophies of Greece. Hence also, the preeminently Buddhistic and Indian feature among the ancient Theosophists and Alexandria, of due reverence for parents and aged persons; a fraternal affection for the whole human race; and a compassionate feeling for even the dumb animals. While seeking to establish a system of moral discipline which enforced upon people the duty to live according to the laws of their respective countries; to exalt their minds by the research and contemplation of the one Absolute Truth; his chief object in order, as he believed, to achieve all others, was to extract from the various religious teachings, as from a many-chorded instrument, one full and harmonious melody, which would find response in every truth-loving heart.
Theosophy is, then, the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization. This “Wisdom” all the old writings show us as an emanation of the divine Principle; and the clear comprehension of it is typified in such names as the Indian Buddh, the Babylonian Nebo, the Thoth of Memphis, the Hermes of Greece; in the appellations, also, of some goddesses–Metis, Neitha, Athena, the Gnostic Sophia, and finally the Vedas, from the word “to know.” Under this designation, all the ancient philosophers of the East and West, the Hierophants of old Egypt, the Rishis of Aryavart, the Theodidaktoi of Greece, included all knowledge of things occult and essentially divine. The Mercavah of the Hebrew Rabbis, the secular and popular series, were thus designated as only the vehicle, the outward shell which contained the higher esoteric knowledge. The Magi of Zoroaster received instruction and were initiated in the caves and secret lodges of Bactria; the Egyptian and Grecian hierophants had their apporrheta, or secret discourses, during which the Mysta became an Epopta–a Seer.
The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a simple Supreme Essence, Unknown and Unknowable–for–“How could one know the knower?” as enquires Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Their system was characterized by three distinct features: the theory of the above-named Essence; the doctrine of the human soul–an emanation from the latter, hence of the same nature; and its theurgy. It is this last science which has led the Neo-Platonists to be so misrepresented in our era of materialistic science. Theurgy being essentially the art of applying the divine powers of man to the subordination of the blind forces of nature, its votaries were first termed magicians–a corruption of the word “Magh,” signifying a wise, or learned man, and–derided. Skeptics of a century ago would have been as wide of the mark if they had laughed at the idea of a phonograph or telegraph. The ridiculed and the “infidels” of one generation generally become the wise men and saints of the next.
As regards the Divine essence and the nature of the soul and spirit, modern Theosophy believes now as ancient Theosophy did. The popular Diu of the Aryan nations was identical with the Iao of the Chaldeans, and even with the Jupiter of the less learned and philosophical among the Romans; and it was just as identical with the Jahve of the Samaritans, the Tiu or “Tiusco” of the Northmen, the Duw of the Britains, and the Zeus of the Thracians. As to the Absolute Essence, the One and all–whether we accept the Greek Pythagorean, the Chaldean Kabalistic, or the Aryan philosophy in regard to it, it will lead to one and the same result. The Primeval Monad of the Pythagorean system, which retires into darkness and is itself Darkness (for human intellect) was made the basis of all things; and we can find the idea in all its integrity in the philosophical systems of Leibnitz and Spinoza. Therefore, whether a Theosophist agrees with the Kabala which, speaking of En-Soph propounds the query: “Who, then, can comprehend It since It is formless, and Non-existent?”–or, remembering that magnificent hymn from the Rig-Veda (Hymn 129th, Book 10th)–enquires:
“Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
Whether his will created or was mute.
He knows it–or perchance even He knows not;”
or again, accepts the Vedantic conception of Brahma, who in the Upanishads is represented as “without life, without mind, pure,” unconscious, for–Brahma is “Absolute Consciousness”; or, even finally, siding with the Svabhâvikas of Nepaul, maintains that nothing exists but “Svabhâvât” (substance or nature) which exists by itself without any creator; any one of the above conceptions can lead but to pure and absolute Theosophy–that Theosophy which prompted such men as Hegel, Fichte and Spinoza to take up the labors of the old Grecian philosophers and speculate upon the One Substance–the Deity, the Divine All proceeding from the Divine Wisdom–incomprehensible, unknown and unnamed–by any ancient or modern religious philosophy, with the exception of Christianity and Mohammedanism. Every Theosophist, then, holding to a theory of the Deity “which has not revelation, but an inspiration of his own for its basis,” may accept any of the above definitions or belong to any of these religions, and yet remain strictly within the boundaries of Theosophy. For the latter is belief in the Deity as the ALL, the source of all existence, the infinite that cannot be either comprehended or known, the universe alone revealing It, or, as some prefer it, Him, thus giving a sex to that, to anthropomorphize which is blasphemy. True, Theosophy shrinks from brutal materialization; it prefers believing that, from eternity retired within itself, the Spirit of the Deity neither wills nor creates; but that, from the infinite effulgency everywhere going forth from the Great Centre, that which produces all visible and invisible things, is but a Ray containing in itself the generative and conceptive power, which, in its turn, produces that which the Greeks called Macrocosm, the Kabalists Tikkun or Adam Kadmon–the archetypal man, and the Aryans Purusha, the manifested Brahm, or the Divine Male. Theosophy believes also in the Anastasis or continued existence, and in transmigration (evolution) or a series of changes in the soul1 which can be defended and explained on strict philosophical principles; and only by making a distinction between Paramâtma (transcendental, supreme soul) and Jivâtmâ (animal, or conscious soul) of the Vedantins.
To fully define Theosophy, we must consider it under all its aspects. The interior world has not been hidden from all by impenetrable darkness. By that higher intuition acquired by Theosophia–or God-knowledge, which carried the mind from the world of form into that of formless spirit, man has been sometimes enabled in every age and every country to perceive things in the interior or invisible world. Hence, the “Samadhi,” or Dyan Yog Samadhi, of the Hindu ascetics; the “Daimonion-photi,” or spiritual illumination of the Neo-Platonists; the “sidereal confabulation of soul,” of the Rosicrucians or Fire-philosophers; and, even the ecstatic trance of mystics and of the modern mesmerists and spiritualists, are identical in nature, though various as to manifestation. The search after man’s diviner “self,” so often and so erroneously interpreted as individual communion with a personal God, was the object of every mystic, and belief in its possibility seems to have been coeval with the genesis of humanity, each people giving it another name. Thus Plato and Plotinus call “Noëtic work” that which the Yogin and the Shrotriya term Vidya. “By reflection, self-knowledge and intellectual discipline, the soul can be raised to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty–that is, to the Vision of God–this is the epopteia,” said the Greeks. “To unite one’s soul to the Universal Soul,” says Porphyry, “requires but a perfectly pure mind. Through self-contemplation, perfect chastity, and purity of body, we may approach nearer to It, and receive, in that state, true knowledge and wonderful insight.” And Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who has read neither Porphyry nor other Greek authors, but who is a thorough Vedic scholar, says in his Veda Bháshya (opasna prakaru ank. 9)–“To obtain Diksh (highest initiation) and Yog, one has to practise according to the rules . . . The soul in human body can perform the greatest wonders by knowing the Universal Spirit (or God) and acquainting itself with the properties and qualities (occult) of all the things in the universe. A human being (a Dikshit or initiate) can thus acquire a power of seeing and hearing at great distances.” Finally, Alfred R. Wallace, F.R.S., a spiritualist and yet a confessedly great naturalist, says, with brave candour: “It is ‘spirit’ that alone feels, and perceives, and thinks–that acquires knowledge, and reasons and aspires . . . there not unfrequently occur individuals so constituted that the spirit can perceive independently of the corporeal organs of sense, or can perhaps, wholly or partially, quit the body for a time and return to it again . . . the spirit . . . communicates with spirit easier than with matter.” We can now see how, after thousands of years have intervened between the age of Gymnosophists2 and our own highly civilized era, notwithstanding, or, perhaps, just because of such an enlightenment which pours its radiant light upon the psychological as well as upon the physical realms of nature, over twenty millions of people today believe, under a different form, in those same spiritual powers that were believed in by the Yogins and the Pythagoreans, nearly 3,000 years ago. Thus, while the Aryan mystic claimed for himself the power of solving all the problems of life and death, when he had once obtained the power of acting independently of his body, through the Atmân–“self,” or “soul”; and the old Greeks went in search of Atmu–the Hidden one, or the God-Soul of man, with the symbolical mirror of the Thesmophorian mysteries;–so the spiritualists of today believe in the faculty of the spirits, or the souls of the disembodied persons, to communicate visibly and tangibly with those they loved on earth. And all these, Aryan Yogins, Greek philosophers, and modern spiritualists, affirm that possibility on the ground that the embodied soul and its never embodied spirit–the real self, are not separated from either the Universal Soul or other spirits by space, but merely by the differentiation of their qualities; as in the boundless expanse of the universe there can be no limitation. And that when this difference is once removed–according to the Greeks and Aryans by abstract contemplation, producing the temporary liberation of the imprisoned Soul; and according to spiritualists, through mediumship–such an union between embodied and disembodied spiritst becomes possible. Thus was it that Patanjali’s Yogins and, following in their steps, Plotinus, Porphyry and other Neo-Platonists, maintained that in their hours of ecstasy, they had been united to, or rather become as one with God, several times during the course of their lives. This idea, erroneous as it may seem in its application to the Universal Spirit, was, and is, claimed by too many great philosophers to be put aside as entirely chimerical. In the case of the Theodidaktoi, the only controvertible point, the dark spot on this philosophy of extreme mysticism, was its claim to include that which is simply ecstatic illumination, under the head of sensuous perception. In the case of the Yogins, who maintained their ability to see Iswara “face to face,” this claim was successfully overthrown by the stern logic of Kapila. As to the similar assumption made for their Greek followers, for a long array of Christian ecstatics, and, finally, for the last two claimants to “God-seeing” within these last hundred years–Jacob Böhme and Swedenborg–this pretension would and should have been philosophically and logically questioned, if a few of our great men of science who are spiritualists had had more interest in the philosophy than in the mere phenomenalism of spiritualism.
The Alexandrian Theosophists were divided into neophytes, initiates, and masters, or hierophants; and their rules were copied from the ancient Mysteries of Orpheus, who, according to Herodotus, brought them from India. Ammonius obligated his disciples by oath not to divulge his higher doctrines, except to those who were proved thoroughly worthy and initiated, and who had learned to regard the gods, the angels, and the demons of other peoples, according to the esoteric hyponia, or under-meaning. “The gods exist, but they are not what the hoi polloi, the uneducated multitude, suppose them to be,” says Epicurus. “He is not an atheist who denies the existence of the gods whom the multitude worship, but he is such who fastens on these gods the opinions of the multitude.” In his turn, Aristotle declares that of the “Divine Essence pervading the whole world of nature, what are styled the gods are simply the first principles.”
Plotinus, the pupil of the “God-taught” Ammonius, tells us that the secret gnosis or the knowledge of Theosophy, has three degrees–opinion, science, and illumination. “The means or instrument of the first is sense, or perception; of the second, dialectics; of the third, intuition. To the last, reason is subordinate; it is absolute knowledge, founded on the identification of the mind with the object known.” Theosophy is the exact science of psychology, so to say; it stands in relation to natural, uncultivated mediumship, as the knowledge of a Tyndall stands to that of a school-boy in physics. It develops in man a direct beholding; that which Schelling denominates “a realization of the identity of subject and object in the individual”; so that under the influence and knowledge of hyponia man thinks divine thoughts, views all things as they really are, and, finally, “becomes recipient of the Soul of the World,” to use one of the finest expressions of Emerson. “I, the imperfect, adore my own perfect”–he says in his superb Essay on the Oversoul. Besides this psychological, or soul-state, Theosophy cultivated every branch of sciences and arts. It was thoroughly familiar with what is now commonly known as mesmerism. Practical theurgy or “ceremonial magic,” so often resorted to in their exorcisms by the Roman Catholic clergy–was discarded by the theosophists. It is but Iamblichus alone who, transcending the other Eclectics, added to Theosophy the doctrine of Theurgy. When ignorant of the true meaning of the esoteric divine symbols of nature, man is apt to miscalculate the powers of his soul, and, instead of communing spiritually and mentally with the higher, celestial beings, the good spirits (the gods of the theurgists of the Platonic school), he will unconsciously call forth the evil, dark powers which lurk around humanity–the undying, grim creations of human crimes and vices–and thus fall from theurgia (white magic) into göetia (or black magic, sorcery). Yet, neither white, nor black magic are what popular superstition understands by the terms. The possibility of “raising spirits” according to the key of Solomon, is the height of superstition and ignorance. Purity of deed and thought can alone raise us to an intercourse “with the gods” and attain for us the goal we desire. Alchemy, believed by so many to have been a spiritual philosophy as well as physical science, belonged to the teachings of the theosophical school.
It is a noticeable fact that neither Zoroaster, Buddha, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Confucius, Socrates, nor Ammonius Saccas, committed anything to writing. The reason for it is obvious. Theosophy is a double-edged weapon and unfit for the ignorant or the selfish. Like every ancient philosophy it has its votaries among the moderns; but, until late in our own days, its disciples were few in numbers, and of the most various sects and opinions. “Entirely speculative, and founding no school, they have still exercised a silent influence upon philosophy; and no doubt, when the time arrives, many ideas thus silently propounded may yet give new directions to human thought”–remarks Mr. Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie IXo . . . himself a mystic and a Theosophist, in his large and valuable work, The Royal Masonic Cycloepædia (articles Theosophical Society of New York and Theosophy, p. 731).3 Since the days of the fire-philosophers, they had never formed themselves into societies, for, tracked like wild beasts by the Christian clergy, to be known as a Theosophist often amounted, hardly a century ago, to a death-warrant. The statistics show that, during a period of 150 years, no less than 90,000 men and women were burned in Europe for alleged witchcraft. In Great Britain only, from A.D. 1640 to 1660, but twenty years, 3,000 persons were put to death for compact with the “Devil.” It was but late in the present century–in 1875–that some progressed mystics and spiritualists, unsatisfied with the theories and explanations of Spiritualism, started by its votaries, and finding that they were far from covering the whole ground of the wide range of phenomena, formed at New York, America, an association which is now widely known as the Theosophical Society. And now, having explained what is Theosophy, we will, in a separate article, explain what is the nature of our Society, which is also called the “Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.”
—Theosophist, October, 1879
1 In a series of articles entitled “The World’s Great Theosophists,” we intend showing that from Pythagoras, who got his wisdom in India, down to our best known modern philosophers and theosophists–David Hume, and Shelley, the English poet–the Spiritists of France included–many believed and yet believe in metempsychosis or reincarnation of the soul; however unelaborated the system of the Spiritists may fairly be regarded.
2 The reality of the Yog-power was affirmed by many Greek and Roman writers, who call the Yogins Indian Gymnosophists; by Strabo, Lucan, Plutarch, Cicero (Tusculum), Pliny (vii,2), etc.
3 The Royal Masonic Cycloepædia of History, Rites, Symbolism, and Biography. Edited by Kenneth R. H. Mackenzie IXo (Cryptonymous), Hon. Member of the Canongate KD-winning Lodge, No. 2, Scotland. New York, J. W. Bouton, 706 Broadway, 1877.
Is Theosophy a Religion?
Is Theosophy A Religion?
“Religion is the best armour that man can have,
but it is the worst cloak.” –BUNYAN
IT is no exaggeration to say that there never was–during the present century, at any rate–a movement, social or religious, so terribly, nay, so absurdly misunderstood, or more blundered about than THEOSOPHY–whether regarded theoretically as a code of ethics, or practically, in its objective expression, i.e., the Society known by that name.
Year after year, and day after day had our officers and members to interrupt people speaking of the theosophical movement by putting in more or less emphatic protests against theosophy being referred to as a “religion,” and the Theosophical Society as a kind of church or religious body. Still worse, it is as often spoken of as a “new sect”! Is it a stubborn prejudice, an error, or both? The latter, most likely. The most narrow-minded and even notoriously unfair people are still in need of a plausible pretext, of a peg on which to hang their little uncharitable remarks and innocently-uttered slanders. And what peg is more solid for that purpose, more convenient than an “ism” or a “sect.” The great majority would be very sorry to be disabused and finally forced to accept the fact that theosophy is neither. The name suits them, and they pretend to be unaware of its falseness. But there are others, also, many more or less friendly people, who labour sincerely under the same delusion. To these, we say: Surely the world has been hitherto sufficiently cursed with the intellectual extinguishers known as dogmatic creeds, without having inflicted upon it a new form of faith! Too many already wear their faith, truly, as Shakespeare puts it, “but as the fashion of his hat,” ever changing “with the next block.” Moreover, the very raison d’être of the Theosophical Society was, from its beginning, to utter a loud protest and lead an open warfare against dogma or any belief based upon blind faith.
It may sound odd and paradoxical, but it is true to say that, hitherto, the most apt workers in practical theosophy, its most devoted members were those recruited from the ranks of agnostics and even of materialists. No genuine, no sincere searcher after truth can ever be found among the blind believers in the “Divine Word,” let the latter be claimed to come from Allah, Brahma or Jehovah, or their respective Kuran, Purana and Bible. For:
He who believes his own religion on faith, will regard that of every other man as a lie, and hate it on that same faith. Moreover, unless it fetters reason and entirely blinds our perceptions of anything outside our own particular faith, the latter is no faith at all, but a temporary belief, the delusion we labour under, at some particular time of life. Moreover, “faith without principles is but a flattering phrase for willful positiveness or fanatical bodily sensations,” in Coleridge’s clever definition.
What, then, is Theosophy, and how may it be defined in its latest presentation in this closing portion of the XIXth century?
Theosophy, we say, is not a Religion.
Yet there are, as everyone knows, certain beliefs, philosophical, religious and scientific, which have become so closely associated in recent years with the word “Theosophy” that they have come to be taken by the general public for theosophy itself. Moreover, we shall be told these beliefs have been put forward, explained and defended by those very Founders who have declared that Theosophy is not a Religion. What is then the explanation of this apparent contradiction? How can a certain body of beliefs and teachings, an elaborate doctrine, in fact, be labelled “Theosophy” and be tacitly accepted as “Theosophical” by nine-tenths of the members of the T.S., if Theosophy is not a Religion?–we are asked.
To explain this is the purpose of the present protest.
It is perhaps necessary, first of all, to say, that the assertion that “Theosophy is not a Religion,” by no means excludes the fact that “Theosophy is Religion” itself. A Religion in the true and only correct sense, is a bond uniting men together–not a particular set of dogmas and beliefs. Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning is that which binds not only all MEN, but also all BEINGS and all things in the entire Universe into one grand whole. This is our theosophical definition of religion; but the same definition changes again with every creed and country, and no two Christians even regard it alike. We find this in more than one eminent author. Thus Carlyle defined the Protestant Religion in his day, with a remarkable prophetic eye to this ever-growing feeling in our present day, as:
For the most part a wise, prudential feeling, grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others now are, of expediency and utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus religion, too, is profit, a working for wages; not reverence, but vulgar hope or fear.
In her turn Mrs. Stowe, whether consciously or otherwise, seemed to have had Roman Catholicism rather than Protestantism in her mind, when saying of her heroine that:
Religion she looked upon in the light of a ticket (with the correct number of indulgences bought and paid for), which, being once purchased and snugly laid away in a pocket-book, is to be produced at the celestial gate, and thus secure admission to heaven. . . .
But to Theosophists (the genuine Theosophists are here meant) who accept no mediation by proxy, no salvation through innocent bloodshed, nor would they think of “working for wages” in the One Universal religion, the only definition they could subscribe to and accept in full is one given by Miller. How truly and theosophically he describes it, by showing that
. . . true Religion
Is always mild, propitious and humble;
Plays not the tyrant, plants no faith in blood,
Nor bears destruction on her chariot wheels;
But stoops to polish, succour and redress,
And builds her grandeur on the public good.
The above is a correct definition of what true theosophy is, or ought to be. (Among the creeds Buddhism alone is such a true heart-binding and men-binding philosophy, because it is not a dogmatic religion. ) In this respect, as it is the duty and task of every genuine theosophist to accept and carry out these principles, Theosophy is RELIGION, and the Society its one Universal Church; the temple of Solomon’s wisdom,* in building which “there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was building” (I Kings, vi.); for this “temple” is made by no human hand, nor built in any locality on earth–but, verily, is raised only in the inner sanctuary of man’s heart wherein reigns alone the awakened soul.
Thus Theosophy is not a Religion, we say, but RELIGION itself, the one bond of unity, which is so universal and all-embracing that no man, as no speck–from gods and mortals down to animals, the blade of grass and atom–can be outside of its light. Therefore, any organization or body of that name must necessarily be a UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD.
Were it otherwise, Theosophy would be but a word added to hundreds other such words as high sounding as they are pretentious and empty. Viewed as a philosophy, Theosophy in its practical work is the alembic of the Mediæval alchemist. It transmutes the apparently base metal of every ritualistic and dogmatic creed (Christianity included) into the gold of fact and truth, and thus truly produces a universal panacea for the ills of mankind. This is why, when applying for admission into the Theosophical Society, no one is asked what religion he belongs to, nor what his deistic views may be. These views are his own personal property and have nought to do with the Society. Because Theosophy can be practiced by Christian or Heathen, Jew or Gentile, by Agnostic or Materialist, or even an Atheist, provided that none of these is a bigoted fanatic, who refuses to recognize as his brother any man or woman outside his own special creed or belief. Count Leo N. Tolstoy does not believe in the Bible, the Church, or the divinity of Christ; and yet no Christian surpasses him in the practical bearing out of the principles alleged to have been preached on the Mount. And these principles are those of Theosophy; not because they were uttered by the Christian Christ, but because they are universal ethics, and were preached by Buddha and Confucius, Krishna, and all the great Sages, thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount was written. Hence, once that we live up to such theosophy, it becomes a universal panacea indeed, for it heals the wounds inflicted by the gross asperities of the Church “isms” on the sensitive soul of every naturally religious man. How many of these, forcibly thrust out by the reactive impulse of disappointment from the narrow area of blind belief into the ranks of arid disbelief, have been brought back to hopeful aspiration by simply joining our Brotherhood–yea, imperfect as it is.
If, as an offset to this, we are reminded that several prominent members have left the Society disappointed in theosophy as they had been in other associations, this cannot dismay us in the least. For with a very, very few exceptions, in the early stage of the T.S.’s activities when some left because they did not find mysticism practiced in the General Body as they understood it, or because “the leaders lacked Spirituality,” were “untheosophical, hence, untrue to the rules,” you see, the majority left because most of them were either half-hearted or too self-opinionated–a church and infallible dogma in themselves. Some broke away, again under very shallow pretexts indeed, such, for instance, as “because Christianity (to say Churchianity, or sham Christianity, would be more just) was too roughly handled in our magazines”–just as if other fanatical religions were ever treated any better or upheld! Thus, all those who left have done well to leave, and have never been regretted.
Furthermore, there is this also to be added: the number of those who left can hardly be compared with the number of those who found everything they had hoped for in Theosophy. Its doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one’s reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and the real, as opposed to the false and the unreal. Tearing off with no uncertain hand the thick veil of dead-letter with which every old religious scriptures were cloaked, scientific Theosophy, learned in the cunning symbolism of the ages, reveals to the scoffer at old wisdom the origin of the world’s faiths and sciences. It opens new vistas beyond the old horizons of crystallized, motionless and despotic faiths; and turning blind belief into a reasoned knowledge founded on mathematical laws–the only exact science–it demonstrates to him under profounder and more philosophical aspects the existence of that which, repelled by the grossness of its dead-letter form, he had long since abandoned as a nursery tale. It gives a clear and well-defined object, an ideal to live for, to every sincere man or woman belonging to whatever station in Society and of whatever culture and degree of intellect. Practical Theosophy is not one Science, but embraces every science in life, moral and physical. It may, in short, be justly regarded as the universal “coach,” a tutor of world-wide knowledge and experience, and of an erudition which not only assists and guides his pupils toward a successful examination for every scientific or moral service in earthly life, but fits them for the lives to come, if those pupils will only study the universe and its mysteries within themselves, instead of studying them through the spectacles of orthodox science and religions.
And let no reader misunderstand these statements. It is Theosophy per se, not any individual member of the Society or even Theosophist, on whose behalf such a universal omniscience is claimed. The two–Theosophy and the Theosophical Society–as a vessel and the olla podrida it contains, must not be confounded. One is, as an ideal, divine Wisdom, perfection itself; the other a poor, imperfect thing, trying to run under, if not within, its shadow on Earth. No man is perfect; why, then, should any member of the T.S. be expected to be a paragon of every human virtue? And why should the whole organization be criticized and blamed for the faults, whether real or imaginary, of some of its “Fellows,” or even its Leaders? Never was the Society, as a concrete body, free from blame or sin–errare humanum est–nor were any of its members. Hence, it is rather those members most of whom will not be led by theosophy, that ought to be blamed. Theosophy is the soul of its Society; the latter the gross and imperfect body of the former. Hence, those modern Solomons who will sit in the Judgment Seat and talk of that they know nothing about, are invited before they slander theosophy or any theosophists to first get acquainted with both, instead of ignorantly calling one a “farrago of insane beliefs” and the other a “sect of impostors and lunatics.”
Regardless of this, Theosophy is spoken of by friends and foes as a religion when not a sect. Let us see how the special beliefs which have become associated with the word have come to stand in that position, and how it is that they have so good a right to it that none of the leaders of the Society have ever thought of disavowing their doctrines.
We have said that we believed in the absolute unity of nature. Unity implies the possibility for a unit on one plane, to come into contact with another unit on or from another plane. We believe in it.
The just published “Secret Doctrine” will show what were the ideas of all antiquity with regard to the primeval instructors of primitive man and his three earlier races. The genesis of that WISDOM-RELIGION in which all theosophists believe, dates from that period. So-called “Occultism,” or rather Esoteric Science, has to be traced in its origin to those Beings who, led by Karma, have incarnated in our humanity, and thus struck the key-note of that secret Science which countless generations of subsequent adepts have expanded since then in every age, while they checked its doctrines by personal observation and experience. The bulk of this knowledge–which no man is able to possess in its fullness–constitutes that which we now call Theosophy or “divine knowledge.” Beings from other and higher worlds may have it entire; we can have it only approximately.
Thus, unity of everything in the universe implies and justifies our belief in the existence of a knowledge at once scientific, philosophical and religious, showing the necessity and actuality of the connection of man and all things in the universe with each other; which knowledge, therefore, becomes essentially RELIGION, and must be called in its integrity and universality by the distinctive name of WISDOM-RELIGION.
It is from this WISDOM-RELIGION that all the various individual “Religions” (erroneously so called) have sprung, forming in their turn offshoots and branches, and also all the minor creeds, based upon and always originated through some personal experience in psychology. Every such religion, or religious offshoot, be it considered orthodox or heretical, wise or foolish, started originally as a clear and unadulterated stream from the Mother-Source. The fact that each became in time polluted with purely human speculations and even inventions, due to interested motives, does not prevent any from having been pure in its early beginnings. There are those creeds –we shall not call them religions–which have now been overlaid with the human element out of all recognition; others just showing signs of early decay; not one that escaped the hand of time. But each and all are of divine, because natural and true origin; aye– Mazdeism, Brahmanism, Buddhism as much as Christianity. It is the dogmas and human element in the latter which led directly to modern Spiritualism.
Of course, there will be an outcry from both sides, if we say that modern Spiritualism per se, cleansed of the unhealthy speculations which were based on the dicta of two little girls and their very unreliable “Spirits”–is, nevertheless, far more true and philosophical than any church dogma. Carnalised Spiritualism is now reaping its Karma. Its primitive innovators, the said “two little girls” from Rochester, the Mecca of modern Spiritualism, have grown up and turned into old women since the first raps produced by them have opened wide ajar the gates between this and the other world. It is on their “innocent” testimony that the elaborate scheme of a sidereal Summer-land, with its active astral population of “Spirits,” ever on the wing between their “Silent Land” and our very loud-mouthed, gossiping earth–has been started and worked out. And now the two female Mahommeds of Modern Spiritualism have turned self-apostates and play false to the “philosophy” they have created, and have gone over to the enemy. They expose and denounce practical Spiritualism as the humbug of the ages. Spiritualists–(save a handful of fair exceptions)–have rejoiced and sided with our enemies and slanderers, when these, who had never been Theosophists, played us false and showed the cloven foot denouncing the Founders of the Theosophical Society as frauds and impostors. Shall the Theosophists laugh in their turn now that the original “revealers” of Spiritualism have become its “revilers”? Never! for the phenomena of Spiritualism are facts, and the treachery of the “Fox girls” only makes us feel new pity for all mediums, and confirms, before the whole world, our constant declaration that no medium can be relied upon. No true theosophist will ever laugh, or far less rejoice, at the discomfiture even of an opponent. The reason for it is simple:–
Because we know that beings from other, higher worlds do confabulate with some elect mortals now as ever; though now far more rarely than in the days of old, as mankind becomes with every civilized generation worse in every respect.
Theosophy–owing, in truth, to the levée in arms of all the Spiritualists of Europe and America at the first words uttered against the idea that every communicating intelligence is necessarily the Spirit of some ex-mortal from this earth–has not said its last word about Spiritualism and “Spirits.” It may one day. Meanwhile, an humble servant of theosophy, the Editor, declares once more her belief in Beings, grander, wiser, nobler than any personal God, who are beyond any “Spirits of the dead,” Saints, or winged Angels, who, nevertheless, do condescend in all and every age to occasionally overshadow rare sensitives–often entirely unconnected with Church, Spiritualism or even Theosophy. And believing in high and holy Spiritual Beings, she must also believe in the existence of their opposites–lower “spirits,” good, bad and indifferent. Therefore does she believe in spiritualism and its phenomena, some of which are so repugnant to her.
This, as a casual remark and a digression, just to show that Theosophy includes Spiritualism–as it should be, not as it is–among its sciences, based on knowledge and the experience of countless ages. There is not a religion worthy of the name which has been started otherwise than in consequence of such visits from Beings on the higher planes.
Thus were born all prehistoric, as well as all the historic religions, Mazdeism and Brahmanism, Buddhism and Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism and Mahomedanism; in short every more or less successful “ism.” All are true at the bottom, and all are false on their surface. The Revealer, the artist who impressed a portion of the Truth on the brain of the Seer, was in every instance a true artist, who gave out genuine truths; but the instrument proved also, in every instance, to be only a man. Invite Rubenstein and ask him to play a sonata of Beethoven on a piano left to self-tuning, one-half of the keys of which are in chronic paralysis, while the wires hang loose; then see whether, the genius of the artist notwithstanding, you will be able to recognize the sonata. The moral of the fabula is that a man–let him be the greatest of mediums or natural Seers–is but a man; and man left to his own devices and speculations must be out of tune with absolute truth, while even picking up some of its crumbs. For Man is but a fallen Angel, a god within, but having an animal brain in his head, more subject to cold and wine fumes while in company with other men on Earth, than to the faultless reception of divine revelations.
Hence the multi-coloured dogmas of the churches. Hence also the thousand and one “philosophies” so-called (some contradictory, theosophical theories included); and the variegated “Sciences” and schemes, Spiritual, Mental, Christian and Secular; Sectarianism and bigotry, and especially the personal vanity and self-opinionatedness of almost every “Innovator” since the mediæval ages. These have all darkened and hidden the very existence of TRUTH–the common root of all. Will our critics imagine that we exclude theosophical teachings from this nomenclature? Not at all. And though the esoteric doctrines which our Society has been and is expounding, are not mental or spiritual impressions from some “unknown, from above,” but the fruit of teachings given to us by living men, still, except that which was dictated and written out by those Masters of Wisdom themselves, these doctrines may be in many cases as incomplete and faulty as any of our foes would desire it. The “Secret Doctrine”–a work which gives out all that can be given out during this century, is an attempt to lay bare in part the common foundation and inheritance of all–great and small religious and philosophical schemes. It was found indispensable to tear away all this mass of concreted misconceptions and prejudice which now hides the parent trunk of (a) all the great world-religions; (b) of the smaller sects; and (c) of Theosophy as it stands now–however veiled the great Truth, by ourselves and our limited knowledge. The crust of error is thick, laid on by whatever hand; and because we personally have tried to remove some of it, the effort became the standing reproach against all theosophical writers and even the Society. Few among our friends and readers have failed to characterize our attempt to expose error in the Theosophist and Lucifer as “very uncharitable attacks on Christianity,” “untheosophical assaults,” etc., etc. Yet these are necessary, nay, indispensable, if we wish to plough up at least approximate truths. We have to lay things bare, and are ready to suffer for it–as usual. It is vain to promise to give truth, and then leave it mingled with error out of mere faint-heartedness. That the result of such policy could only muddy the stream of facts is shown plainly. After twelve years of incessant labour and struggle with enemies from the four quarters of the globe, notwithstanding our four theosophical monthly journals–the Theosophist, Path, Lucifer, and the French Lotus–our wish-washy, tame protests in them, our timid declarations, our “masterly policy of inactivity,” and playing at hide-and-seek in the shadow of dreary metaphysics, have only led to Theosophy being seriously regarded as a religious SECT. For the hundredth time we are told–“What good is Theosophy doing?” and “See what good the Churches are doing!”
Nevertheless, it is an averred fact that mankind is not a whit better in morality, and in some respects ten times worse now, than it ever was in the days of Paganism. Moreover, for the last half century, from that period when Freethought and Science got the best of the Churches–Christianity is yearly losing far more adherents among the cultured classes than it gains proselytes in the lower strata, the scum of Heathendom. On the other hand, Theosophy has brought back from Materialism and blank despair to belief (based on logic and evidence) in man’s divine Self, and the immortality of the latter, more than one of those whom the Church has lost through dogma, exaction of faith and tyranny. And, if it is proven that Theosophy saves one man only in a thousand of those the Church has lost, is not the former a far higher factor for good than all the missionaries put together?
Theosophy, as repeatedly declared in print and viva voce by its members and officers, proceeds on diametrically opposite lines to those which are trodden by the Church; and Theosophy rejects the methods of Science, since her inductive methods can only lead to crass materialism. Yet, de facto, Theosophy claims to be both “RELIGION” and “SCIENCE,” for theosophy is the essence of both. It is for the sake and love of the two divine abstractions–i.e., theosophical religion and science, that its Society has become the volunteer scavenger of both orthodox religion and modern science; as also the relentless Nemesis of those who have degraded the two noble truths to their own ends and purposes, and then divorced each violently from the other, though the two are and must be one. To prove this is also one of our objects in the present paper.
The modern Materialist insists on an impassable chasm between the two, pointing out that the “Conflict between Religion and Science” has ended in the triumph of the latter and the defeat of the first. The modern Theosophist refuses to see, on the contrary, any such chasm at all. If it is claimed by both Church and Science that each of them pursues the truth and nothing but the truth, then either one of them is mistaken, and accepts falsehood for truth, or both. Any other impediment to their reconciliation must be set down as purely fictitious. Truth is one, even if sought for or pursued at two different ends. Therefore, Theosophy claims to reconcile the two foes. It premises by saying that the true spiritual and primitive Christian religion is, as much as the other great and still older philosophies that preceded it–the light of Truth–“the life and the light of men.”
But so is the true light of Science. Therefore, darkened as the former is now by dogmas examined through glasses smoked with the superstitions artificially produced by the Churches, this light can hardly penetrate and meet its sister ray in a science, equally as cobwebbed by paradoxes and the materialistic sophistries of the age. The teachings of the two are incompatible, and cannot agree so long as both Religious philosophy and the Science of physical and external (in philosophy, false) nature, insist upon the infallibility of their respective “will-o’-the wisps.” The two lights, having their beams of equal length in the matter of false deductions, can but extinguish each other and produce still worse darkness. Yet, they can be reconciled on the condition that both shall clean their houses, one from the human dross of the ages, the other from the hideous excrescence of modern materialism and atheism. And as both decline, the most meritorious and best thing to do is precisely what Theosophy alone can and will do: i.e., point out to the innocents caught by the glue of the two waylayers–verily two dragons of old, one devouring the intellects, the other the souls of men–that their supposed chasm is but an optical delusion; that, far from being one, it is but an immense garbage mound respectively erected by the two foes, as a fortification against mutual attacks.
Thus, if theosophy does no more than point out and seriously draw the attention of the world to the fact that the supposed disagreement between religion and science is conditioned, on the one hand by the intelligent materialists rightly kicking against absurd human dogmas, and on the other by blind fanatics and interested churchmen who, instead of defending the souls of mankind, fight simply tooth and nail for their personal bread and butter and authority–why, even then, theosophy will prove itself the saviour of mankind.
And now we have shown, it is hoped, what real Theosophy is, and what are its adherents. One is divine Science and a code of Ethics so sublime that no theosophist is capable of doing it justice; the others weak but sincere men. Why, then, should Theosophy ever be judged by the personal shortcomings of any leader or member of our 150 branches? One may work for it to the best of his ability, yet never raise himself to the height of his call and aspiration. This is his or her misfortune, never the fault of Theosophy, or even of the body at large. Its Founders claim no other merit than that of having set the first theosophical wheel rolling. If judged at all they must be judged by the work they have done, not by what friends may think or enemies say of them. There is no room for personalities in a work like ours; and all must be ready, as the Founders are, if needs be, for the car of Jaggennath to crush them individually for the good of all. It is only in the days of the dim Future, when death will have laid his cold hand on the luckless Founders and stopped thereby their activity, that their respective merits and demerits, their good and bad acts and deeds, and their theosophical work will have to be weighed on the Balance of Posterity. Then only, after the two scales with their contrasted loads have been brought to an equipoise, and the character of the net result left over has become evident to all in its full and intrinsic value, then only shall the nature of the verdict passed be determined with anything like justice. At present, except in India, those results are too scattered over the face of the earth, too much limited to a handful of individuals to be easily judged. Now, these results can hardly be perceived, much less heard of amid the din and clamour made by our teeming enemies, and their ready imitators–the indifferent. Yet however small, if once proved good, even now every man who has at heart the moral progress of humanity, owes his thankfulness to Theosophy for those results. And as Theosophy was revived and brought before the world, viâ its unworthy servants, the “Founders,” if their work was useful, it alone must be their vindicator, regardless of the present state of their balance in the petty cash accounts of Karma, wherein social “respectabilities” are entered up.
—Lucifer, November, 1888
*Whose 700 wives and 300 concubines, by the bye, are merely the personations of man’s attributes, feelings, passions and his various occult powers: the Kabalistic numbers 7 and 3 showing it plainly. Solomon himself, moreover, being, simply, the emblem of SOL–the “Solar Initiate” or the Christ-Sun, is a variant of the Indian “Vikarttana” (the Sun) shorn of his beams by Viswakarma, his Hierophant-Initiator, who thus shears the Chrestos candidate for initiation of his golden radiance and crowns him with a dark, blackened aureole–the “crown of thorns.” (See the “Secret Doctrine” for full explanation.) Solomon was never a living man. As described in Kings, his life and works are an allegory on the trials and glory of Initiation.
From the writings of William Quan Judge
On Theosophy, from the Ocean of Theosophy
Theosophy is that ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings; unfathomable in its deepest parts, it gives the greatest minds their fullest scope, yet, shallow enough at its shores, it will not overwhelm the understanding of a child. It is wisdom about God for those who believe that he is all things and in all, and wisdom about nature for the man who accepts the statement found in the Christian Bible that God cannot be measured or discovered, and that darkness is around his pavilion. Although it contains by derivation the name God and thus may seem at first sight to embrace religion alone, it does not neglect science, for it is the science of sciences and therefore has been called the wisdom religion. For no science is complete which leaves out any department of nature, whether visible or invisible, and that religion which, depending solely on an assumed revelation, turns away from things and the laws which govern them is nothing but a delusion, a foe to progress, an obstacle in the way of man’s advancement toward happiness. Embracing both the scientific and the religious, Theosophy is a scientific religion and a religious science.
It is not a belief or dogma formulated or invented by man, but is a knowledge of the laws which govern the evolution of the physical, astral, psychical, and intellectual constituents of nature and of man. The religion of the day is but a series of dogmas man-made and with no scientific foundation for promulgated ethics; while our science as yet ignores the unseen, and failing to admit the existence of a complete set of inner faculties of perception in man, it is cut off from the immense and real field of experience which lies within the visible and tangible worlds. But Theosophy knows that the whole is constituted of the visible and the invisible, and perceiving outer things and objects to be but transitory it grasps the facts of nature, both without and within. It is therefore complete in itself and sees no unsolvable mystery anywhere; it throws the word coincidence out of its vocabulary and hails the reign of law in everything and every circumstance.
From other Theosophical Authors
What is Theosophy?
WHAT IS THEOSOPHY?
By a Paramahansa of the Himalayas1
1. Theosophy is that branch of human perfection, by which one may establish himself with the eternal cause of invisible nature; to which this physical effect is a visible bubble.
2. Theosophy is that knowledge which leads one from animalism to Divinity.
3. Theosophy is that branch of human philosophy, which theoretically teaches one what he really is beyond mind and personal individuality (Ego).
4. Theosophy is that branch of chemistry, by which one begets IMMORTALITY.
5. Theosophy is that branch of painting (one’s self) which Time cannot efface.
6. Theosophy is that branch of husbandry (agriculture) by which one may preserve the seed without rearing the tree.
7. Theosophy is that branch of optics, which magnifies one’s view to see beyond physical nature.
8. Theosophy is that branch of human surgery, which separates physical nature from the spiritual.
9. Theosophy is that branch of Masonry, which shows the universe in an egg.
10. Theosophy is that branch of music, which harmonises physical nature with spirit.
11. Theosophy is that part of gardening, which teaches one how to rear trees out of charcoal.
12. Theosophy is that branch of sanitation, which teaches one how to purify nature by means of cause and effect.
13. Theosophy is that branch of engineering, which bridges the gulf between life and death.
14. Theosophy is that warlike art, which teaches one how to subdue (subjugate) time and death, the two mightiest foes of man.
15. Theosophy is that food, which enables one to taste the most exquisite sweetness in his own self.
16. Theosophy is that branch of navigation, which teaches one the starting point and the final goal of human life.
17. Theosophy is that branch of commerce, which makes one fit to select unerringly the commodities for both lives.
18. Theosophy is that branch of politics, which unites past and future into one present, and establishes peace with the most tumultuous off-shoots of debased nature.
19. Theosophy is that branch of mineralogy, by which one may discover the source of eternal wealth, combining life, knowledge and eternal joy into one.
20. Theosophy is that branch of astronomy, which proves that spirit is the only fixed star which sets not throughout the revolutions of nature.
21. Theosophy is that branch of gymnastics, which invigorates the mind, expands the intellect, unites the thought with the tie of breath2, removes the heat of lust, and produces a balmy calmness, which is the heart’s eye, to penetrate the mysteries of nature.
22. Theosophy is that branch of mental philosophy, by which one may know the exact centre of his individual Self and its identity with the entity of the second principle of the Vedantists, or the seventh one of the present Theosophists3, or what is commonly known by the name, God.
23. Theosophy is that branch of medicine by which one may rid himself of his sins from time immemorial.
24. Theosophy is that branch of natural philosophy, by which one may watch and witness nature in her birth—chastity—adultery and the present old age.
25. Theosophy is that occult branch of the Christian church, on which the groundwork of that church was originally planned,—i.e., the essential non-difference of God with the individual witness.
26. Theosophy is that branch of Christianity, which eliminates the spiritual Christ from the corporeal one of the orthodox generation.
27. Theosophy is that part of the Christian theology, which shows that the present churches of the West are abusing the Bible by misinterpretations.
28. Theosophy is that part of the Aryan independence, by which one may exist without the help of nature.
29. Theosophy (to be brief) is the sum total of the wisdom of the Aryan Brahma — the happiest eternal — and the life everlasting. It is Theosophy which taught the Aryans how to soar far beyond the region of Shakti and to be in perpetual joy — (the playground of Shakti). In short, it is the basis of all the knowledge that exists in the eternity.
1. Paramahansas are the order of the highest Yogi-Sannyasis, who alone are allowed to throw off the yoke of the Hindu caste superstitions. While all the others have to perform, more or less, the daily exoteric ceremonies of their respective Ashrums or orders, no rules of action can be assigned to these. (H.P.B.)
2. This relates to occult practice. (H.P.B)
3. Jivatma, in the sense of the Vedantin, is the Soul of all life, and in that of the Theosophists it is Jiva—vital principle. (H.P.B.)
Elementary Theosophy (from a Theosophical Manual)
Every one knows that the great religions of the world differ from each other; and also that in respect to the path of life in which they tell men to walk, they resemble each other. They present also many other resemblances and identities. It has not yet occurred to our scholars that there may be one great religion of which all these are parts.
Nations have always differed in their characteristics, the difference being sometimes due to the region in which they dwelt, sometimes to other causes. One people would be imaginative, another philosophical, another simple; one pastoral, another nomadic; one peaceful, another active and warlike. One dwells amid smiling plains, another by the rock-ribbed sea.
If we were to tell some story of science, say about atoms and molecules, to the classes of a school, we should not use the same language to the little children as to the elders. To every class we should tell the story differently. If we were wise we should illustrate it from the games and stories that the children already knew. To the very little ones we might make the atoms talk and play, and so we might teach chemistry in the guise of a fairy tale. To the children that were older we might picture the atoms as marbles and balls; to artistic children we might dwell most on the colors and sounds resulting from the movements and groupings of atoms and molecules. And to the higher classes we should begin to introduce some of the abstruse mathematics which are concerned in these questions. We might put the case so differently to the highest and lowest classes that anyone who heard us talking to both might not guess that we were talking about the same things. Yet we should be. And if the children, on going home, tried to tell their parents in their own words what they had heard, the unlikeness would become still greater, for they would be adding and leaving out.
The word theosophy is a blend of two Greek words. Together they mean “divine wisdom,” and also wisdom concerning divine things. There is a similar Sanskrit compound, Brahmavidya, properly meaning the same things.
Theosophy itself is that complete story of the world and man, of which a part has been told to every people, a part suited to their needs and development and peculiarities, and told in language appropriate to their understanding.
But however simply it had to be told, there were always some among every people whose comprehension ran beyond that of their fellows, and who had prepared themselves to follow the path of life more steadfastly. To such, more was told. And so we find everywhere this fact of two doctrines, one for the multitude and one for the few — that latter, for certain reasons mentioned elsewhere, always told under pledge of secrecy. Jesus Christ, for example, said that to the multitude he spoke in simple parables like the fairy stories of our illustration; but that to the elect he spoke fully the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven like the abstruse mathematics of our illustration.
Sometime in the near future, scholars will be compelled by the force of their own facts to recognize the common container and source of the world’s religions. Their researches would immediately be easier and more fruitful if they would but take its existence as a hypothesis only. Prosecuting their studies in its light they would soon be rewarded by seeing emerge from the confusion the majestic outlines of the religion-philosophy now known as theosophy. But those who wish to understand it need not wait till then, nor need they proceed by that method.
Theosophy in Name and Reality
THEOSOPHY IN NAME AND REALITY
PEOPLE are sometimes surprised to hear that Theosophy is radically different from any of the popular blends of science and religion offered under a variety of names. What’s the difference, they ask. After all, isn’t Theosophy called a “religious science and a scientific religion” by the Teachers themselves?
At first glance it may seem perfectly logical that the only real difference would be the special “blend” offered by Theosophy. And this is understandable in one who does not yet see that true science and true religion have a common origin; that the substratum of all sciences and religions in all ages is the Wisdom Religion. In the last century, H.P.B. used the name Theosophy to designate this timeless Wisdom. Theosophy, therefore, is not a compound of anything. Strictly speaking, it is a pure and clear emanation of universal reality, and for those who perceive it, the emanating light of eternal truth.
Theosophy is no more a mixture of modern science and traditional religion than spiritual knowledge (the perception of eternal truths) is a compound of assertions, rituals, and experimentation. Spiritual knowledge is comprehended and reflected by the human mind, and cannot be found in data, procedures, or books, where at best it can only be indicated or suggested in representative language. Moreover, it might be observed that the expensive lenses used by scientists to investigate the physical world and the fine spectacles worn by scholars in examining ancient and modern scriptures are pointed in the wrong direction, seeing effects and objective forms, not toward “eternal truths and primal causes.” (See S.D. I, 108.)
Small wonder, then, that students pause to gather their thoughts when asked to define Theosophy, knowing that whatever they choose to say can do no more than symbolize truth or indicate where its traces may be found.
Theosophy, as the Teachers continually remind us, is distinctly of its own nature. This implies that universal truths are necessarily confined and cramped by objective language. No doubt this is why the wise have always said that when the effort is made to live the life, people awake to Reality “in no long time.”
—THEOSOPHY, April, 1987
Is Theosophy a Revelation?
In thus affording even the superficial thinker and the weak or illogical reasoner a perfect basis for ethics and an unerring guide in life, Theosophy is building toward the future realization of the Universal Brotherhood and the higher evolution of man. . . . It involves a process of thought almost unknown to the present age of empiricism and induction. It is a revelation from archaic ages, indestructible and eternal, yet capable of being obscured and lost; capable of being again and again reborn, or like man himself—reincarnated.—WILLIAM Q. JUDGE
Is Mr. Judge “right” in calling Theosophy a “revelation”? If one consults the first page of the Preface to The Secret Doctrine, it will be found that the author says that the truths in this book “are in no sense put forward as a revelation,” and that she does not “claim the position of a revealer of mystic lore, now made public for the first time in the world’s history.”
Reading on, however, we find H.P.B. (xxx) calling as witnesses to the reality of the Wisdom Religion “learned writers” of the last century who insisted that there must have been “fragments of a primeval revelation, granted to the ancestors of the whole race of mankind. . . . preserved in the temples of Greece and Italy,” . . . And in the Proem (pp. 9 and 10) it becomes apparent that the usage of “revelation” to which H.P.B. objects is that applied to “the God of human dogma and his humanized ‘Word’.” “Revelation” is acceptable, or not acceptable, depending upon the source to which it is attributed — since that source governs the manner in which it is received by human beings. The passage in the Proem illustrates this distinction. Rejected is the “human dogma” of which H.P.B. says:
In his infinite conceit and infinite pride and vanity man shaped it himself with his sacrilegious hand out of the material he found in his own small brain-fabric, and forced it upon mankind as a direct revelation from the one unrevealed SPACE.
On the other hand–
The occultist accepts revelation as coming from divine yet still finite Beings, the manifested lives, never from the Unmanifestable ONE LIFE; from those entities, called Primordial Man, Dhyani-Buddhas, or Dhyan-Chohans, the “Rishi-Prajapati” of the Hindus, the Elohim or “Sons of God,” the Planetary Spirits of all nations, who have become Gods for men.
Of the uses that may be made of “revelation” from such high intelligences, we have ample discussion by H.P.B. in her articles, “What Is Truth?” and “Is Theosophy a Religion?” The law involved in the work of these teachers is that of the Guruparampara chain, spoken of in the Letters of Mr. Judge, by means of which continuity of knowledge is maintained between “generations” of Souls, and the wisdom of those who have achieved consciousness on higher planes is made available to aspiring human beings, from cycle to cycle.
Further light on this question is obtained from H.P.B.’s comment on a long passage quoted in The Secret Doctrine (I, 308-9) from Ralston Skinner. At its conclusion Mr. Skinner remarks that there are very strong evidences to show that there once existed “a perfect language and system of science,” to which he added that “it would seem that in the history of the human race there happened, from causes which at present, at any rate, we cannot trace, a lapse or loss from an original and perfect language and a perfect system of science — shall we say perfect because they were of divine origin and importation?” H.P.B.’s comment follows:
“Divine origin” does not mean here a revelation from an anthropomorphic god on a mount amidst thunder and lightning; but, as we understand it, a language and a system of science imparted to the early mankind by a more advanced mankind, so much higher as to be divine in the sight of that infant humanity. By a “mankind,” in short, from other spheres; an idea which contains nothing supernatural in it, but the acceptance or rejection of which depends upon the degree of conceit and arrogance in the mind of him to whom it is stated. For, if the professors of modern knowledge would only confess that, though they know nothing of the future of the disembodied man — or rather will accept nothing — yet this future may he pregnant with surprises and unexpected revelations to them, once their Egos are rid of their gross bodies — then materialistic unbelief would have fewer chances than it has. Who of them knows, or can tell, what may happen when once the life cycle of this globe is run down and our mother herself falls into her last sleep? Who is bold enough to say that the divine Egos of our mankind — at least the elect out of the multitudes passing on to other spheres — will not become in their turn the “divine” instructors of a new mankind generated by them on a new globe, called to life and activity by the disembodied “principles” of our Earth?
On page 356 (I), H.P.B. gives unequivocal illustration of the context in which the word “revelation” is a justified term. After showing common elements in the world’s religions, she remarks:
Whence then, all this identity of ideas, if there was no primeval UNIVERSAL Revelation? The few points shown are like a few straws in a hayrick, in comparison to that which will be shown as the work proceeds.
The key words here seem to be “primeval” and “universal,” giving H.P.B.’s use of “revelation” a character distinct from that of sectarian religion. A final distinguishing point is the insistence again and again that revelation is a part of nature’s processes bound up with the beginnings of cycles. As remarked in the closing pages of The Secret Doctrine (797):
It was necessary to show that no religion, since the very earliest, has ever been entirely based on fiction, as none was the object of special revelation; and that it is dogma alone which has ever been killing primeval truth. Finally, that no human-born doctrine, no creed, however sanctified by custom and antiquity, can compare in sacredness with the religion of Nature.
And so it is that in her Preface, H.P.B. observed that The Secret Doctrine “claims consideration, not by any reason of appeal to dogmatic authority, but because it closely adheres to Nature, and follows the laws of uniformity and analogy,” and adds in the Introductory: “It is above everything important to keep in mind that no theosophical book acquires the least additional value from pretended authority.”
“Revelation,” then, is a fact and a possibility in life and nature by reason of the potentiality of spiritual understanding with which each human being is endowed — a potentiality realized, for example, by Arjuna in the eleventh discourse of the Bhagavad-Gita. Arjuna was ready for what Krishna was then able to “reveal” to him.
But the abuse and imitation of this great law of nature was such in H.P.B.’s time that the very word “revelation” had become an epithet in the vocabulary of free-thinking men, and was used in this sense in her Preface, while later on, in the context of exposition of the spiritual realities of human evolution, she used the word in its original, unblemished meaning, for the benefit of those who, as serious students, could be expected not to misunderstand her intent.
— THEOSOPHY, October, 1967
Basic Principles of Theosophy
BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THEOSOPHY
IT would be natural enough, perhaps, to suppose that a subject such as Basic Principles of Theosophy — or “basic principles” of anything else — would be a subject easy to present and easy to comprehend. But this is far from the case when one tries to consider the total meaning of the history of theosophic thought, and the totality of the writings of Madame H. P. Blavatsky. The following collation, taken from several portions of H.P.B.’s writings, indicates the dual nature of Theosophy and the interrelationship of attitude and doctrine. In other words, her development of Theosophy as a system of thought is meant to have an appropriate preface:
Theosophy allows a hearing and a fair chance to all. It deems no views — if sincere — entirely destitute of truth. It respects thinking men, to whatever class of thought they may belong. Indeed, the conclusions or deductions of a philosophic writer may be entirely opposed to our views and the teachings we expound; yet, his premises and statements of facts may be quite correct, and other people may profit by the adverse philosophy, even if we ourselves reject it, believing we have something higher and still nearer to the truth. Every true fact, every sincere word are thus part and parcel of Theosophy. One who is even approximately blessed with the gift of the perception of truth, will find and extract it from an erroneous as much as from a correct statement. However small the particle of gold lost in a ton of rubbish, it is the noble metal still, and worthy of being dug out even at the price of some extra trouble.The fundamental teaching of Theosophy is that mankind is essentially of one and the same essence, and that essence is one — infinite, uncreate, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature — nothing, therefore, can affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other men. With this object in view, it is the duty of all Theosophists to promote in every practical way, and in all countries, the spread of non-sectarian education. What is also needed is to impress men with the idea that, if the root of mankind is one, then there must also be one truth which finds expression in all the various religions.
Our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating, builder of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence, not being made. It is the one law, giving the impulse to manifested, eternal, and immutable laws, within that never-manifesting, because absolute LAW, which in its manifesting periods is The ever-Becoming.
Moreover, the Secret Doctrine teaches: The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul through the Cycle of Incarnation. In other words, no Soul can have an independent (conscious) existence before the spark which issued from the Over-Soul has (a) passed through every elemental form of the phenomenal world, and (b) acquired individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts. The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations.
The last two paragraphs outline Theosophy as a philosophical construct. But Madame Blavatsky’s writings also repeatedly turn to the prefatory emphases; she points out that Theosophy is much more than a matter of doctrine or particular precepts or propositions; it is also a matter of the fundamental attitude of truth-seeking on the part of the one who becomes a theosophical student. It is therefore necessary to consider Theosophy from two different aspects, in order to gain all the meaning implied by the word. Finally, one may hope to show the relationship between “doctrine” and “attitude.”
The first implication of the word Theosophy signifies the capacity in all men to become students of divine wisdom; that is, to have direct apprehension of essential reality. This assumption also means that Theosophy is “created” by each man, for himself. Such teachings as he may study, such disciplines as he may undertake, are only contributory to whatever sure wisdom he is able to attain. This realization, truly, is one of the “first principles” of Theosophy, and distinguishes Theosophy in all ages from the typical approach of sectarian religion.
The theosophical student must fight for self-knowledge; he must be on an adventure of the mind; he must undergo a discipline of his emotional nature; he must nurture a growth of the soul. He apprehends Theosophy only in so far as he does this, and therefore Theosophy may not be learned as one learns a particular science. Nor can the memorization and repetition of various statements made by a Buddha, a Krishna, an H.P.B., qualify him as a Theosophist in this basic sense. Even a nineteenth century encyclopedia’s definition of the word Theosophy took this dimension into account, stressing that Theosophy was presented as a wisdom which must come to each person according to his own powers of revelation; not revelation from on high. Theosophy means “divine wisdom,” because the nature of man is therein considered to be so exalted in potentiality that each human being is actually able to apprehend basic truths. This outlook on the nature of man, this faith in his ultimate capacity to pass beyond the confines of prejudicial creeds, beyond partisanship in philosophy and religion and all things else — this is another “basic principle” of Theosophy. And it relates to the first fundamental proposition of H.P.B.’s major work, The Secret Doctrine.
Another basic principle of Theosophy is revealed by a study of what has been called the “Theosophical Movement” of ideas throughout history. The word Theosophy apparently comes to us from ancient Egyptian times, but was given specific meaning in the third century of our era by Ammonius Saccas, an Alexandrian philosopher who was more than just another philosopher with a particular emphasis of his own to present. He called his school the “Eclectic Theosophical system”; its members, he called “philaletheians” — lovers of truth. Truth was to be honored wherever it was found. So, in the school of Ammonius, the teachings of Zoroaster, of Buddha, and of ancient and modern Greek philosophers, were all studied. The program was built upon the fundamental assumption that each man has a portion, a glimpse, a vision of the truth of his own nature. The idea, then, was to help men to further realize the greatness of the human capacity to envision, to philosophize, to learn. Each of the schools of thought which Ammonius brought together represented a particular emphasis, a particular kind of illumination concerning the life of the soul.
The disciples of Ammonius were also called “analogists,” in recognition of the attempt of Ammonius to focus attention on the related content of all symbolism which has to do with the life and growth of the soul. The Alexandrian theosophists saw everywhere — in the symbolic representations of the past, in drama and poetry and art — a representation of the life of the soul, a poetic expression of the striving of the soul. This second basic principle to which we are calling attention, then, has to do with the willingness to explore in all directions for truth; to see truth, not as revealed only in a single formation, but rather as illumined and enlightened by even the partial truths of less exalted thought.
This particular principle of Theosophy was fundamental also to the Theosophical Society of the last century. The second object of the Society amounted to a declaration on the part of its members to devote themselves impartially to a comparative study of ancient and modern religions and philosophies. It was then made clear to all who became members of the Theosophical Society that no particular set of doctrines was to be regarded as official; that all were entitled to their own beliefs whether they be Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, or even sincere and searching materialists or psychic researchers in the Spiritualist ranks. Members were simply asked (and even this request was implicit) to somehow transform, to evaluate, improve, and revise their beliefs. So while men were never interfered with in their particular faiths, they were invited, by the very fact that there were others around them with different points of emphasis and different backgrounds, to see the need for discovering the “divine” capacity for the sort of wisdom that leads men to see beyond differences, beyond the splits of ideas; to see that two almost contradictory doctrines might, in logic and at one point in history, have been of common origin.
So the Theosophical Society actually demanded more than intellectual study; it required an intellectual discipline, but the dream was to awaken a sense of universal brotherhood. If we have sufficient understanding, we cannot despise, fear, or condemn our fellows; we can see in their struggles and tribulations but another chapter in the story of a soul, and this does away with the “moralisms,” the condemnations. It also does away with the tendency to go the way of a strict set of commandments, to build a code of morality which governs actions and leaves out of account the inner difficulties besetting the individuals involved.
This, in other words, is the broad view of one’s fellow-man suggested by, and the inevitable result of, the sincere study of different ideas and beliefs. Here again is a second “basic principle” of Theosophy that may not be separated from those propositions which Theosophical students are first prone to think of. This is the area out of which apprehension of specific propositions and principles may come; without this attitude, one may become enslaved by even the most exalted doctrine, and think he possesses wisdom, when actually he possesses only the faint reflection of the wisdom of someone else.
The Third Fundamental Proposition of Theosophy as a system of thought was quoted in the last paragraph of our collation. This proposition states, in effect, that when man considers himself as having wondrous powers, he must realize that the soul is transcendent of the body — that the soul is real and lives forever, and that the soul creates for itself its own conditions of reward and punishment through a long cycle of metempsychosis, as it transforms and refines its “character.” Man, therefore, is in a very real sense a “law unto himself.” As Buddha says: “Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels, none other holds you that ye live and die.” Those who become great sages, become such, not because they were fortunate in their teachers, not because they were favored by revelation, but because they achieved discipline, and persevered in attaining broader vision. Therefore, on the basis of this Third Proposition of H.P.B.’s Secret Doctrine, we begin to see the setting for the idea of a fraternity of great sages or adepts, initiates and Mahatmas, who have inevitably attained a clear apprehension through this long process of evolution. There, again, the fundamental assumption is that the full wisdom of Theosophy is a natural heritage of all mankind.
The Second Proposition of The Secret Doctrine, asserting universal periodicity in action, was very briefly stated by Madame Blavatsky, doubtless to inspire reflection. Everything conceivable has something to do with the law of cycles. Beginning with ourselves, we can see the psychological importance of reflecting on periodicity, since it suggests that there is a reason why we must come back again and again to the same experience — frequently an unfortunate one. We are drawn through life’s experiences by whatever we still need to comprehend. The grasping of experience, distilling from experience, constitutes the purpose of soul. So just as there is an endless cycle of day and night, an endless cycling of the seasons, so for man there is the endless cycle of coming back again and again to those areas of experience where something has not yet been thoroughly learned. The symbol of the Eastern doctrine of “release” from bondage to rebirth is a symbol of man’s capacity to ultimately transcend the need for being forced into any of the experiences in which he presently flounders.
The law of periodicity, then, is the law of learning — an essential of Theosophic teaching of all times. Reincarnation or rebirth of the soul is but an aspect of perceiving that learning is cyclical, as is everything else in nature. Cycles are inevitable, because of an ever-present duality: the co-existence of what we call “spirit” and “matter,” the indwelling soul and the outward form. The form is perishable since it is a compound; and since it must disintegrate at the time we call death, it is equally inevitable that there should always be a drawing together of soul and form in co-operation, again constituting a cycle in the re-embodiment of intelligence. This is why reflection upon the universality of periodicity is a profound step in philosophy. It would appear that in stating the Second Proposition thus simply, Madame Blavatsky deliberately left out a development of these various themes because she wished to stimulate each one in this manner to think, to see what universal laws of learning are involved. So that reincarnation and karma, for instance, are not “doctrines” that Theosophists “believe,” but are natural corollaries of a revelation which the student has brought to himself about the fundamental nature of reality: “reality” being dual, that of soul and form, the combination of the two means cyclic re-embodiment.
Ammonius Saccas said that each student must pass through three stages as he moves toward the attainment of wisdom. The first stage is that of opinion. Opinion, of course, is based upon our desire to believe something, or, perhaps, upon what we have been told to believe. In the second stage the disciple must pass through a natural sequence of initiations. This is the stage of “science,” the stage of dialectic, the stage of reason and intellectual discipline. A man must then face his opinions, and realize that they are only “opinions,” and use his mind to get beyond. This second stage in the theosophical tradition is one wherein a man becomes aware of his reliance upon religion, faith, and belief. We all have such reliance to some degree, but the Theosophist is dedicated to become and remain aware of this fact, to see that while it is natural for him to believe, yet his beliefs should never be “blind.” The doctrines which he feels must represent truth are not ultimate truth, or he would never worry about asserting their truthfulness.
The final stage is that of illumination, which comes when the soul-vision is awakened by discipline of the mind. Opinion has then been converted into self-knowledge. When we are willing to relinquish our opinions, then we are ready to discover a great deal about ourselves. Illumination carries with it the synthesis, the harvest, of discipline; it is direct cognition.
So, the theosophical student is not engaged in a simple sort of instruction; no self instruction is simple, nor are all the “principles of Theosophy” to be easily understood.
—THEOSOPHY, October, 1956
Is Theosophy Vague?
IS THEOSOPHY VAGUE?
H. P. BLAVATSKY declared quite candidly to theosophists that Theosophy, alone, would enable them to form a nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity and thus prevent mankind from helplessly succumbing in new depths of materialism. Nothing less than universal brotherhood, she suggested, will serve as a theosophical ideal, but the remoteness of the goal in no way implies vagueness as to ways and means. The precise value of the theosophical philosophy—and the real justification for its existence—lies in its power to connect every human action and thought with its consequences near and distant, and therefore to provide each man with the materials for judging which motives and lines of conduct will infallibly contribute to the good of all.
In the process of recording the general doctrines of Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky went far beyond the exposition of intellectual abstractions. She brought the theosophical ideas to life in the world. Setting living truths among the manifold disguises and dissemblances of popular conventions, H.P.B. revealed the mockery of appearances and invited the strong-minded to look beneath the veneer of “culture.” The component parts of the race mind—its strengths and weaknesses, its false ideas and perverted truths, its buried knowledge and forgotten ideals—were precipitated out for the individual to weigh and measure against as much of theosophical truth as he could put to use. From the consideration of tendencies in thought and action of people as a whole, the theosophist might gradually gain the objectivity with which to approach the meaning of his own karma and to find in it nothing unique, except the particular combination of habits, tendencies, mistakes, and attitudes he formerly studied as social phenomena. Then, when ready, he could take up the ancient challenge: the preservation of justice in the moral nature, the destruction of wickedness in human nature, and the establishment of righteousness in his whole being.
The messenger of Theosophy had the task of explaining, to an era of infinitely specialized sciences, endlessly ramified religions, and uncounted individual philosophies, the meaning of a single, changeless body of laws. How describe, even with the analogy of mathematics, a system of thought which is studied from center to circumference, beginning with universal principles that are the most transcendent abstractions the human mind can conceive? How convey the radical difference between a psychic “confession” and the method of self-study the theosophist will encounter? The average man can scarcely be induced to feel responsible for his reactions to heredity and environment: how is he to appreciate what it means to work on the hypothesis that the Ego is accountable for the whole of its heredity and for every influence operating through its conditioned existence?
These difficulties are also met, in smaller ways, by the individual student. In discussing Theosophy, he is faced with the problem of somehow indicating the universal purview of the philosophy, without making it seem just another sweeping assertion about the nature of things. He would like to express its power to engage the whole man in an integrated search for knowledge, but, by those who have not so engaged themselves, will he not be interpreted as advocating an intense sectarianism under a different guise? Again, the student is sometimes at a loss to show how Theosophy, far from narrowing his horizon and confining his interests, has extended both, in directions he would otherwise never have considered exploring. So naturally does the theosophical literature expand his acquaintance with all branches of learning, that the effect is not of distinct intellectual acquirement, and many times is not respected by the specialist whose whole concern is with details and particulars. Theosophy is an attitude of mind toward all events and ideas, no matter how mundane, and theosophical study sharpens the perception of the necessary interrelations among them all.
It is noticed, for example, that to the theosophist the finding of ancient landmarks of bygone civilizations is not an obscure archaeological detail, but new material relating to human cycles and the reincarnation of peoples; he is aware that The Secret Doctrine weaves many such discoveries into the history of man’s prior lives and oldest traditions. Tales of extraordinary or fantastic customs reported in local myths about an obscure community recall fragments from the thousand-and-one illustrations used in Isis Unveiled to demonstrate the psychic, mental and spiritual potentialities of man’s being. The Sunday magazine section spins an improbable “yarn” about a trip to the moon—but Patanjali’s Yogi reached the sun, the moon, and the fixed stars without moving at all. The repercussions of the American commerce in African slaves continue to the seventh generation, and beyond, but a footnote in The Key to Theosophy furnishes a compulsive and unforgettable commentary on the initial karma of the tragic social war.
“Theosophy” is omnipresent to the theosophical student. Policies and programs he may once have thought outside his responsibility have, in view of the Three Objects, become matters needing his attention and decision. Capital punishment and the colonial policy; theories of education and the psychology of medicine; juvenile delinquency and the theory of civil rights; the ethics of science; para-psychological research and unregulated hypnotism; the sectarian struggle for power and the new victories of materialism — none of these issues were neglected by the Teachers of Theosophy. Nor did H. P. Blavatsky and Wm. Q. Judge wait for a social problem to be raised in their “personal” lives. It was enough that the problem existed, recognized, it might be, by a handful of reformers, or not yet recognized at all. They saw in advance what would be its future influence. The original magazine literature of Theosophy, in especial, is a consistent demonstration that every human difficulty, if met with the attitude as well as the principles of philosophy, will educate the conscience and deepen the sympathies that bring brotherhood into the civilizations of men.
Theosophy alone can eradicate the perversity of the various doctrines of special privilege and “spiritual” favoritism which have, in H.P.B.’s words, “become ingrained into the innermost life of the Western nations.” Theosophy alone, by its fundamental teaching of the one origin of all mankind, can remove, she said, “the causes which make Universal Brotherhood a Utopia at present.” These declarations, supported by the evidence assembled in theosophical writings, are the warrant for naming Theosophy intrinsically “the most serious movement of this age.” The promulgation of its doctrines is not for the sake of converts nor for the multiplication of believers. Nothing is added to the usefulness of Theosophy by those who regard it as something to be believed or disbelieved. It is discovered, proved and understood in its real nature only by the few who see through it their responsibility to Humanity, and who work with it for the benefit of others.
—THEOSOPHY, September, 1948
Theosophy and the Masses
Take the problems which revolve about the condition and welfare of the masses. Since the dawn of known history the plight of the masses has been the issue-making factor in the rise, growth and decay of nations and civilizations. This is no less true today than in the ages of the trackless past. Did humanity possess a larger perspective of history than the few thousand years which mark the remotest limit of our records, then the repeated mistakes of the past would be so impressed on our present age that men might at last resolve to build their civilization on a securer foundation. Man’s initial mistake is to separate the welfare of the masses from that of the more progressed part of mankind; the result has been that the so-called classes have been plagued by the poverty and the suffering of those whom they have chosen to regard as their inferiors, while the “classes” found that, do what they might, they could not separate themselves from their more unfortunate and ignorant brothers.
What are the masses but fellow-pilgrims in the journey of all towards divinity — pilgrims whose rate of progress might be slower than those who think themselves well-advanced in the race of life? As a matter of fact, with the exception of a mighty few, the bulk of the pilgrims are moving almost shoulder to shoulder, man’s delusion of superiority arising from the fact that external circumstances are regarded as indicia of spiritual progress. In their mad competition for the material and ephemeral prizes of life, men have thrown away the Jewel of Great Price — a prize which by its very nature must be shared with All, since the very instant one attempts to monopolize the philosopher’s stone, it is lost; such is the impersonal law of life.
The woes of the world and the misery of the masses have their source in the refusal of men to share their gifts with their fellows. No true teacher of the science of the soul has ever barred anyone from the sphere of his compassionate efforts. When the Great Message reaches humanity, attempts are made by certain individuals and classes to appropriate the teachings for themselves. They would fence in Wisdom very much as men stake off land and claim it as exclusively their own. The spirit capable of the one is also capable of the other. Does a man seek to keep divine knowledge for himself, all he gets are the external husks, the shell from which the spirit has departed; no sooner does a man stake off a choice plot for himself, than he finds himself a prisoner in his own enclosure. The only possessions which do not possess us are those which can be shared by all. “Desire possessions above all. But those possessions must belong to the pure soul only, and be possessed therefore by all pure souls equally, and thus be the especial property of the whole only when united.”
The dark side of nature ever tries to simulate the work and the methods of the Masters of Compassion. Deception carries on its nefarious work with the tools and in the name of Truth; and the unwary, which includes the great masses of men, have been ensnared over and over again. No one has ever founded a party, or a sect without loudly proclaiming that it was done primarily in the interest of the masses. No despot or dictator, political or religious, ever imposed his will on the people without protesting great solicitude for their welfare. Avowed enemies the masses never have had; but Oh, for a savior to rescue them from their self-imposed friends! Torquemada considered himself the friend of the souls of those he burnt at the stake; and so has every demagogue, who, while pretending to champion the cause of the people, has used them to further his own insatiable ambition. It is through their needs and their aspirations that the masses of mankind are exploited by those who prefer to use their knowledge and position selfishly.
Man can never hope to remove the errors of the past until he first sees these errors in their true light. He can only really see them when he gets a proper perspective, and so judges of their true value in relationship to the whole picture of life. Theosophy alone furnishes such a perspective in its three basic propositions and objects. Universal Brotherhood is the immediate vision of the ONENESS of all life; the realization of this vision is the attainment of universal self-consciousness — the union of the individual self with the self of All.
While “profane” history cannot go back for more than a few thousand years, and can trace the rise and fall of but a comparatively few civilizations such as Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, Theosophy records in its annals the growth and decay of nations and empires which flourished in a remote past, when, according to most scientific teachings of our day, human life had not even begun on this globe. History has repeated itself, not for thousands, but for millions of years. The law of cycles is the Key which will unlock more than one scientific mystery. Once grasped, the doctrine of cycles will not only enlarge our historical perspective a thousandfold, and so enable us to appraise accurately the actions and bases of past civilizations; but it will make us realize that no matter how remote the past, or whether we have any concrete records or not, the same impersonal and inexorable laws determine the birth, life and the death or immortality of MAN. Theosophy’s final assertion is that there are no special privileges anywhere in the boundless Kosmos and that all must progress “by self-induced and self-devised efforts”; that we are as we are both as individuals and as a Race because of our doings in the immemorial past.
No problem is new. Every tendency, every idea, every attitude which exist among us today, have had their precursors and prototypes at the very dawn of our cycle of evolution. The panorama and the drama of evolution set forth in the cosmogony and anthropogenesis of the Secret Doctrine are nothing more than our own biography. We were there all the time in one condition or another. Life is beginningless and endless and in studying the evolution and history of a nation, an age, a planet or a solar system, it is our past and our future that we are considering all the time. The plot of the drama of life is the same everywhere and in every age, though the scenery, the setting and the scale on which the drama is enacted may differ from age to age. When man knows himself, as admonished by the Delphic oracle, he knows the whole of life — past, present and future.
Study of the past misses its mark if it does not teach us how to live in the present and how to build for the future. What is history’s one outstanding lesson? Is it not the utter futility of selfishness and separateness? In spite of all the learned disquisitions of our university professors and textbook writers, even a child, if untainted by mere learning, has a direct perception of the truth that selfishness is the root of all evil. Brahmin and Sudra, capitalist and laborer, master and slave are in the same boat. When one or the other rocks that boat, the lives of both are endangered; and when one or the other upsets that boat, they both go down. It is the mad scramble for the choice seats that rocks and finally upsets the ship of life — the foolish voyagers having lost sight altogether of the haven towards which they were all bound. That haven can only be reached when each one from his place works in unity with all the others for the success of their common glorious adventure. No one can separate himself from the common lot. The plight of the masses and the equal suffering by reaction of the others is due to the stubborn idea that the distinctions of race, creed, sex, condition and organization are divinely ordained, and constitute fixed divisions in Nature, instead of intermediate states in the march towards perfection. A more responsible attitude towards the masses will arise only when the whole of humanity shall awaken from the maya that mankind was created and divided into masters and slaves. “Accept your inferiority,” says Brahmin to Untouchable, “for such is the order of life”; and the poor slave is in mortal terror of the dire consequences here and hereafter of even an unintentional offence to his Lord and Master. Priestcraft everywhere first subdued man in his inner spiritual and religious nature, and when man’s soul no longer was his own, every other form of exploitation and enslavement was made possible. But periodically the worm turns and strikes back blindly; and wars, pestilences, famines and revolutions take their terrible toll. Nothing is ever settled unless it is settled right. After every social cataclysm, when the time for readjustment and reconstruction arrives, Man patches up a peace and the same errors are repeated over again. At best men deal with the immediate and external causes of their difficulties, losing sight entirely of the Central Cause from which all has arisen.
Theosophy may be defined as a philosophy of causes. As any particular cause can be traced back to a prior cause, so finally there is a Central Cause “from which all emerged, around and towards which all gravitates, and upon which is hung the philosophy of the rest.” Theosophy works from the inner and spiritual planes of being and on these planes are seen the workings of the laws of unity and harmony. The tragedies of life arise from losing sight of the inner laws of harmony when we descend to the realm of separative life. Instead of a dispassionate and impersonal evaluation of life, passion and personality divide man from man, the strong enslaving the weak.
Unless all indications fail, a new light is dawning upon the masses of mankind — a light which is being born from the travail and the suffering which followed in the wake of the recent cataclysmic war. The Great War brought in its train far more than politicians and statesmen bargained for. They did not bargain for the Russian Revolution and similar upheavals on a smaller scale in other lands. They did not bargain for the fierce reaction against the various religions, the cant and hypocrisy of the self-styled rulers and leaders of the masses. Theosophy has nought to do directly with politics, but every political and social upheaval which makes for the freedom of man’s soul is part of the Theosophical Movement and must receive the sympathy of all true Theosophists. But sympathy is not enough — Theosophists must give these struggles direction, that the energy evoked be not merely expended in destructive channels.
Now more than at any other time does the world need the doctrines of karma and reincarnation; without them, the aroused masses will either sink into a blind, gross materialism, or again fall prey to the cunning of the sacerdotal caste. The truths implicit in the teachings of karma and reincarnation will not overwhelm the intelligence of a child, and were it not for the fact that the minds of the masses are poisoned by the dogmas of religion, they would have a direct perception of the reign of individual and collective responsibility throughout the boundless universe. No one would then seek power without a realization that he will be answerable throughout all eternity for the use made of that power. All would realize that there is only one safe way to use any power — for the good of all. All would then understand that nothing of an external nature, no mere change in the form of society can ever bring peace and contentment to the nations and races of the earth. It is only by the purification of the inner man through right knowledge, that we can solve all the problems of life and make of brotherhood more than a mere declaration of intention, whose practical attainment is forever deferred to some more convenient time in the future.
Much of the Karma, with which the more favored in intelligence are burdened is due to the mistreatment of such peoples as the American Indians and the African Negroes. Many of our racial problems, our crimes, and the general conditions of the slum population of our European and American nations might very well be the karmic retribution for the misuse of our intelligence and power in enslaving and exploiting them. The only way to work off this karma is by a complete reversal of past policy, in setting an example for good to less advanced brothers, thus saving them from setting up causes, in their turn, for consequences terrible and far-reaching.
The fact that so many classes of beings are evolving together on this globe ought to suggest to any thoughtful person that their destinies are interrelated, in spite of the fact that some may be further advanced on the ladder of evolution.
Man is not to be separated from any part of life, whether that life is on the rungs above or on those below. Man is the whole ladder and he cannot afford to despise any part of it. So wrote Mr. Judge, on page 18 of Letters That Have Helped Me:
I was reading a book and looking around within myself to see how I could enlarge my idea of brotherhood. Practice in benevolence will not give its full growth. I had to find some means of reaching further, and struck on this, which is as old as old age. I am not separate from anything. “I am that which is.” That is, I am Brahma, and Brahma is everything. But being in an illusionary world, I am surrounded by certain appearances that seem to make me separate. So I will proceed to mentally state and accept that I am all these illusions. I am my friends, — and then I went to them in general and in particular. I am my enemies; then I felt them all. I am the poor and the wicked; I am the ignorant. Those moments of intellectual gloom are the moments when I am influenced by those ignorant ones who are myself. All this in my nation. But there are many nations, and to those I go in mind; I feel and I am them all, with what they hold of superstition or of wisdom or evil. All, all is myself. Unwisely, I was then about to stop, but the whole is Brahma so I went to the Devas and Asuras; the elemental world, that too is myself. After pursuing this course awhile I found it easier to return to a contemplation of all men as myself.
—THEOSOPHY, November, 1930