Articles and texts
The Key to Theosophy
|The Key to Theosophy|
The Veil of Isis
Arguments on reincarnation
Theosophy is a System of philosophy and religious thought. Theosophy is based on claims of a mystic insight that is insight into the nature of God and the laws of the Universe. The Theosophist believes that the truest knowledge comes not through reason or senses, but through a direct communication of the soul with the Divine Reality.
Madame Elena Petrona Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in the United States in 1875. Hindu and Buddhist thoughts and doctrines have become prominent in Theosophy, with characteristic belief in reincarnation in accordance with the Hindu doctrine of Karma.
Annie Wood Besant (1847- 1933) was an English leader in the Theosophical Movement and a prominent political figure in India. Though she participated in political field her main contribution was with the Theosophical Society. Jiddu Krishnamurty, the great Theosophist was a great propounder of the Indian Theosophy and Annie Besant was drawn to his knowledge and it was believed that she adopted him. His speeches and literary works were well acclaimed. The Indian Theosophical society is a well-established organisation in Chennai.
Stress is laid on the service due from those left on the earth to those who had passed away. The Hindu religion has the Dharma called Shraddha, by which he helps his elders souls in the passage to the other world - quickening and smoothening the passage to the Heaven.
The ideas of Theosophy can be traced back to ancient times, but the most widely known group, The Theosophical Society, was founded on November 17, 1875.
Theosophy is the study of the teachings of the Masters or Mahatmas. It is a method of studying the Ancient Wisdom, a way of pursuing the ultimate truth. The Mahatmas are members of a superhuman group, "The Great White Brotherhood." These adepts (Mahatmas) have obtained perfection, and committed their lives to showing us the way to perfection. Theosophy, as a subject of study, became an organized group in the late 19th century when the Theosophical Society was founded by Henry Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky. The Theosophical Society became a popular and powerful group throughout the world, especially in America and India. Most of the society's practices and beliefs were determined by Blavatsky and her writings. During her lifetime, she wrote numerous articles and letters, and she also authored the major works: Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine and The Voice of the Silence. The Secret Doctrine became the major source of information to all those interested in Theosophy (Campbell,1980:31). Her writings combined many types of existing beliefs (both western and eastern) into a comprehensive and structured system of study. This is just a very brief summary of Theosophy. For more information on the history of Theosophy, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and other founders, try the following links which are direct expansions of this site:
History before Theosophical Society This link gives a summary of other Ancient Wisdom groups and explains how Theosophy, as a set of concepts, grew into a powerful and influential religion in America. HPB,Olcott and Important Dates This link summarizes Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's life and her connections to Olcott and the Theosophical Society. It also summarizes the important events and dates connected to Theosophy and the Theosophical Society.
Sacred or Revered Texts: The text most widely referred to by the Theosophical Society is Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine. However, this is not the only text. Members are encouraged to read and study the numerous books on theosophy, as well as to explore with science and philosophy.
Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Size of Group: The Theosophical Society is Theosophy's most prominent group. Its size, as of 1995, was 30,000 members worldwide. The number of American members was 4,300, divided between 140 centers (or lodges). (Melton, 1996A:730)
Contemporary Issues/Controversies: Blavatsky's writings were extremely influential, but they were also very controversial. Her works are often referred to as fraudulent and plagiarized, and it has lead many people to question the authenticity of Blavatsky herself (Campbell, 1980:32). Regardless of the authenticity of her writings and practices, people believed in her, and followed her teachings. However, after the death of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky the Theosophical Society began to splinter and new schisms were formed. Many groups retained some version of the word "theosophy" in their titles, while others broke even further away from the teachings of Blavatsky. Today there are numerous groups around the world which had their origins within Theosophy. Some of these groups include the I AM groups, the Liberal Catholic Church and the Anthroposophical Society (Melton, 1996B:1306) The controversy surrounding Theosophy has played a large role in its history. For more information, visit the Controversy link, which is another direct expansion of this site. This link summarizes the controversy which surrounded Helena Petrovna Blavatsky for the last half of her life.
Theosophy is the study of Divine Wisdom. Through the study of Theosophy, one will begin to find the answers to life's deepest, most significant questions: What is the meaning of life and death, why is there evil, what is the point in suffering, is there a God, why are some people lucky and others unlucky? Theosophy provides pointers and insights which will allow one to answer those questions (and many, many more), and ultimately, see the truth (Ellwood,1994:26). The motto often used by theosophists is appropriately, "There is no religion higher than the truth" (Ellwood,1994:14). One must not take the teachings of Theosophy word for word, for it is a timeless religion, and the times have changed meanings of words. Rather, it must be taken as a set of beliefs which will point one in the right direction, and give instruction on finding the truth. One of Theosophy's greatest strengths is its adaptability. If one is serious about learning the truth, it is possible to fit the teachings of Theosophy into an existing lifestyle. In many cases, Theosophists are members of other churches. Theosophy is not meant to contradict existing religions. Rather, it is meant to shed light upon and make further sense out of areas that may not be that clear. It is not a new interpretation of an existing religion, nor is it a completely new idea. It is a thoughtful mixture of Eastern religion, Western religion, philosophy, science and other practical knowledge which seems to have escaped most current religions (Campbell, 1980:19).
According to Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, there are three fundamental principles of Theosophy.
The first states that there is an omnipresent, omnipotent, infinite "power" which exists but cannot be described or understood by the limited human mind. To call it a being, a God, or even to try and give it a name is to do a great injustice. There is no word to describe it, but "power" will be used from now on. To know this "power" is to know the truth, and it is the truth that we seek. It is only through our many lives and stages of consciousness that we will begin to comprehend the "power."
The second principle deals with eternity and the infinity of the "power." It is boundless, and because we are part of it, we are also boundless. For now, it will suffice to say that man and all matter is immortal in the greater scheme of things.
The third principle deals with wholeness and completeness. EVERYTHING is part of a whole, which we can not fully comprehend, but we can be sure exists. All that we think, feel, and do is not only part of who we are, but part of the universe. Even the universe is part of something greater. It is limitless and infinite. All matter and spirit is a piece of the "power." Because we are all part of a whole, there is justice in everything that takes place, regardless of whether we understand the reasons or not. Justice is distributed by means of karma (Ellwood, 1994:20 and Leadbeater, 1903:16). Theosophy is complex, and not meant to be understood by reading about it in a few papers. To understand it as it is meant to be understood, it is necessary to "live Theosophy." Only through a lifetime of devotion and study can one fully appreciate the lessons taught and the insights shown through Theosophy (Leadbeater, 1903:). Thus, it is not possible to summarize a life time of study in a few paragraphs. But it is possible to summarize a few key concepts of Theosophy. To avoid confusion, it is important to keep Theosophy and the Theosophical Society separate. They are, of course, very similar, but the Theosophical Society has some objectives which apply only to itself, and not to all of Theosophy. Most of the books, WebPages and articles aimed at "novice Theosophists" are based on the ideals of the Theosophical Society. This is true mainly for two reasons: The Theosophical Society was institutionalized and it was the founding group. Because it is so closely related to the general ideals of Theosophy, it is important to mention the objectives of the society. The objectives are: (1) "To form a nucleus of the Universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour. (2) To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science. (3) To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man." (Edgar,1906:16)
I turn next to a more detailed examination of some key principles. The reader may choose to jump directly to specific concepts:
Unity of Matter and Spirit: One of the most important, yet most abstract, things to learn about Theosophy is the concept describing the unity of Matter and Spirit. Everything (humans, animals, flowers, planets and stars, etc.) is made not only of matter as the scientific world knows it, but also of spirit (Ellwood, 194:13). This is hard to prove because the whole idea behind spirit belongs with the irrational: it is just a feeling. When one takes time out to ponder difficult questions, it seems like there is something more to life than simple physical matter. It doesn't quite seem right to allow science explain everything that we know in this world: although we can't put our finger on it, we just feel like science misses something. But it is something intangible and mysterious. That missing "something" is spirit, or to use Blavatsky's word, consciousness. The idea behind the unity is backed up by simple observation. Everything that we know in this world exists as pairs: a thing and its opposite (hot and cold, finite and infinite, love and hate, ect.) All of our descriptions of objects can be explained with direct definitions, as well as by defining what the thing is not. Consciousness follows along this train of thought. Simply put, consciousness is what matter is not. The two exist in unity (usually in the form of tension) even though we may not realize it (Ellwood, 1994:23). As a society, we seem to have forgotten that there may be more to life than what is here on earth in the form of matter. In this materialistic age, consciousness (Consciousness, in this case, is not referring to a sense of morality, as it is commonly used.) seems to have been pushed aside. Theosophy tries to teach ways to become more involved with consciousness and put less value into material things. It stresses the triviality and uselessness of material things in terms of the overall picture (Ellwood, 1994:27).
Karma: The karma associated with Theosophy is much the same as the karma of eastern religious traditions. Karma is the justice of the universe (Leadbeater,1903:84). It goes hand in hand with reincarnation. Described generally; with karma, you get what you deserve. During one's present life, one will experience either good or bad karma, depending on what "they" did in their past life ("they" refers to matter and consciousness [i.e. body and soul].) It is common to have both good and bad karma during the same life-time. Karma is not determinism, however it does not force an action, it simply forces a situation. It is still up to the individual to make the best of a situation. By doing the best one can in the current life, they will produce good karma for the next life (Ellwood, 1994:45-46).
Death and Reincarnation: One of the most significant aspects of Theosophy is the concept of death. Because death is not seen as an end point, it is not viewed in a negative light. Rather, death is seen as an initiation, or a right of passage. It is through dying that the spirit can evolve and make progress towards understanding the ultimate truth. By dying, the materialist world is left behind, and the true lessons are taught(Ellwood,1994:110-113). Theosophy teaches that everything will eventually evolve to know the truth (to become divine.) Each life moves the spirit in a direction either towards or away from the truth, and the spirit is reincarnated into another body to learn new lessons. It takes some people longer than others to evolve. Some people, who did not learn from the karma of the life recently past, will have to repeat some of the same lessons. Just like a child who does poorly in school may have to repeat a grade or two, a human spirit may have to repeat a life or two (Leadbeater,1903:53). But here is the key: a human life, when put in context of the complete evolution of the spirit, is nothing more than a blink of an eye. To find the truth takes an endless amount of time, yet it will be obtained. (This is where Theosophy gets confusing, because even time is treated as both matter and consciousness. Time is evolving as well as people.) Life (and death) is not thought of in a traditional sense by theosophists. Life exists on many different planes, in many different worlds. Human life, here on earth, is only a partial stage of one plane of evolution (Ellwood,1994:56).
Planes of Existence: Matter and spirit evolve through different planes and get closer and closer to the truth, or the Divine. Blavatsky names seven different planes of existences, and within each plane, one may have a different intensity, or be focused on one of three different aspects of existence. As with many other religions, the numbers three and seven appear throughout the literature and the teachings. The three aspects of life (the trinity) are Will, Wisdom and Activity. The seven planes of existence are Etheric (or physical), Astral (or feeling), Mental, Intuitive, Mind (activity and bliss) Consciousness (wisdom) and essence (being) (Ellwood, 1994:68).
As humans on earth, theosophy tries to teach us how to understand more than just etheric and astral means of existence. For many people, it is not too difficult to live partially inside the mental and intuitive plane. However, very few people can evolve completely past the first two planes, and give up feelings towards material things (Ellwood, 1994:68). The progression of the consciousness/matter unity through the levels of existence is very complicated. It is not like climbing a social ladder, in which one starts at the bottom, and over time, through hard work and dedication, makes his way to the top. Unfortunately, the upper level planes are just too far advanced to comprehend, and even if we could understand, the journey to such a level is not a straight forward climb (Ellwood,1994:71).
Pilgramage: Blavatsky often described the evolution of society as a pilgrimage -- we are the pilgrims continually searching and discovering. We are on a journey in search of the truth, and although we may not be aware of it, we are slowly advancing as a whole (Ellwood,1994:43). Society on earth is but a small part of a whole, and we do not know the grand scheme of things. However, we can trust that things are moving forward, and that justice is being served. This understanding helps to explain suffering and evil, because it shows us that we may not see or understand why things are happening, but we know that it is just (Ellwood, 1994: 152). The journey is not a constant and gradual climb. Rather, it is a rough roller-coaster ride, which goes up only over long periods of time (Ellwood, 1994:70). Because consciousness and matter are often in tension with each other, when one goes up, the other goes down. This creates the impression of instability and chaos. But it is only an illusion. Reality, as we understand it, is but an image created by ourselves for ourselves (Ellwood, 1994:26). We need not look hard at our world today to see that what we value the most is often not worth much at all. Only a very few people in the world today seem to know true peace: the peace that comes from wisdom and insights into the truth. These are the people that may become Masters (Campbell,1980:55).
The Masters: It is believed that there are those who possess full, or at least extraordinary, knowledge of the Divine Wisdom, and have devoted their existence to showing us the way to the truth. They are called by many names, most commonly the Masters, the Mahatmas or the Adepts (Campbell,1980:53-54). Blavatsky insisted that the Masters not only existed, but were also present here on Earth, and able to communicate with her in person. The Masters have evolved to the highest levels of existence. They have complete control over their lives. They are not controlled by karma, for they can surpass it. They can exist in spirit (consciousness) or in matter, or in a combination of the two. They are as close to the Divine as possible, and they know the truth.
The Masters are often described as belonging to an elitist group called the "Great White Brotherhood." (White refers to purity, not race) (Campbell,1980:54). The significance of their existence is that they provide examples and a sort of proof that Theosophy is real, and that there is a higher level in life than our present existence here on Earth. Masters often take on "students" who show promise of evolving quicker than the rest of society. These students must be pure, moral and compassionate; untainted by any negative thoughts or feelings (Campbell,1980:55). Blavatsky claimed to be a "student" of the Masters, and this was a subject of controversy.