The Meaning of the Name
Q. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a newfangled religion. Is it a religion?
A. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.
Q. What is the real meaning of the term?
A. "Divine Wisdom," (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as (theogonia), genealogy of the gods. The word 'theos' means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not "God" in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not "Wisdom of God," as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.
Q. What is the origin of the name?
A. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from (phil) "loving," and (aletheia) "truth." The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, also called Analogeticists, who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.
As explained by Professor Wilder, they were called so because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends and narratives, myths and mysteries, by a rule or principle of analogy and correspondence: so that events which were related as having occurred in the external world were regarded as expressing operations and experiences of the human soul. They were also denominated Neo-Platonists. Though Theosophy, or the Eclectic Theosophical system, is generally attributed to the third century, yet, if Diogenes LaŽrtius is to be credited, its origin is much earlier, as he attributed the system to an Egyptian priest, Pot-Amun, who lived in the early days of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The same author tells us that the name is Coptic, and signifies one consecrated to Amun, the God of Wisdom. Theosophy is the equivalent of Brahma-Vidya , divine knowledge.
Q. What was the object of this system?
A. First of all to inculcate certain great moral truths upon its disciples, and all those who were "lovers of the truth." Hence the motto adopted by the Theosophical Society: "There is no religion higher than truth."
Eclectic Theosophy was divided under three heads:
1. Belief in one absolute, incomprehensible and supreme Deity, or infinite essence, which is the root of all nature, and of all that is, visible and invisible.
2. Belief in man's eternal immortal nature, because, being a radiation of the Universal Soul, it is of an identical essence with it.
3. Theurgy, or "divine work," or producing a work of gods; from theoi, "gods," and ergein, "to work."
The term is very old, but, as it belongs to the vocabulary of the mysteries, was not in popular use. It was a mystic belief-practically proven by initiated adepts and priests-that, by making oneself as pure as the incorporeal beings-i.e., by returning to one's pristine purity of nature-man could move the gods to impart to him Divine mysteries, and even cause them to become occasionally visible, either subjectively or objectively. It was the transcendental aspect of what is now called Spiritualism; but having been abused and misconceived by the populace, it had come to be regarded by some as necromancy, and was generally forbidden. A travestied practice of the theurgy of Iamblichus lingers still in the ceremonial magic of some modern Cabalists. Modern Theosophy avoids and rejects both these kinds of magic and "necromancy" as being very dangerous. Real divine theurgy requires an almost superhuman purity and holiness of life; otherwise it degenerates into mediumship or black magic. The immediate disciples of Ammonius Saccas, who was called Theodidaktos, "god-taught"-such as Plotinus and his follower Porphyry-rejected theurgy at first, but were finally reconciled to it through Iamblichus, who wrote a work to that effect entitled De Mysteriis, under the name of his own master, a famous Egyptian priest called Abammon. Ammonius Saccas was the son of Christian parents, and, having been repelled by dogmatic Spiritualistic Christianity from his childhood, became a Neo-Platonist, and like J. BoŽhme and other great seers and mystics, is said to have had divine wisdom revealed to him in dreams and visions. Hence his name of Theodidaktos. He resolved to reconcile every system of religion, and by demonstrating their identical origin to establish one universal creed based on ethics. His life was so blameless and pure, his learning so profound and vast, that several Church Fathers were his secret disciples. Clemens Alexandrinus speaks very highly of him. Plotinus, the "St. John" of Ammonius, was also a man universally respected and esteemed, and of the most profound learning and integrity. When thirty-nine years of age he accompanied the Roman Emperor Gordian and his army to the East, to be instructed by the sages of Bactria and India. He had a School of Philosophy in Rome. Porphyry, his disciple, whose real name was Malek (a Hellenized Jew), collected all the writings of his master. Porphyry was himself a great author, and gave an allegorical interpretation to some parts of Homer's writings. The system of meditation the Philaletheians resorted to was ecstasy, a system akin to Indian Yoga practice. What is known of the Eclectic School is due to Origen, Longinus, and Plotinus, the immediate disciples of Ammonius.
The chief aim of the Founders of the Eclectic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely, to reconcile all religions, sects, and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.
Q. What have you to show that this is not an impossible dream; and that all the world's religions are based on the one and the same truth?
A. Their comparative study and analysis. The "Wisdom-Religion" was one in antiquity; and the sameness of primitive religious philosophy is proven to us by the identical doctrines taught to the Initiates during the mysteries, an institution once universally diffused.
All the old worships indicate the existence of a single Theosophy
anterior to them. The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise
it cannot be the right key.
The Policy of the Theosophical Society
Q. In the days of Ammonius there were several ancient great religions, and numerous were the sects in Egypt and Palestine alone. How could he reconcile them?
A. By doing that which we again try to do now. The Neo-Platonists were a large body, and belonged to various religious philosophies; so do our Theosophists.
It was under Philadelphus that Judaism established itself in Alexandria, and forthwith the Hellenic teachers became the dangerous rivals of the College of Rabbis of Babylon. As the author of The Eclectic Philosophy very pertinently remarks:
The Buddhist, Vedantic, and Magian systems were expounded along with the philosophies of Greece at that period. It was not wonderful that thoughtful men supposed that the strife of words ought to cease, and considered it possible to extract one harmonious system from these various teachings . Panaetius, Athenagoras, and Clement were thoroughly instructed in Platonic philosophy, and comprehended its essential unity with the Oriental systems.
In those days, the Jew Aristobulus affirmed that the ethics of Aristotle represented the esoteric teachings of the Law of Moses; Philo Judaeus endeavored to reconcile the Pentateuch with the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy; and Josephus proved that the Essenes of Carmel were simply the copyists and followers of the Egyptian Therapeutae (the healers). So it is in our day. We can show the line of descent of every Christian religion, as of every, even the smallest, sect. The latter are the minor twigs or shoots grown on the larger branches; but shoots and branches spring from the same trunk-the wisdom-religion. To prove this was the aim of Ammonius, who endeavored to induce Gentiles and Christians, Jews and Idolaters, to lay aside their contention and strife, remembering only that they were all in possession of the same truth under various vestments, and were all the children of a common mother. This is the aim of Theosophy likewise.
Says Mosheim of Ammonius:
Conceiving that not only the philosophers of Greece, but also all those of the different barbarian nations, were perfectly in unison with each other with regard to every essential point, he made it his business so to expound the thousand tenets of all these various sects as to show they had all originated from one and the same source, and tended all to one and the same end.
If the writer on Ammonius in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia knows what he is talking about, then he describes the modern Theosophists, their beliefs, and their work, for he says, speaking of the Theodidaktos:
He adopted the doctrines which were received in Egypt (the esoteric were those of India) concerning the Universe and the Deity, considered as constituting one great whole; concerning the eternity of the world . and established a system of moral discipline which allowed the people in general to live according to the laws of their country and the dictates of nature, but required the wise to exalt their mind by contemplation.
Q. What is your authority for saying this of the ancient Theosophists of Alexandria?
A. An almost countless number of well-known writers. Mosheim, one of them, says that:
Ammonius taught that the religion of the multitude went hand-in-hand with philosophy, and with her had shared the fate of being by degrees corrupted and obscured with mere human conceits, superstitions, and lies; that it ought, therefore, to be brought back to its original purity by purging it of this dross and expounding it upon philosophical principles; and the whole Christ had in view was to reinstate and restore to its primitive integrity the wisdom of the ancients; to reduce within bounds the universally-prevailing dominion of superstition; and in part to correct, and in part to exterminate the various errors that had found their way into the different popular religions.
This, again, is precisely what the modern Theosophists say. Only while the great Philaletheian was supported and helped in the policy he pursued by two Church Fathers, Clement and Athenagoras, by all the learned Rabbis of the Synagogue, the Academy and the Groves, and while he taught a common doctrine for all, we, his followers on the same line, receive no recognition, but, on the contrary, are abused and persecuted. People 1,500 years ago are thus shown to have been more tolerant than they are in this enlightened century.
Q. Was he encouraged and supported by the Church because, notwithstanding his heresies, Ammonius taught Christianity and was a Christian?
A. Not at all. He was born a Christian, but never accepted Church Christianity. As said of him by the same writer:
He had but to propound his instructions according to the ancient pillars of Hermes, which Plato and Pythagoras knew before, and from them constituted their philosophy. Finding the same in the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, he very properly supposed that the purpose of Jesus was to restore the great doctrine of wisdom in its primitive integrity. The narratives of the Bible and the stories of the gods he considered to be allegories illustrative of the truth, or else fables to be rejected. As says the Edinburgh Encyclopedia:
Moreover, he acknowledged that Jesus Christ was an excellent man
and the "friend of God," but alleged that it was not his
design entirely to abolish the worship of demons (gods), and that
his only intention was to purify the ancient religion.
The Wisdom-Religion, Esoteric in All Ages
Q. Since Ammonius never committed anything to writing, how can one feel sure that such were his teachings?
A. Neither did Buddha, Pythagoras, Confucius, Orpheus, Socrates, or even Jesus, leave behind them any writings. Yet most of these are historical personages, and their teachings have all survived. The disciples of Ammonius (among whom Origen and Herennius) wrote treatises and explained his ethics. Certainly the latter are as historical, if not more so, than the Apostolic writings. Moreover, his pupils-Origen, Plotinus, and Longinus (counselor of the famous Queen Zenobia)-have all left voluminous records of the Philaletheian System-so far, at all events, as their public profession of faith was known, for the school was divided into exoteric and esoteric teachings.
Q. How have the latter tenets reached our day, since you hold that what is properly called the wisdom-religion was esoteric?
A. The wisdom-religion was ever one, and being the last word of possible human knowledge, was, therefore, carefully preserved. It preceded by long ages the Alexandrian Theosophists, reached the modern, and will survive every other religion and philosophy.
Q. Where and by whom was it so preserved?
A. Among Initiates of every country; among profound seekers after truth-their disciples; and in those parts of the world where such topics have always been most valued and pursued: in India, Central Asia, and Persia.
Q. Can you give me some proofs of its esotericism?
A. The best proof you can have of the fact is that every ancient religious, or rather philosophical, cult consisted of an esoteric or secret teaching, and an exoteric (outward public) worship. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that the mysteries of the ancients comprised with every nation the "greater" (secret) and "Lesser" (public) mysteries-e.g., in the celebrated solemnities called the Eleusinia, in Greece. From the Hierophants of Samothrace, Egypt, and the initiated Brahmins of the India of old, down to the later Hebrew Rabbis, all preserved, for fear of profanation, their real bona fide beliefs secret. The Jewish Rabbis called their secular religious series the Merkabah (the exterior body), "the vehicle," or, the covering which contains the hidden soul-i.e., their highest secret knowledge. Not one of the ancient nations ever imparted through its priests its real philosophical secrets to the masses, but allotted to the latter only the husks. Northern Buddhism has its "greater" and its "lesser" vehicle, known as the Mahayana, the esoteric, and the Hinayana, the exoteric, Schools. Nor can you blame them for such secrecy; for surely you would not think of feeding your flock of sheep on learned dissertations on botany instead of on grass? Pythagoras called his Gnosis "the knowledge of things that are," or [translit.Greek] "he gnosis ton onton" and preserved that knowledge for his pledged disciples only: for those who could digest such mental food and feel satisfied; and he pledged them to silence and secrecy. Occult alphabets and secret ciphers are the development of the old Egyptian hieratic writings, the secret of which was, in the days of old, in the possession only of the Hierogrammatists, or initiated Egyptian priests. Ammonius Saccas, as his biographers tell us, bound his pupils by oath not to divulge his higher doctrines except to those who had already been instructed in preliminary knowledge, and who were also bound by a pledge. Finally, do we not find the same even in early Christianity, among the Gnostics, and even in the teachings of Christ? Did he not speak to the multitudes in parables which had a two-fold meaning, and explain his reasons only to his disciples? He says:
To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables
The Essenes of Judea and Carmel made similar distinctions, dividing their adherents into neophytes, brethren, and the perfect, or those initiated.
Examples might be brought from every country to this effect.
Q. Can you attain the "Secret Wisdom" simply by study? Encyclopedias define Theosophy pretty much as Webster's Dictionary does, i.e., as
. supposed intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment of superhuman knowledge by physical means and chemical processes.
Is this so?
A. I think not. Nor is there any lexicographer capable of explaining, whether to himself or others, how superhuman knowledge can be attained by physical or chemical processes. Had Webster said "by metaphysical and alchemical processes," the definition would be approximately correct: as it is, it is absurd. Ancient Theosophists claimed, and so do the modern, that the infinite cannot be known by the finite-i.e., sensed by the finite Self-but that the divine essence could be communicated to the higher Spiritual Self in a state of ecstasy. This condition can hardly be attained, like hypnotism, by "physical and chemical means."
Q. What is your explanation of it?
A. Real ecstasy was defined by Plotinus as "the liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness, becoming one and identified with the infinite." This is the highest condition, says Professor Wilder, but not one of permanent duration, and it is reached only by the very, very few. It is, indeed, identical with that state which is known in India as Samadhi. The latter is practiced by the Yogis, who facilitate it physically by the greatest abstinence in food and drink, and mentally by an incessant endeavor to purify and elevate the mind. Meditation is silent and unuttered prayer, or, as Plato expressed it,
. the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask any particular good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself-for the universal Supreme Good .
-of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have all emerged. Therefore, adds Plato,
Remain silent in the presence of the divine ones, till they remove the clouds from thy eyes and enable thee to see by the light which issues from themselves, not what appears as good to thee, but what is intrinsically good.
This is what the scholarly author of The Eclectic Philosophy, Professor Alexander Wilder, F.T.S., describes as "spiritual photography":
The soul is the camera in which facts and events, future, past, and present, are alike fixed; and the mind becomes conscious of them. Beyond our everyday world of limits all is one day or state-the past and future comprised in the present. . Death is the last ecstasis on earth. Then the soul is freed from the constraint of the body, and its nobler part is united to higher nature and becomes partaker in the wisdom and foreknowledge of the higher beings.
Real Theosophy is, for the mystics, that state which Apollonius of Tyana was made to describe thus:
I can see the present and the future as in a clear mirror. The sage need not wait for the vapors of the earth and the corruption of the air to foresee events . The theoi, or gods, see the future; common men the present, sages that which is about to take place.
"The Theosophy of the Sages" he speaks of is well expressed in the assertion, "The Kingdom of God is within us."
Q. Theosophy, then, is not, as held by some, a newly devised scheme?
A. Only ignorant people can thus refer to it. It is as old as the world, in its teachings and ethics, if not in name, as it is also the broadest and most catholic system among all.
Q. How comes it, then, that Theosophy has remained so unknown to the nations of the Western Hemisphere? Why should it have been a sealed book to races confessedly the most cultured and advanced?
A. We believe there were nations as cultured in days of old and certainly more spiritually "advanced" than we are. But there are several reasons for this willing ignorance. One of them was given by St. Paul to the cultured Athenians-a loss, for long centuries, of real spiritual insight, and even interest, owing to their too great devotion to things of sense and their long slavery to the dead letter of dogma and ritualism. But the strongest reason for it lies in the fact that real Theosophy has ever been kept secret.
Q. You have brought forward proofs that such secrecy has existed; but what was the real cause for it?
A. The causes for it were:
1. The perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbors arid next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets.
2. Their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge
from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of
the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation
of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery-in
other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.
Theosophy is Not Buddhism
Q. You are often spoken of as "Esoteric Buddhists." Are you then all followers of Gautama Buddha?
A. No more than musicians are all followers of Wagner. Some of us are Buddhists by religion; yet there are far more Hindus and Brahmins than Buddhists among us, and more Christian-born Europeans and Americans than converted Buddhists. The mistake has arisen from a misunderstanding of the real meaning of the title of Mr. Sinnett's excellent work, Esoteric Buddhism, which last word ought to have been spelt with one, instead of two, d's, as then Budhism would have meant what it was intended for, merely "Wisdom-ism" (Bodha, bodhi, "intelligence," "wisdom") instead of Buddhism, Gautama's religious philosophy. Theosophy, as already said, is the wisdom-religion.
Q. What is the difference between Buddhism, the religion founded by the Prince of Kapilavastu, and Budhism, the "Wisdomism" which you say is synonymous with Theosophy?
A. Just the same difference as there is between the secret teachings of Christ, which are called "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven," and the later ritualism and dogmatic theology of the Churches and Sects. Buddha means the "Enlightened" by Bodha, or understanding, Wisdom. This has passed root and branch into the esoteric teachings that Gautama imparted to his chosen Arhats only.
Q. But some Orientalists deny that Buddha ever taught any esoteric doctrine at all?
A. They may as well deny that Nature has any hidden secrets for the men of science. Further on I will prove it by Buddha's conversation with his disciple Ananda. His esoteric teachings were simply the Gupta-Vidya (secret knowledge) of the ancient Brahmins, the key to which their modern successors have, with few exceptions, completely lost. And this Vidya has passed into what is now known as the inner teachings of the Mahayana school of Northern Buddhism. Those who deny it are simply ignorant pretenders to Orientalism. I advise you to read the Rev. Mr. Edkin's Chinese Buddhism-especially the chapters on the Exoteric and Esoteric schools and teachings-and then compare the testimony of the whole ancient world upon the subject.
Q. But are not the ethics of Theosophy identical with those taught by Buddha?
A. Certainly, because these ethics are the soul of the Wisdom-Religion, and were once the common property of the initiates of all nations. But Buddha was the first to embody these lofty ethics in his public teachings, and to make them the foundation and the very essence of his public system. It is herein that lies the immense difference between exoteric Buddhism and every other religion. For while in other religions ritualism and dogma hold the first and most important place, in Buddhism it is the ethics which have always been the most insisted upon. This accounts for the resemblance, amounting almost to identity, between the ethics of Theosophy and those of the religion of Buddha.
Q. Are there any great points of difference?
A. One great distinction between Theosophy and exoteric Buddhism is that the latter, represented by the Southern Church, entirely denies (a) the existence of any Deity, and (b) any conscious postmortem life, or even any self-conscious surviving individuality in man. Such at least is the teaching of the Siamese sect, now considered as the purest form of exoteric Buddhism. And it is so, if we refer only to Buddha's public teachings; the reason for such reticence on his part I will give further on. But the schools of the Northern Buddhist Church, established in those countries to which his initiated Arhats retired after the Master's death, teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because they form part of the knowledge of the initiates-thus proving how the truth has been sacrificed to the dead-letter by the too-zealous orthodoxy of Southern Buddhism. But how much grander and more noble, more philosophical and scientific, even in its dead-letter, is this teaching than that of any other Church or religion. Yet Theosophy is not Buddhism.
What the Modern Theosophical Society is Not
Q. Your doctrines, then, are not a revival of Buddhism, nor are they entirely copied from the Neo-Platonic Theosophy?
A. They are not. But to these questions I cannot give you a better answer than by quoting from a paper read on "Theosophy" by Dr. J.D. Buck, F.T.S., No living Theosophist has better expressed and understood the real essence of Theosophy than our honored friend Dr. Buck:
The Theosophical Society was organized for the purpose of promulgating the Theosophical doctrines, and for the promotion of the Theosophic life. The present Theosophical Society is not the first of its kind. I have a volume entitled: Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society, published in London in 1697; and another with the following title:
Introduction to Theosophy, or the Science of the Mystery of Christ; that is, of Deity, Nature, and Creature, embracing the philosophy of all the working powers of life, magical and spiritual, ant forming a practical guide to the most sublime purity, sanctity, and evangelical perfection; also to the attainment of divine vision, and the holy angelic arts, potencies, and other prerogatives of the regeneration.
-published in London in 1855. The following is the dedication of this volume:
To the students of Universities, Colleges, and schools of Christendom: To Professors of Metaphysical, Mechanical, and Natural Science in all its forms: To men and women of Education generally, of fundamental orthodox faith: To Deists, Arians, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, and other defective and ungrounded creeds, rationalists, and skeptics of every kind: To just-minded and enlightened Mohammedans, Jews, and oriental Patriarch-religionists: but especially to the gospel minister and missionary, whether to the barbaric or intellectual peoples, this introduction to Theosophy, or the science of the ground and mystery of all things, is most humbly and affectionately dedicated.
In the following year (1856) another volume was issued, royal octavo, of 600
pages, diamond type, of Theosophical Miscellanies. Of the last-named work
500 copies only were issued, for gratuitous distribution to Libraries and Universities. These earlier movements, of which there were many, originated
within the Church, with persons of great piety and earnestness, and of
unblemished character; and all of these writings were in orthodox form, using
the Christian expressions, and, like the writings of the eminent Churchman
William Law, would only be distinguished by the ordinary reader for their great earnestness and piety. These were one and all but attempts to derive and explain the deeper meanings and original import of the Christian Scriptures, and to illustrate and unfold the Theosophic life. These works were soon forgotten, and are now generally unknown. They sought to reform the clergy and revive genuine piety, and were never welcomed. That one word, Heresy, was sufficient to bury them in the limbo of all such Utopias. At the time of the Reformation John Reuchlin made a similar attempt with the same result, though he was the intimate and trusted friend of Luther. Orthodoxy never desired to be informed and enlightened. These reformers were informed, as was Paul by Festus, that too much learning had made them mad, and that it would be dangerous to go farther. Passing by the verbiage, which was partly a matter of habit and education with these writers, and partly due to religious restraint through secular power, and coming to the core of the matter, these writings were Theosophical in the strictest sense, and pertain solely to man's knowledge of his own nature and the higher life of the soul. The present Theosophical Movement has sometimes been declared to be an attempt to convert Christendom to Buddhism, which means simply that the word Heresy has lost its terrors and relinquished its power. Individuals in every age have more or less clearly apprehended the Theosophical doctrines and wrought them into the fabric of their lives. These doctrines belong exclusively to no religion, and are confined to no society or time. They are the birthright of every human soul. Such a thing as orthodoxy must be wrought out by each individual according to his nature and his needs, and according to his varying experience. This may explain why those who have imagined Theosophy to be a new religion have hunted in vain for its creed and its ritual. Its creed is Loyalty to Truth, and its ritual "To honor every truth by use."
How little this principle of Universal Brotherhood is understood by the masses of mankind, how seldom its transcendent importance is recognized, may be seen in the diversity of opinion and fictitious interpretations regarding the Theosophical Society. This Society was organized on this one principle, the essential Brotherhood of Man, as herein briefly outlined and imperfectly set forth. It has been assailed as Buddhist and anti-Christian, as though it could be both these together, when both Buddhism and Christianity, as set forth by their inspired founders, make brotherhood the one essential of doctrine and of life. Theosophy has been also regarded as something new under the sun, or, at best as old mysticism masquerading under a new name. While it is true that many Societies founded upon, and united to support, the principles of altruism, or essential brotherhood, have borne various names, it is also true that many have also been called Theosophic, and with principles and aims as the present society bearing that name. With these societies, one and all, the essential doctrine has been the same, and all else has been incidental, though this does not obviate the fact that many persons are attracted to the incidentals who overlook or ignore the essentials.
No better or more explicit answer-by a man who is one of our most esteemed and earnest Theosophists-could be given to your questions.
Q. Which system do you prefer or follow, in that case, besides Buddhist ethics?
A. None, and all. We hold to no religion, as to no philosophy in particular: we cull the good we find in each. But here, again, it must be stated that, like all other ancient systems, Theosophy is divided into Exoteric and Esoteric Sections.
Q. What is the difference?
A. The members of the Theosophical Society at large are free to
profess whatever religion or philosophy they like, or none if they
so prefer, provided they are in sympathy with, and ready to carry
out one or more of the three objects of the Association. The Society
is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the
idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical lines. The
Fellows may be Christians or Muslims, Jews or Parsees, Buddhists
or Brahmins, Spiritualists or Materialists, it does not matter;
but every member must be either a philanthropist, or a scholar,
a searcher into ryan and other old literature, or a psychic student.
In short, he has to help, if he can, in the carrying out of at least
one of the objects of the program. Otherwise he has no reason for
becoming a "Fellow." Such are the majority of the exoteric
Society, composed of "attached" and "unattached"
members. These may, or may not, become Theosophists de facto. Members
they are, by virtue of their having joined the Society; but the
latter cannot make a Theosophist of one who has no sense for the
divine fitness of things, or of him who understands Theosophy in
his own-if the expression may be used-sectarian and egotistic way.
"Handsome is, as handsome does" could be paraphrased in
this case and be made to run: "Theosophist is, who Theosophy
Theosophists and Members of the T.S.
Q. This applies to lay members, as I understand. And what of those who pursue the esoteric study of Theosophy; are they the real Theosophists?
A. Not necessarily, until they have proven themselves to be such. They have entered the inner group and pledged themselves to carry out, as strictly as they can, the rules of the occult body. This is a difficult undertaking, as the foremost rule of all is the entire renunciation of one's personality-i.e., a pledged member has to become a thorough altruist, never to think of himself, and to forget his own vanity and pride in the thought of the good of his fellow-creatures, besides that of his fellow-brothers in the esoteric circle. He has to live, if the esoteric instructions shall profit him, a life of abstinence in everything, of self-denial and strict morality, doing his duty by all men. The few real Theosophists in the T.S. are among these members.
A. This does not imply that outside of the T.S. and the inner circle, there are no Theosophists; for there are, and more than people know of; certainly far more than are found among the lay members of the T.S.
Q. Then what is the good of joining the so-called Theosophical Society in that case? Where is the incentive?
A. None, except the advantage of getting esoteric instructions, the genuine doctrines of the "Wisdom-Religion," and if the real program is carried out, deriving much help from mutual aid and sympathy. Union is strength and harmony, and well-regulated simultaneous efforts produce wonders. This has been the secret of all associations and communities since mankind existed.
Q. But why could not a man of well-balanced mind and singleness of purpose, one, say, of indomitable energy and perseverance, become an Occultist and even an Adept if he works alone?
A. He may; but there are ten thousand chances against one that he will fail. For one reason out of many others, no books on Occultism or Theurgy exist in our day which give out the secrets of alchemy or medieval Theosophy in plain language. All are symbolical or in parables; and as the key to these has been lost for ages in the West, how can a man learn the correct meaning of what he is reading and studying? Therein lies the greatest danger, one that leads to unconscious black magic or the most helpless mediumship. He who has not an Initiate for a master had better leave the dangerous study alone. Look around you and observe. While two-thirds of civilized society ridicule the mere notion that there is anything in Theosophy, Occultism, Spiritualism, or in the Cabala, the other third is composed of the most heterogeneous and opposite elements. Some believe in the mystical, and even in the supernatural (!), but each believes in his own way. Others will rush single-handed into the study of the Cabala, Psychism, Mesmerism, Spiritualism, or some form or another of Mysticism. Result: no two men think alike, no two are agreed upon any fundamental occult principles, though many are those who claim for themselves the ultima thule of knowledge, and would make outsiders believe that they are full-blown adepts. Not only is there no scientific and accurate knowledge of Occultism accessible in the West-not even of true astrology, the only branch of Occultism which, in its exoteric teachings, has definite laws and a definite system-but no one has any idea of what real Occultism means. Some limit ancient wisdom to the Cabala and the Jewish Zohar, which each interprets in his own way according to the dead-letter of the Rabbinical methods. Others regard Swedenborg or BoŽhme as the ultimate expressions of the highest wisdom; while others again see in mesmerism the great secret of ancient magic. One and all of those who put their theory into practice are rapidly drifting, through ignorance, into black magic. Happy are those who escape from it, as they have neither test nor criterion by which they can distinguish between the true and the false.
Q. Are we to understand that the inner group of the T.S. claims to learn what it does from real initiates or masters of esoteric wisdom?
A. Not directly. The personal presence of such masters is not required. Suffice it if they give instructions to some of those who have studied under their guidance for years, and devoted their whole lives to their service. Then, in turn, these can give out the knowledge so imparted to others, who had no such opportunity. A portion of the true sciences is better than a mass of undigested and misunderstood learning. An ounce of gold is worth a ton of dust.
Q. But how is one to know whether the ounce is real gold or only a counterfeit?
A. A tree is known by its fruit, a system by its results. When our opponents are able to prove to us that any solitary student of Occultism throughout the ages has become a saintly adept like Ammonius Saccas, or even a Plotinus, or a Theurgist like Iamblichus, or achieved feats such as are claimed to have been done by St. Germain, without any master to guide him, and all this without being a medium, a self-deluded psychic, or a charlatan-then shall we confess ourselves mistaken. But till then, Theosophists prefer to follow the proven natural law of the tradition of the Sacred Science. There are mystics who have made great discoveries in chemistry and physical sciences, almost bordering on alchemy and Occultism; others who, by the sole aid of their genius, have rediscovered portions, if not the whole, of the lost alphabets of the "Mystery language," and are, therefore, able to read correctly Hebrew scrolls; others still, who, being seers, have caught wonderful glimpses of the hidden secrets of Nature. But all these are specialists. One is a theoretical inventor, another a Hebrew, i.e., a Sectarian Cabalist, a third a Swedenborg of modern times, denying all and everything outside of his own particular science or religion. Not one of them can boast of having produced a universal or even a national benefit thereby, not even to himself. With the exception of a few healers-of that class which the Royal College of Physicians or Surgeons would call quacks-none have helped with their science Humanity, nor even a number of men of the same community. Where are the Chaldeans of old, those who wrought marvelous cures, "not by charms but by simples"? Where is an Apollonius of Tyana, who healed the sick and raised the dead under any climate and circumstances? We know some specialists of the former class in Europe, but none of the latter-except in Asia, where the secret of the Yogi, "to live in death," is still preserved.
Q. Is the production of such healing adepts the aim of Theosophy?
A. Its aims are several; but the most important of all are those which are likely to lead to the relief of human suffering under any or every form, moral as well as physical. And we believe the former to be far more important than the latter. Theosophy has to inculcate ethics; it has to purify the soul, if it would relieve the physical body, whose ailments, save cases of accidents, are all hereditary. It is not by studying Occultism for selfish ends, for the gratification of one's personal ambition, pride, or vanity, that one can ever reach the true goal: that of helping suffering mankind. Nor is it by studying one single branch of the esoteric philosophy that a man becomes an Occultist, but by studying, if not mastering, them all.
Q. Is help, then, to reach this most important aim, given only to those who study the esoteric sciences?
A. Not at all. Every lay member is entitled to general instruction
if he only wants it; but few are willing to become what is called
"working members," and most prefer to remain the drones
of Theosophy. Let it be understood that private research is encouraged
in the T.S., provided it does not infringe the limit which separates
the exoteric from the esoteric, the blind from the conscious magic.
The Difference Between Theosophy and Occultism
Q. You speak of Theosophy and Occultism; are they identical?
A. By no means. A man may be a very good Theosophist indeed, whether in or outside of the Society, without being in any way an Occultist. But no one can be a true Occultist without being a real Theosophist; otherwise he is simply a black magician, whether conscious or unconscious.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I have said already that a true Theosophist must put in practice the loftiest moral ideal, must strive to realize his unity with the whole of humanity, and work ceaselessly for others. Now, if an Occultist does not do all this, he must act selfishly for his own personal benefit; and if he has acquired more practical power than other ordinary men, he becomes forthwith a far more dangerous enemy to the world and those around him than the average mortal. This is clear.
Q. Then is an Occultist simply a man who possesses more power than other people?
A. Far more-if he is a practical and really learned Occultist, and not one only in name. Occult sciences are not, as described in Encyclopedias,
. those imaginary sciences of the Middle Ages which related to the supposed action or influence of Occult qualities or supernatural powers, as alchemy, magic, necromancy, and astrology .
-for they are real, actual, and very dangerous sciences. They teach the secret potency of things in Nature, developing and cultivating the hidden powers "latent in man," thus giving him tremendous advantages over more ignorant mortals. Hypnotism, now become so common and a subject of serious scientific inquiry, is a good instance in point. Hypnotic power has been discovered almost by accident, the way to it having been prepared by mesmerism; and now an able hypnotist can do almost anything with it, from forcing a man, unconsciously to himself, to play the fool, to making him commit a crime-often by proxy for the hypnotist, and for the benefit of the latter. Is not this a terrible power if left in the hands of unscrupulous persons? And please to remember that this is only one of the minor branches of Occultism.
Q. But are not all these Occult sciences, magic, and sorcery, considered by the most cultured and learned people as relics of ancient ignorance and superstition?
A. Let me remind you that this remark of yours cuts both ways.
The "most cultured and learned" among you regard also
Christianity and every other religion as a relic of ignorance and
superstition. People begin to believe now, at any rate, in hypnotism,
and some-even of the most cultured-in Theosophy and phenomena. But
who among them, except preachers and blind fanatics, will confess
to a belief in Biblical miracles? And this is where the point of
difference comes in. There are very good and pure Theosophists who
may believe in the supernatural, divine miracles included, but no
Occultist will do so. For an Occultist practices scientific Theosophy,
based on accurate knowledge of Nature's secret workings; but a Theosophist,
practicing the powers called abnormal, minus the light of Occultism,
will simply tend toward a dangerous form of mediumship, because,
although holding to Theosophy and its highest conceivable code of
ethics, he practices it in the dark, on sincere but blind faith.
Anyone, Theosophist or Spiritualist, who attempts to cultivate one
of the branches of Occult science-e.g., Hypnotism, Mesmerism, or
even the secrets of producing physical phenomena, etc.-without the
knowledge of the philosophic rationale of those powers, is like
a rudderless boat launched on a stormy ocean.
The Difference Between Theosophy and Spiritualism
Q. But do you not believe in Spiritualism?
A. If by "Spiritualism" you mean the explanation which Spiritualists give of some abnormal phenomena, then decidedly we do not. They maintain that these manifestations are all produced by the "spirits" of departed mortals, generally their relatives, who return to earth, they say, to communicate with those they have loved or to whom they are attached. We deny this point blank. We assert that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth-save in rare and exceptional cases, of which I may speak later; nor do they communicate with men except by entirely subjective means. That which does appear objectively, is only the phantom of the ex-physical man. But in psychic, and so to say, "Spiritual" Spiritualism, we do believe, most decidedly.
Q. Do you reject the phenomena also?
A. Assuredly not-save cases of conscious fraud.
Q. How do you account for them, then?
A. In many ways. The causes of such manifestations are by no means so simple as the Spiritualists would like to believe. Foremost of all, the deus ex machina of the so-called "materializations" is usually the astral body or "double" of the medium or of someone present. This astral body is also the producer or operating force in the manifestations of slate-writing, "Davenport"-like manifestations, and so on.
Q. You say usually-then what is it that produces the rest?
A. That depends on the nature of the manifestations. Sometimes the astral remains, the Kamalokic "shells" of the vanished personalities that were; at other times, Elementals. Spirit is a word of manifold and wide significance. I really do not know what Spiritualists mean by the term; but what we understand them to claim is that the physical phenomena are produced by the reincarnating Ego, the Spiritual and immortal "individuality." And this hypothesis we entirely reject. The Conscious Individuality of the disembodied cannot materialize, nor can it return from its own mental Devachanic sphere to the plane of terrestrial objectivity.
Q. But many of the communications received from the "spirits" show not only intelligence, but a knowledge of facts not known to the medium, and sometimes even not consciously present to the mind of the investigator, or any of those who compose the audience.
A. This does not necessarily prove that the intelligence and knowledge you speak of belong to spirits, or emanate from disembodied souls. Somnambulists have been known to compose music and poetry and to solve mathematical problems while in their trance state, without having ever learnt music or mathematics. Others, answered intelligently to questions put to them, and even, in several cases, spoke languages, such as Hebrew and Latin, of which they were entirely ignorant when awake-all this in a state of profound sleep. Will you, then, maintain that this was caused by "spirits"?
Q. But how would you explain it?
A. We assert that the divine spark in man being one and identical in its essence with the Universal Spirit, our "spiritual Self" is practically omniscient, but that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter. Now the more these impediments are removed, in other words, the more the physical body is paralyzed, as to its own independent activity and consciousness, as in deep sleep or deep trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner Self manifest on this plane. This is our explanation of those truly wonderful phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and knowledge are exhibited. As to the lower order of manifestations, such as physical phenomena and the platitudes and common talk of the general "spirit," to explain even the most important of the teachings we hold upon the subject would take up more space and time than can be allotted to it at present. We have no desire to interfere with the belief of the Spiritualists any more than with any other belief. The responsibility must fall on the believers in "spirits." And at the present moment, while still convinced that the higher sort of manifestations occur through the disembodied souls, their leaders and the most learned and intelligent among the Spiritualists are the first to confess that not all the phenomena are produced by spirits. Gradually they will come to recognize the whole truth; but meanwhile we have no right nor desire to proselytize them to our views. The less so, as in the cases of purely psychic and spiritual manifestations we believe in the intercommunication of the spirit of the living man with that of disembodied personalities.
We say that in such cases it is not the spirits of the dead who descend on earth, but the spirits of the living that ascend to the pure spiritual Souls. In truth there is neither ascending nor descending, but a change of state or condition for the medium. The body of the latter becoming paralyzed, or "entranced," the spiritual Ego is free from its trammels, and finds itself on the same plane of consciousness with the disembodied spirits. Hence, if there is any spiritual attraction between the two they can communicate, as often occurs in dreams. The difference between a mediumistic and a non-sensitive nature is this: the liberated spirit of a medium has the opportunity and facility of influencing the passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them act, speak, and write at its will. The Ego can make it repeat, echo-like, and in the human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity, as well as its own. But the non-receptive or non-sensitive organism of one who is very positive cannot be so influenced. Hence, although there is hardly a human being whose Ego does not hold free intercourse, during the sleep of his body, with those whom it loved and lost, yet, on account of the positiveness and non-receptivity of its physical envelope and brain, no recollection, or a very dim, dream-like remembrance, lingers in the memory of the person once awake.
Q. This means that you reject the philosophy of Spiritualism in toto?
A. If by "philosophy" you mean their crude theories, we do. But they have no philosophy, in truth. Their best, their most intellectual and earnest defenders say so. Their fundamental and only unimpeachable truth, namely, that phenomena occur through mediums controlled by invisible forces and intelligences-no one, except a blind materialist of the "Huxley big toe" school, will or can deny. With regard to their philosophy, however, let me read to you what the able editor of Light, than whom the Spiritualists will find no wiser nor more devoted champion, says of them and their philosophy.
This is what "M.A. Oxon," one of the very few philosophical Spiritualists, writes, with respect to their lack of organization and blind bigotry:
It is worthwhile to look steadily at this point, for it is of vital moment. We have an experience and a knowledge beside which all other knowledge is comparatively insignificant. The ordinary Spiritualist waxes wroth if anyone ventures to impugn his assured knowledge of the future and his absolute certainty of the life to come. Where other men have stretched forth feeble hands groping into the dark future, he walks boldly as one who has a chart and knows his way. Where other men have stopped short at a pious aspiration or have been content with a hereditary faith, it is his boast that he knows what they only believe, and that out of his rich stores he can supplement the fading faiths built only upon hope. He is magnificent in his dealings with man's most cherished expectations. He seems to say:
You hope for that which I can demonstrate. You have accepted a traditional belief in what I can experimentally prove according to the strictest scientific method. The old beliefs are fading; come out from them and be separate. They contain as much falsehood as truth. Only by building on a sure foundation of demonstrated fact can your superstructure be stable. All round you old faiths are toppling. Avoid the crash and get you out.
When one comes to deal with this magnificent person in a practical way, what is the result? Very curious and very disappointing. He is so sure of his ground that he takes no trouble to ascertain the interpretation which others put upon his facts. The wisdom of the ages has concerned itself with the explanation of what he rightly regards as proven; but he does not turn a passing glance on its researches. He does not even agree altogether with his brother Spiritualist. It is the story over again of the old Scotch body who, together with her husband, formed a "kirk." They had exclusive keys to Heaven, or, rather, she had, for she was "na certain aboot Jamie." So the infinitely divided and subdivided and re-subdivided sects of Spiritualists shake their heads, and are "na certain aboot" one another. Again, the collective experience of mankind is solid and unvarying on this point that union is strength, and disunion a source of weakness and failure. Shoulder to shoulder, drilled and disciplined, a rabble becomes an army, each man a match for a hundred of the untrained men that may be brought against it. Organization in every department of man's work means success, saving of time and labor, profit and development. Want of method, want of plan, haphazard work, fitful energy, undisciplined effort-these mean bungling failure. The voice of humanity attests the truth. Does the Spiritualist accept the verdict and act on the conclusion? Verily, no. He refuses to organize. He is a law unto himself, and a thorn in the side of his neighbors.
Q. I was told that the Theosophical Society was originally founded to crush Spiritualism and belief in the survival of the individuality in man?
A. You are misinformed. Our beliefs are all founded on that immortal individuality. But then, like so many others, you confuse personality with individuality. Your Western psychologists do not seem to have established any clear distinction between the two. Yet it is precisely that difference which gives the keynote to the understanding of Eastern philosophy, and which lies at the root of the divergence between the Theosophical and Spiritualistic teachings. And though it may draw upon us still more the hostility of some Spiritualists, yet I must state here that it is Theosophy which is the true and unalloyed Spiritualism, while the modern scheme of that name is, as now practiced by the masses, simply transcendental materialism.
Q. Please explain your idea more clearly.
A. What I mean is that though our teachings insist upon the identity of spirit and matter, and though we say that spirit is potential matter, and matter simply crystallized spirit (e.g., as ice is solidified steam), yet since the original and eternal condition of all is not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak, we maintain that the term spirit can only be applied to the true individuality.
Q. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality" and the "I" or "Ego" of which we are all conscious?
A. Before I can answer you, we must argue upon what you mean by "I" or "Ego." We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that "I am I," and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Brown." Believing as we do in a series of births for the same Ego, or reincarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith calls "himself." But none of these "experiences" are really the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last. We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of "experiences," which we call the false (because so finite and evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling of "I am I" is due. It is this "I am I" which we call the true individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or individuality plays, like an actor, many parts on the stage of life. Let us call every new life on earth of the same Ego a night on the stage of a theater. One night the actor, or "Ego," appears as "Macbeth," the next as "Shylock," the third as "Romeo," the fourth as "Hamlet" or "King Lear," and so on, until he has run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his life-pilgrimage as a sprite, an "Ariel," or a "Puck"; he plays the part of a super, is a soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to "speaking parts," plays leading roles, interspersed with insignificant parts, till he finally retires from the stage as "Prospero," the magician.
Q. I understand. You say, then, that this true Ego cannot return to earth after death. But surely the actor is at liberty, if he has preserved the sense of his individuality, to return if he likes to the scene of his former actions?
A. We say not, simply because such a return to earth would be incompatible
with any state of unalloyed bliss after death, as I am prepared
to prove. We say that man suffers so much unmerited misery during
his life, through the fault of others with whom he is associated,
or because of his environment, that he is surely entitled to perfect
rest and quiet, if not bliss, before taking up again the burden
of life. However, we can discuss this in detail later.
Why is Theosophy Accepted?
Q. I understand to a certain extent; but I see that your teachings are far more complicated and metaphysical than either Spiritualism or current religious thought. Can you tell me, then, what has caused this system of Theosophy which you support to arouse so much interest and so much animosity at the same time?
A. There are several reasons for it, I believe; among other causes that may be mentioned is:
1. The great reaction from the crassly materialistic theories now prevalent among scientific teachers.
2. General dissatisfaction with the artificial theology of the various Christian Churches, and the number of daily increasing and conflicting sects.
3. An ever-growing perception of the fact that the creeds which are so obviously self-and mutually-contradictory cannot be true, and that claims which are unverified cannot be real. This natural distrust of conventional religions is only strengthened by their complete failure to preserve morals and to purify society and the masses.
4. A conviction on the part of many, and knowledge by a few, that there must be somewhere a philosophical and religious system which shall be scientific and not merely speculative.
5. A belief, perhaps, that such a system must be sought for in teachings far antedating any modern faith.
Q. But how did this system come to be put forward just now?
A. Just because the time was found to be ripe, which fact is shown by the determined effort of so many earnest students to reach the truth, at whatever cost and wherever it may be concealed. Seeing this, its custodians permitted that some portions at least of that truth should be proclaimed. Had the formation of the Theosophical Society been postponed a few years longer, one half of the civilized nations would have become by this time rank materialists, and the other half anthropomorphists and phenomenalists.
Q. Are we to regard Theosophy in any way as a revelation?
A. In no way whatever-not even in the sense of a new and direct disclosure from some higher, supernatural, or, at least, superhuman beings; but only in the sense of an "unveiling" of old, very old, truths to minds hitherto ignorant of them, ignorant even of the existence and preservation of any such archaic knowledge.
It has become "fashionable," especially of late, to deride the notion that there ever was, in the mysteries of great and civilized peoples, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, anything but priestly imposture. Even the Rosicrucians were no better than half lunatics, half knaves. Numerous books have been written on them; and tyros, who had hardly heard the name a few years before, sallied out as profound critics and Gnostics on the subject of alchemy, the fire-philosophers, and mysticism in general. Yet a long series of the Hierophants of Egypt, India, Chaldea, and Arabia are known, along with the greatest philosophers and sages of Greece and the West, to have included under the designation of wisdom and divine science all knowledge, for they considered the base and origin of every art and science as essentially divine. Plato regarded the mysteries as most sacred, and Clemens Alexandrinus, who had been himself initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, has declared "that the doctrines taught therein contained in them the end of all human knowledge." Were Plato and Clemens two knaves or two fools, we wonder, or-both?
Q. You spoke of "Persecution." If truth is as represented by Theosophy, why has it met with such opposition, and with no general acceptance?
A. For many and various reasons again, one of which is the hatred felt by men for "innovations," as they call them. Selfishness is essentially conservative, and hates being disturbed. It prefers an easy-going, unexacting lie to the greatest truth, if the latter requires the sacrifice of one's smallest comfort. The power of mental inertia is great in anything that does not promise immediate benefit and reward. Our age is preeminently unspiritual and matter of fact. Moreover, there is the unfamiliar character of Theosophic teachings; the highly abstruse nature of the doctrines, some of which contradict flatly many of the human vagaries cherished by sectarians, which have eaten into the very core of popular beliefs. If we add to this the personal efforts and great purity of life exacted of those who would become the disciples of the inner circle, and the very limited class to which an entirely unselfish code appeals, it will be easy to perceive the reason why Theosophy is doomed to such slow, uphill work. It is essentially the philosophy of those who suffer, and have lost all hope of being helped out of the mire of life by any other means. Moreover, the history of any system of belief or morals, newly introduced into a foreign soil, shows that its beginnings were impeded by every obstacle that obscurantism and selfishness could suggest. "The crown of the innovator is a crown of thorns" indeed! No pulling down of old, worm-eaten buildings can be accomplished without some danger.
Q. All this refers rather to the ethics and philosophy of the T.S. Can you give me a general idea of the Society itself, its objects and statutes?
A. This was never made secret. Ask, and you shall receive accurate answers.
Q. But I heard that you were bound by pledges?
A. Only in the Arcane or "Esoteric" Section.
Q. And also, that some members after leaving did not regard themselves bound by them. Are they right?
A. This shows that their idea of honor is an imperfect one. How can they be right? As well said in The Path, our theosophical organ at New York, treating of such a case:
Suppose that a soldier is tried for infringement of oath and discipline, and is dismissed from the service. In his rage at the justice he has called down, and of whose penalties he was distinctly forewarned, the soldier turns to the enemy with false information-a spy and traitor-as a revenge upon his former Chief, and claims that his punishment has released him from his oath of loyalty to a cause.
Is he justified, think you? Don't you think he deserves being called a dishonorable man, a coward?
Q. I believe so; but some think otherwise.
A. So much the worse for them. But we will talk on this subject later, if you please.
The Objects of the Society
Q. What are the objects of the "Theosophical Society"?
A. They are three, and have been so from the beginning.
1. To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, color, or creed.
2. To promote the study of Aryan *2) and other Scriptures, of the World's religions and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely, of the Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies.
3. To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially.
These are, broadly stated, the three chief objects of the Theosophical
*1) See also appendix at the end of this file
*2) H.P.B. means the original Indo-Germanic race from Northern India (see H.P.B., The Theosophical Glossary, London, 1892
and also the glossary at the end of this file)
Q. Can you give me some more detailed information upon these?
A. We may divide each of the three objects into as many explanatory clauses as may be found necessary.
Q. Then let us begin with the first. What means would you resort to, in order to promote such a feeling of brotherhood among races that are known to be of the most diversified religions, customs, beliefs, and modes of thought?
A. Allow me to add that which you seem unwilling to express. Of course we know that with the exception of two remnants of races-the Parsees and the Jews-every nation is divided, not merely against all other nations, but even against itself. This is found most prominently among the so-called civilized Christian nations. Hence your wonder, and the reason why our first object appears to you a Utopia. Is it not so?
Q. Well, yes; but what have you to say against it?
A. Nothing against the fact; but much about the necessity of removing the causes which make Universal Brotherhood a Utopia at present.
Q. What are, in your view, these causes?
A. First and foremost, the natural selfishness of human nature.
This selfishness, instead of being eradicated, is daily strengthened
and stimulated into a ferocious and irresistible feeling by the
present religious education, which tends not only to encourage,
but positively to justify it. People's ideas about right and wrong
have been entirely perverted by the literal acceptance of the Jewish
Bible. All the unselfishness of the altruistic teachings of Jesus
has become merely a theoretical subject for pulpit oratory; while
the precepts of practical selfishness taught in the Mosaic Bible,
against which Christ so vainly preached, have become ingrained into
the innermost life of the Western nations. "An eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth" has come to be the first maxim of
your law. Now, I state openly and fearlessly, that the perversity
of this doctrine and of so many others Theosophy alone can eradicate.
The Common Origin of Man
A. Simply by demonstrating on logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and even scientific grounds that: (a) All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy. (b) As 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. This is as certain and as obvious as that a stone thrown into a pond will, sooner or later, set in motion every single drop of water therein.
Q. But this is not the teaching of Christ, but rather a pantheistic notion.
A. That is where your mistake lies. It is purely Christian, although not Judaic, and therefore, perhaps, your Biblical nations prefer to ignore it.
Q. This is a wholesale and unjust accusation. Where are your proofs for such a statement?
A. They are ready at hand. Christ is alleged to have said: "Love each other" and "Love your enemies;" for
. if ye love them (only) which love you, what reward (or merit) have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even publicans so?
These are Christ's words. But Genesis says "Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." And, therefore, Christian but Biblical people prefer the law of Moses to Christ's law of love. They base upon the Old Testament, which panders to all their passions, their laws of conquest, annexation, and tyranny over races which they call inferior. What crimes have been committed on the strength of this infernal (if taken in its dead letter) passage in Genesis, history alone gives us an idea, however inadequate.
At the close of the Middle Ages slavery, under the power of moral forces, had mainly disappeared from Europe; but two momentous events occurred which overbore the moral power working in European society and let loose a swarm of curses upon the earth such as mankind had scarcely ever known. One of these events was the first voyaging to a populated and barbarous coast where human beings were a familiar article of traffic; and the other the discovery of a new world, where mines of glittering wealth were open, provided labor could be imported to work them. For four hundred years men and women and children were torn from all whom they knew and loved, and were sold on the coast of Africa to foreign traders; they were chained below decks-the dead often with the living-during the horrible "middle passage," and, according to Bancroft, an impartial historian, two hundred and fifty thousand out of three and a quarter millions were thrown into the sea on that fatal passage, while the remainder were consigned to nameless misery in the mines, or under the lash in the cane and rice fields. The guilt of this great crime rests on the Christian Church. "In the name of the most Holy Trinity" the Spanish Government (Roman Catholic) concluded more than ten treaties authorizing the sale of five hundred thousand human beings; in 1562 Sir John Hawkins sailed on his diabolical errand of buying slaves in Africa and selling them in the West Indies in a ship which bore the sacred name of Jesus; while Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen, rewarded him for his success in this first adventure of Englishmen in that inhuman traffic by allowing him to wear as his crest "a demi-Moor in his proper color, bound with a cord, or, in other words, a manacled negro slave."
Q. I have heard you say that the identity of our physical origin is proved by science, that of our spiritual origin by the Wisdom-Religion. Yet we do not find Darwinists exhibiting great fraternal affection.
A. Just so. This is what shows the deficiency of the materialistic systems, and proves that we Theosophists are in the right. The identity of our physical origin makes no appeal to our higher and deeper feelings. Matter, deprived of its soul and spirit, or its divine essence, cannot speak to the human heart. But the identity of the soul and spirit, of real, immortal man, as Theosophy teaches us, once proven and deep-rooted in our hearts, would lead us far on the road of real charity and brotherly goodwill.
Q. But how does Theosophy explain the common origin of man?
By teaching that the root of all nature, objective and subjective,
and everything else in the universe, visible and invisible, is,
was, and ever will be one absolute essence, from which all starts,
and into which everything returns. This is Aryan *) philosophy,
fully represented only by the Vedantins, and the Buddhist system.
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.
*) See remark on the use of the word Aryan a couple of pages back
Q. What do the written statutes of your Society advise its members to do besides this? On the physical plane, I mean?
A. In order to awaken brotherly feeling among nations we have to assist in the international exchange of useful arts and products, by advice, information, and cooperation with all worthy individuals and associations (provided, however, add the statutes, "that no benefit or percentage shall be taken by the Society or the 'Fellows' for its or their corporate services"). For instance, to take a practical illustration. The organization of Society, depicted by Edward Bellamy, in his magnificent work Looking Backwards, admirably represents the Theosophical idea of what should be the first great step towards the full realization of universal brotherhood. The state of things he depicts falls short of perfection, because selfishness still exists and operates in the hearts of men. But in the main, selfishness and individualism have been overcome by the feeling of solidarity and mutual brotherhood; and the scheme of life there described reduces the causes tending to create and foster selfishness to a minimum.
Q. Then as a Theosophist you will take part in an effort to realize such an ideal?
A. Certainly; and we have proved it by action. Have not you heard of the Nationalist clubs and party which have sprung up in America since the publication of Bellamy's book? They are now coming prominently to the front, and will do so more and more as time goes on. Well, these clubs and this party were started in the first instance by Theosophists. One of the first, the Nationalist Club of Boston, Massachusetts, has Theosophists for President and Secretary, and the majority of its executive belong to the T.S. In the constitution of all their clubs, and of the party they are forming, the influence of Theosophy and of the Society is plain, for they all take as their basis, their first and fundamental principle, the Brotherhood of Humanity as taught by Theosophy. In their declaration of Principles they state:
The principle of the Brotherhood of Humanity is one of the eternal truths that govern the world's progress on lines which distinguish human nature from brute nature.
What can be more Theosophical than this? But it is not enough. 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-except in the Jewish, as you do not find it expressed even in the Cabala.
Q. This refers to the common origin of religions, and you may be right there. But how does it apply to practical brotherhood on the physical plane?
A. First, because that which is true on the metaphysical plane must be also true on the physical. Secondly, because there is no more fertile source of hatred and strife than religious differences. When one party or another thinks himself the sole possessor of absolute truth, it becomes only natural that he should think his neighbor absolutely in the clutches of Error or the Devil. But once get a man to see that none of them has the whole truth, but that they are mutually complementary, that the complete truth can be found only in the combined views of all, after that which is false in each of them has been sifted out-then true brotherhood in religion will be established. The same applies in the physical world.
Q. Please explain further.
A. Take an instance. A plant consists of a root, a stem, and many shoots and leaves. As humanity, as a whole, is the stem which grows from the spiritual root, so is the stem the unity of the plant. Hurt the stem and it is obvious that every shoot and leaf will suffer. So it is with mankind.
Q. Yes, but if you injure a leaf or a shoot, you do not injure the whole plant.
A. And therefore you think that by injuring one man you do not injure humanity? But how do you know? Are you aware that even materialistic science teaches that any injury, however, slight, to a plant will affect the whole course of its future growth and development? Therefore, you are mistaken, and the analogy is perfect. If, however, you overlook the fact that a cut in the finger may often make the whole body suffer, and react on the whole nervous system, I must all the more remind you that there may well be other spiritual laws, operating on plants and animals as well as on mankind, although, as you do not recognize their action on plants and animals, you may deny their existence.
Q. What laws do you mean?
A. We call them Karmic laws; but you will not understand the full
meaning of the term unless you study Occultism. However, my argument
did not rest on the assumption of these laws, but really on the
analogy of the plant. Expand the idea, carry it out to a universal
application, and you will soon find that in true philosophy every
physical action has its moral and everlasting effect. Hurt a man
by doing him bodily harm; you may think that his pain and suffering
cannot spread by any means to his neighbors, least of all to men
of other nations. We affirm that it will, in good time. Therefore,
we say, that unless every man is brought to understand and accept
as an axiomatic truth that by having wronged one man we wrong not
only ourselves but the whole of humanity in the long run, no brotherly
feelings such as preached by all the great Reformers, preeminently
by Buddha and Jesus, are possible on earth.
Our Other Objects
Q. Will you now explain the methods by which you propose to carry out the second object?
A. To collect for the library at our headquarters of Adyar, Madras-and by the Fellows of their Branches for their local libraries-all the good works upon the world's religions that we can. To put into written form correct information upon the various ancient philosophies, traditions, and legends, and disseminate the same in such practicable ways as the translation and publication of original works of value, and extracts from and commentaries upon the same, or the oral instructions of persons learned in their respective departments.
Q. And what about the third object, to develop in man his latent spiritual or psychic powers?
A. This has to be achieved also by means of publications, in those
places where no lectures and personal teachings are possible. Our
duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions. To oppose
and counteract-after due investigation and proof of its irrational
nature-bigotry in every form, religious, scientific, or social,
and cant above all, whether as religious sectarianism or as belief
in miracles or anything supernatural. What we have to do is to seek
to obtain knowledge of all the laws of nature, and to diffuse it.
To encourage the study of those laws least understood by modern
people, the so-called Occult Sciences, based on the true knowledge
of nature, instead of, as at present, on superstitious beliefs based
on blind faith and authority. Popular folklore and traditions, however
fanciful at times, when sifted may lead to the discovery of long-lost,
but important, secrets of nature. The Society, therefore, aims at
pursuing this line of inquiry, in the hope of widening the field
of scientific and philosophical observation.
On the Sacredness of the Pledge
Q. Have you any ethical system that you carry out in the Society?
A. The ethics are there, ready and clear enough for whomsoever would follow them. They are the essence and cream of the world's ethics, gathered from the teachings of all the world's great reformers. Therefore, you will find represented therein Confucius and Zoroaster, Lao-tzu and the Bhagavad-Gita , the precepts of Gautama Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, of Hillel and his school, as of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and their schools.
Q. Do the members of your Society carry out these precepts? I have heard of great dissensions and quarrels among them.
A. Very naturally, since although the reform (in its present shape) may be called new, the men and women to be reformed are the same human, sinning natures as of old. As already said, the earnest working members are few; but many are the sincere and well-disposed persons, who try their best to live up to the Society's and their own ideals. Our duty is to encourage and assist individual fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral, and spiritual; not to blame or condemn those who fail. We have, strictly speaking, no right to refuse admission to anyone-especially in the Esoteric Section of the Society, wherein "he who enters is as one newly born." But if any member, his sacred pledges on his word of honor and immortal Self notwithstanding, chooses to continue, after that "new birth," with the new man, the vices or defects of his old life, and to indulge in them still in the Society, then, of course, he is more than likely to be asked to resign and withdraw; or, in case of his refusal, to be expelled. We have the strictest rules for such emergencies.
Q. Can some of them be mentioned?
A. They can. To begin with, no Fellow in the Society, whether exoteric or esoteric, has a right to force his personal opinions upon another Fellow.
It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express in public, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section, religious or philosophical, more than another. All have an equal right to have the essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial world. And no officer of the Society, in his capacity as an officer, has the right to preach his own sectarian views and beliefs to members assembled, except when the meeting consists of his co-religionists. After due warning, violation of this rule shall be punished by suspension or expulsion.
This is one of the offenses in the Society at large. As regards the inner section, now called the Esoteric, the following rules have been laid down and adopted, so far back as 1880.
No Fellow shall put to his selfish use any knowledge communicated to him by any member of the first section (now a higher "degree"); violation of the rule being punished by expulsion.
Now, however, before any such knowledge can be imparted, the applicant has to bind himself by a solemn oath not to use it for selfish purposes, nor to reveal anything said except by permission.
Q. But is a man expelled, or resigning, from the section free to reveal anything he may have learned, or to break any clause of the pledge he has taken?
A. Certainly not. His expulsion or resignation only relieves him from the obligation of obedience to the teacher, and from that of taking an active part in the work of the Society, but surely not from the sacred pledge of secrecy.
Q. But is this reasonable and just?
A. Most assuredly. To any man or woman with the slightest honorable feeling a pledge of secrecy taken even on one's word of honor, much more to one's Higher Self-the God within-is binding till death. And though he may leave the Section and the Society, no man or woman of honor will think of attacking or injuring a body to which he or she has been so pledged.
Q. But is not this going rather far?
A. Perhaps so, according to the low standard of the present time and morality. But if it does not bind as far as this, what use is a pledge at all? How can anyone expect to be taught secret knowledge, if he is to be at liberty to free himself from all the obligations he had taken, whenever he pleases? What security, confidence, or trust would ever exist among men, if pledges such as this were to have no really binding force at all? Believe me, the law of retribution (Karma) would very soon overtake one who so broke his pledge, and perhaps as soon as the contempt of every honorable man would, even on this physical plane. As well expressed in the New York Path just cited on this subject,
A pledge once taken, is forever binding in both the moral and the occult worlds. If we break it once and are punished, that does not justify us in breaking it again, and so long as we do, so long will the mighty lever of the Law (of Karma) react upon us.