Importance of first principles

THEOSOPHY, Vol. 26, No. 6, April, 1938
(Pages 260-262; Size: 10K)
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THEOSOPHY is distinguishable from all other theories of life, all other systems of thought, not in respect of the facts dealt with, but fundamentally. The major facts of existence are experienced by every man, are therefore common to all men, but the conduct or reaction of each individual man varies "according to circumstances" -- conditions external and internal. In any case the mathematical constant, the continuing identity, is in the individual, not in the environment of thought and action. Theosophy, then, treats of the pilgrimage of Soul, first in its impersonality, second in its universality, third in its individuality.

Submitted neither as a revelation nor as a series of speculations, but for judicial consideration, Theosophy deals with the inquirer as his own final authority in all matters of conscience and conduct. He may choose wisely or unwisely, but choice is his, is in fact inalienable. By no act of his own or of another can a man yield or be made to yield his birth-right, his inheritance of primogeniture in nature. Even what is commonly regarded as self-surrender will be seen, when examined, to involve consent and acceptance -- only another way of stating the act of choice. No doubt many, perhaps most, do succumb to influences of one and another kind. "There are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our will upon our actions," as everyone is painfully aware. Most men go no further in their consideration of motives, and so, enter to themselves as well as to others what the lawyers call a "plea in avoidance." Avoidance of what? Of responsibility for prior choice and conduct when their consequences are no longer within our power to divert or postpone.

The appeal of the various established religions, so-called, is fundamentally that of a specially devised way of escape from individual and collective consequences, along with the enjoyment of unearned privileges and blessings. But no religion can avoid or deny that its acceptance or rejection by the individual is an act of his own will. Despite the "predestination" of St. Augustine and John Calvin, which in one form or another is the essence of theological and popular Christianity, it cannot be concealed that it is the individual who accepts or rejects the orthodox God, that the dogma itself is of human origin and interpretation. If "salvation" or "damnation" depends on the "will of God," and that Will was precogitated and predetermined, why any pother by any man? Why not "eat, drink, and be merry" -- for tomorrow we die -- and go to Heaven or Hell as was pre-ordained?

When one turns to the many religions of the Orient, they, too, will be seen to have degenerated as sadly from the doctrines of their great Originals as Western religious sects have wandered from the teachings of Jesus. Hinduism or Brahmanism may serve as a type. "Karma" as understood and applied by the various Hindu schools of philosophy, the many practitioners of this and that form of "yoga," quite as much as expounded by the orthodox priests and as accepted by the members of the several castes -- Karma as interpreted by them all differs little from "predestination." The differences are those of name and form, not of substance. East and West alike, the common view is that of man as a creature -- whether of circumstances, of the will of God, or of Karma. As creature, however, it is still in his power, whether by sufferance or propitiation, to escape what otherwise is his destiny. Thus, no matter how extreme the dogmas of any religion may be, in them all is to be discerned some recognition of the will of Man himself, of his power of choice, if only in the sense given by Thomas à Kempis: "Of two evils, the lesser is always to be chosen." Religion in any guise cannot avoid appealing to the power of choice in the individual, but the appeal is always personal, i.e., coupled with an address to his self-interest -- the reverse of the divine Original.

In time the progress of the individual Soul brings it to that stage where it begins to question not only the nature of its experience but its own nature, and the explanations of both hitherto accepted as beyond question. From this to Self-questioning is but a step. From this period forward, the sanctions hitherto regarded as inviolable more and more lose their authoritative character as their validity is inquired into. The individual begins to adventure on his own account. Hence have arisen the succession of sects in every religion, the many divergent philosophies, the differing schools of thought. Failures in these directions discourage the many to the point where passive acquiescence reduces motive to inertia, the will to latency, but in others only rouse the Soul to renewed determination. The general condition of the Orient for two millenniums illustrates the one, the Renaissance in the West the other pole of the influence of outer and inner conditions. Both exemplify the inherent power of choice, whatever the environment.

Out of Western religion grew modern materialistic science and the structure of the civilization based on it. Concerning itself with visible nature, the mind of man has achieved miracles of results in physical affairs -- results that in their own sphere equal the miraculous events attributed to preterhuman beings of supernal power and knowledge. Nevertheless, the course of scientific employment of human faculties has no more brought the Soul to "Journey's End" than its pursuit of the beaten path of religion and philosophy. In all the fields of human endeavor it is not only the multitude which recognizes its destitute lot in life, but in every direction one finds those whose very success has brought home to them "the vanity and inanity of all earthly things."

The contemplation of these two extremes of human experience, both equally forlorn, is evidence to an increasing number of minds that man's energies have somehow been expended as improvidently as he has exploited nature's resources. As such men search history and tradition they find the evidence of the present confirmed by all the testimony of the past. They find that out of the crowding millions of each generation here and there have been a few whose words and whose works alike bear witness of another motive, another choice, another determination, another source and objective than those which engage and absorb their fellows.

To such men as have already begun to question and to search -- for the two go together -- Theosophy comes indeed as something new, from the viewpoint provided by the personal memory. Whether the inmost preconceptions of mind consist of ideas derived from heredity, from education, from environment, or unconscious absorption, their hold remains powerful long after their mixed nature is perceived. The writings of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge are in large part recorded for the help of just such seekers. They assist the inquirer, whatever his antecedents, by affording him the means to disentangle what is true from what is false in his imbibed religious, philosophical and scientific concepts. Hence also the second and third Objects of the Theosophical Movement.

Important as is this feature of Theosophy in itself, it leads to something infinitely more valuable, for it literally paves the way to the clear perception of the vital principles common to every system, sect and theory. All these come from men, represent the convictions of men, and all have in them the Element of the Divine, because of the Divinity in Man himself and in all nature. Hence the universality as well as the individuality of Theosophy. Step by step, as the teachings are considered in this manner, their historical authenticity becomes apparent, their unbroken continuity is seen for oneself, their import and scope more and more recognized. One becomes almost unconsciously freed from the obscurations which separate man from man into exclusive, dogmatic special-privilege partisanships in the name of the common welfare and the common goal.

At this point, whenever reached, the individual becomes "separated" from the mass in another sense altogether from human divisions into sect and school. The impersonality of Theosophy is sensed, is felt, is absorbed into the very depths of one's being. Thereafter, whatever his human stumblings and failings, he will struggle to walk in "the strait and narrow path" of Universal Brotherhood with all in Nature. Henceforth, "not for himself but for the world he lives," because SELF is seen as impersonal, universal, individual, "three in One, and the One in the three," Unity in the midst of diversity.

Theosophy is the mother of all faiths, those that have been, that are, as of those that are yet to be. The personal tendency is to erect new faiths out of the material provided by the Theosophical Movement of our times, as of old. Hence the necessity of dwelling upon First Principles by him who would pass from faith to Self-Knowledge, and thence to live to benefit Mankind.