An article first published in 'The Theosophist' February-March 1982
Theosophy has been referred to as a process. More properly, it is the comprehensive knowledge of the processes of the cosmos and of the whole manifestation of life on our planet, with its infinite variety of forms and activities at all levels of being - physical, emotional, mental, supramental and spiritual - both objective and subjective. Because every man is a part of the cosmic process, a knowledge of it is necessary to whoever wishes to study his own nature and develop his own faculties.
Theosophy is thus the science of Life in the most inclusive sense possible. It cannot, therefore, be a matter of personal belief or opinion, It is the knowledge possessed by initiates of the total process with its vast number of sub-processes. It is obvious that none of us at our present level of development possesses full knowledge; what we know is only a very small part of the whole. It is because of this limitation that we resort to beliefs and opinions, building mental constructions around what we have read in our basic Theosophical literature. As has often been said, the whole story was not, nor could it have been, given out even in H.P. Blavatsky's voluminous works.
From this it follows that Theosophy has two aspects, one a teaching and the other a process. The process is, from one point of view, the modifications, both objective and subjective, which result from life activity, the sum-total of which may be thought of as experience. This is the evolutionary process.
In each of us, modifying changes take place continually and, becoming incorporated in us, affect our life by reason of what we do as changed people. They also bring with them an expansion of consciousness as we become more responsive to various kinds of stimuli at different levels of our being. In so far as we thus respond we become Knowers; the more we respond, the more we know.
The mission, then, given to the Theosophical Society - and, through it, to us its members - is as important a one as was ever given to any Institution or person.
In a letter to A. P. Sinnett in 1881, the Master K.H. [see Theosophy Wiki] repeats what the Mahâ Chohan had said concerning Theosophy as the 'only true' doctrine and the Theosophical Society as 'the cornerstone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity.'
In a letter to Annie Besant in 1900, the Master K.H, says, The T.S. was meant to be the cornerstone of the future religions of humanity.
The Masters and H.P.B. [H.P. Blavatsky] had much to say about religion. In Letter 10 of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, the Master says, 'I will point out the greatest, the chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that pursue humanity ever since that cause became a power. It is religion under whatever form and in whatsoever nation.' It is from this source of evil that the Masters, through the Theosophical Society, wished to free humanity.
Present religious position
The religions of the world have become institutionalized. Most of them base their teachings upon ancient scriptures and claim a historical foundation. Religion is largely a matter of ceremonies with their paraphernalia of vestments, candles, lamps, incense, incantations, all performed in special buildings called temples, mosques, churches, and pagodas. Is it not time for us to look again at some of these usages which, up to now, we have regarded as sacred and try to see which, if any, are of real worth? We are referring, of course, to the popular exoteric religions, not to any esoteric core that they may contain and about which the priests and their followers are usually totally ignorant.
If we look honestly at these. ceremonies and aids to worship, do we not see that they are mere devices contrived to create certain impressions in the minds of the worshippers? It may be argued that the symbolism represents something deep and real. That may be so but, except in so far as they feel it in their hearts, the devotees know nothing of it.
It is to those devices, based on priestly teaching and interpretation that distort the essential message of religion, that men adhere. Further, it is these man-made theologies and practices that create so much bigotry and so many bitter differences of opinion among men. Interreligious strife is rife, causing quarrelling and hatred all over the world as it has done for thousands of years. Behind it all is the notion of personal gods, each of them, to his devotees, the only true one. It is to these gods that supplicatory prayers are addressed; it is to them that men have been taught to look for deliverance from their troubles and for ultimate salvation.
None of the foregoing is meant to deny that there is value in religion or to belittle all religious literature for some of it is truly inspired and inspiring. But the -inspiration comes through a mind attuned to its inner significance, to its esoteric meaning.
For some time, intelligent men the world over have been applying their reason to their religions and finding them wanting. They are discovering that not only are they unreasonable but that they do not satisfy their inner needs. Consequently, particularly in the West, men are abandoning their religion today, and many millions of people have no religion at all. Even in the East, in the lands of the great classical religions where respect and devotion come naturally to most people by reason of generations of tradition and individual upbringing, there are signs that the Western influence is infiltrating, especially into the cities and among the educated and commercial classes. Where religion is still a part of life, it is the forms that are worshipped rather than the 'divinity' behind it: where no religion is practised, materialism is rampant. This is another aspect of the evil of a religion for which men can have no respect.
This is not to deny the reality of the devotion in the hearts of many worshippers. Sincere devotion can be felt in many places and it is this devotion that is the basis of all true religion.
The need for religion
As a result of the abandonment of religion by large numbers of the world's population, humanity, in its habitual thinking, has been divorced from its spiritual origins. This divorce produces materialism and the consequences of this are terrible in many ways. The psychological effects alone are serious. They are seen in personal insecurity, unhappiness, inner loneliness and aimlessness. In social relationships, there is the lack of a sense of brotherhood - a failure to care for one another. All this indicates that men have no meaningful religion. They may have the form of it but nothing more.
There is, however, much evidence of a human need for religion - for recognition of the Spiritual essence of things including man himself. But this must be expressed within the framework of a tenable philosophy; it must be capable of giving hope and meaning to the personal lives of men. An indication of this was the enormously popular response to the Pope's visit to Poland when millions of people felt the urge to go and see this holy man who was, for them, a symbol of something that they felt was - or should be - deep down in their own nature.
There are other manifestations of religious need. There is a wide interest in modern substitutes for the old religions - meditation schools and groups of all kinds, both commercial and private; gurus with large followings; organizations that combine science and psychology. Even the theatre with shows like 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Godspell' reflect something of this mood. In some people, perhaps, the yearning is unconscious and unexpressed. Others are quite aware of their need but do not know how to satisfy it.
Where do these spiritual yearnings come from? The answer lies in the long history of mankind as given in our Theosophical teachings. Man's development reflects the great universal principles of involution and evolution. Millions of years ago, before the dawn of mind as we know it, man was essentially and predominantly a spiritual being. That spiritual essence remains submerged in the physical, mental and emotional aspects of his nature. Deep in the subconscious of the human race there remains the knowledge of the inner realms of consciousness and of their direct connection with the divinity of the Self. Something of this comes through to our lower consciousness and stirs in us vague memories of a once blissful state. As we progress on the evolutionary arc, we begin to feel the urge to return. True religion would satisfy this inner longing, but its outer forms are unable to do so.
Not only do we possess this basic religious inheritance, but we have a long tradition of divine teachers, of Avatars, Rishis and spiritual gurus. A point that should be noticed about these great teachers of humanity is that they are individuals. They are, unlike the priests and clergy of organized religion, not institutionalized, nor do they represent a sect propagating a particular dogma.
Those teachers who really understand religion need no external aids. This, as already said, is not meant to suggest that all religious practice is valueless. Properly devised and conducted ceremonies can be useful in generating power and raising consciousness, thus producing a beneficial effect on those who take part. But they should not be imposed, as they have been for many generations, by those who claim to have a special relationship to a deity by reason of their office but who, quite obviously, have not.
The difference between the real spiritual teachers and those of the 'sacerdotal caste' as the Masters called them, is that the former do not institutionalize religion. They give personal instruction according to the student's development. It was something of this teaching - among much else - that men wrote down and incorporated into their scriptures. The religious task of the Theosophical Society is to free men from the domination of the priestly class and their false doctrines, and to teach the truth. The Masters tell us that this must be done gradually, the teachings being graded to the capacity of people to receive them. The proper fulfilment of this task would be of inestimable importance to the whole evolutionary progress of humanity.
What are the qualifications of the Theosophical Society for this stupendous work? First, in what the Masters gave us of Theosophy, it has the necessary teaching which not only includes all that is valid in other teachings but transcends them all in its information about, and explanation of, the nature and processes of the Cosmos, with particular reference to our earth and man's place in the whole scheme.
Secondly, the Society imposes no doctrine or dogma on its members. Each one may pursue his quest for knowledge and wisdom in his own way, looking where he will for help and inspiration. Such freedom is an absolute necessity in the search for truth. As the great teacher, Jesus, put it, 'The truth shall make you free.' We must also be free in order to discover truth. There can be no obligatory beliefs imposed on the earnest seeker and no unverifiable mysteries presented for his acceptance. The freedom of the Society is reflected in its non-denominationalism, in spite of a tendency among some members to identify their particular point of view with Theosophy and hence with the Theosophical Society. True Occultism, which is the Science of Life, is distinct from any exoteric religious teaching and, indeed, from the organized Theosophical Society itself. One is the ageless and ancient wisdom; the other is a comparatively recently formed Society with specific objects in which Theosophy is not even mentioned. The society does not promote a gospel according to anyone, nor does it tie itself to any historical story, true or false, nor to any allegory or myth. A proper understanding of freedom together with the courage to be free undermines the power of the authority of a 'God' who has bedevilled mankind since 'he' was invented.
Until we are free, we shall be propagating mere ideas - not truth - and we cannot be free or begin to understand the truth until we have shaken off religious ideas. We are, of course, distinguishing theology from ethics - from the code of morals by which we must lead our lives in society in harmonious and trustful intercourse with our fellows. These social ordinances are not part of religion proper, even though many have been included in religious teachings, for example, the Laws of Manu, the Ten Commandments, and the Five Precepts.
It is sometimes said that the Theosophical Society, as such, propounds no teaching of its own. The Key to Theosophy explains: 'What is meant by the Society having no tenets or doctrines of its own is that no special doctrines or beliefs are obligatory on its members; but, of course, this applies only to the body as a whole. The Society, as you were told, is divided into an outer and an inner body. Those who belong to the latter have, of course, a philosophy, or - if you so prefer it - a religious system of their own.'
Two points may be made here. First, the essence of that religious system is in the teachings of Theosophy as given to us in our classical-literature including The Voice of the Silence. Secondly, this religious system is that on which should be based the 'cornerstone' religious teachings to be disseminated through the Society in order to form the basis of 'the future religions of humanity'.
At the beginning of this article, Theosophy was referred to as a process. One aspect of this is the development of our inner faculties. This is a natural process achieved by natural means. We do not need any aids other than our own inherent powers which may be developed by use. In this way, we come to a knowledge of the processes of Nature itself. It is through seeking external aids that we lose our way in the Theosophical quest. Our own divine faculties can supply us with all the knowledge, power and strength that we need. This was the teaching of the Masters: this, surely, must be a central teaching of the religions of the future. When we are ready to enter the Arcana proper, no doubt initiate help is required. For most of us, that time is yet far off.
Using the telescope, so to speak, of inner sight one can see the Cosmic process in operation. This process includes everything that goes on perpetually, not only in the physical world but in the inner worlds as well. The process and universal law are the same thing. We are told, 'Deity is law and vice versa.' This means that the process is deity itself, and as it is all inclusive, we can use the word pantheism to describe it. All that is in the Cosmos, objective and subjective at all the many levels of being, every motion or activity becomes 'theos'.
The 'sophia' part of Theo-sophy is knowledge of that process, knowledge of 'theos'. H. P. Blavatsky defines Theosophy as the 'Wisdom of the gods' - the intelligences that guide the universal process according to universal law. These gods are living entities - members of the great hierarchy of beings. To know the total process is to know the gods and, ultimately, to possess their knowledge.
It has been said that Theosophy has never been defined and that it is a matter of individual belief. I suggest that statements such as these have done our cause great harm. Theosophy is something specific in its own right, dealing with the facts of Nature, and the Cosmos. It is 'the truth, and nothing but the truth', as a Master has declared. Theosophy, as such, therefore, can be no matter of personal belief. It deals with facts, and is as definable as the facts to which it relates.
Theosophy is, as has been said, a knowledge of the facts of life which all of us can have, by reason of the fact that we are alive and so share in the great process, and to the extent that we have developed our faculties. None of us has it in its entirety; only the highest of Adepts approaches that degree of omniscience.
Let us now look at the facts of Theosophy and see how they form the basis of religion. The prime fact or truth is that if religion has to do with 'God', it has to do not only with the phenomenal universe but with the noumena behind it and this, in the occult or Theosophical teaching, is the One Self, the Unity behind the diversity of the manifested universe. It is important to realize the significance of this. We, in every aspect of our natures, are in and of the total process. We can in no way be separate from it; we are in and of it. The Self ultimately animates each of us as it does every other creature and thing. This Self is the fundamental Cosmic dynamic. It is Spirit, and our individual dynamic is also that same Spirit. Spirit is the motivating power behind all life, all animation, all feeling, all creativity. Everything stems from this one dynamic with its multitudinous varieties of modes of action or expression according to the variety of substance and form that it invests with life: even the substances and the forms themselves derive from this same source. Each living thing expresses, in its own way, something of the all - potentiality of that universal Spirit.
A second truth concerns universal law, the actual process of nature, deity itself. This dynamic process is deity the law by which everything works. It is the way that everything behaves, acts and moves. It is for ever adjusting, balancing, harmonizing all interrelated things and their interplay. This great dynamic is not a mechanism like a spring wound up at the beginning and then allowed to run down. It is as alive as the universe through which it works; it manifests through countless lives and centres of life. We are told that nothing happens in nature without the assistance of these lives, which are variously named elementals, devas, nature spirits. We tend to think of elemental spirits as entities in a particular element, like fish in water, but they are not like that; they are the soul, so to speak, of the water itself. In this way there is nothing that is not a manifestation of them. They constitute an aspect of the One Dynamic, manifesting in as much diversity in the inner as they do in the outer world in Its substances and forms. Thus, the elementals are behind the whole process of Nature.
Let us return to the Law. The law is that of the great rhythms or cycles observed in the comings and goings of everything in nature. It includes the great pairs of opposites - such as activity and rest. It is the continual swinging between positive and negative, between subjectivity and objectivity as seen in our birth on the physical plane and our return to the subjective realms through the death of the body. This process is repeated over and over again through vast periods of time, as the waves of the ocean formed out at sea eventually come to break on the shore. We, like everything else that has objective existence, come from beneath the surface of existence, live our brief life and then disappear, returning to the inner realms from whence we came. All this is governed by that aspect of the law we commonly call Karma and it applies to man individually and collectively in action and reaction.
The present time is the moment of knowing; the moment when we know we are; the moment when things as they are register in our consciousness. Things are, of course, continually changing in state, shape, constitution and position. In present time, however, change seems arrested and we have an illusion of stability. If the change is rapid, like clouds floating across the sky or the movement of grass in the wind, present time is the moment when we can observe the process of change. We then are standing still, watching movement pass us by. We are like the stylus of a gramophone pick - up; the vibrations of the recorded sound pass by and we respond to them; we ourselves do not move. The degree of our response depends on the degree of our sensitivity. The response point in us is our consciousness, and consciousness functions at no time but now. This, in itself, can be a tremendous realization, but it has a further important aspect. Our consciousness exists only because of Universal Consciousness - the ultimate basic quality of Life in the abstract that embraces all lives. This Universal Consciousness is an aspect of deity. Through consciousness we are indeed related to God' and the moment of Universal Consciousness is the Eternal Now which is also the moment of our consciousness. In other words, in religious terms, if we are ever going to know 'God', it must be now.
The significance of present time cannot be over-emphasized. It is the only time when we can do anything; it is the only time when we can know anything. We can remember the past and look forward to the future but the remembering and looking forward can only be done now. We can only live now. To be aware of this adds enormously to the value of our time and our lives,
Remembering and looking forward introduces the idea of the passage of time, and time means change. Change is the grand procession of events, and everything is modified by the passage of time. This modification is the means of evolution and of gaining experiences. Experience is, so to speak, stored change or stored memory. Growth and development, or what we call progress, are products of this change. Real religion is a means of helping on man's evolutionary progress in the right direction. The right direction is that which conforms to the Law of Unity and Harmony. If we do not act according to this law, we make suffering for ourselves.
Such, then, are some of the aspects of Theosophy which should underlie whatever the Theosophical Society prow motes either as a teaching or as a directive to right living; such would be needed to form the cornerstone of a religion.
The ramifications of these two aspects of Theosophy, that is, its teaching and its practical guidance, are extensive. They amplify our views. We learn that what they teach is true to life for experience bears them out. In so far as we give them attention, they must modify us and modify our thinking. We come to know and have confidence in the teaching not only in part but as a whole. As we confirm the teaching by experience, we acquire that valuable faculty of insight called intuition. We begin to understand. We sense the process of Theosophy working in us. We grow into a sense of participating in the ever-becoming of the Cosmos. There could be no firmer base for religion than that.
We are increasing our internal response to both internal and external stimuli. This is a development of our feeling nature. It is the faculty in us which starts as contact with the outside world through the sense of touch. Then come our other senses, in due orders evolved in action, and accompanied by a growth of inner response forming the basis of emotion.
The whole meaning of life for us lies in feeling. It is important to notice the connection between feeling and real knowing. Knowing is a response (registered in consciousness as a feeling) to something - to its qualities and actions. If we have no response at all, the thing does not exist for us. The more we can 'sense' its particular characteristics and functions the more we know it. This applies to everything which registers in consciousness from physical things and events to internal, subjective ones - dreams, visions, imaginings, thoughts and so on. These feelings reflect the nature of man. Among them there are the feelings of the ordinary personal man; there are also the 'higher' feelings of the inmost spiritual man. These constitute two distinct orders of experience.
In religious terms, this is how we know 'God'. We are able to do this because when we are operating at the ordinary personal level (as most of' us do most of the time) the reflexive nature of the mind can, by reason of its dual nature, operate so that while consciousness remains centred at the lower level, it can give attention to the higher levels and thus become aware of them temporarily. This is how divinity can become objective to us in, at least, certain aspects.
The other way of knowing divinity is by raising consciousness to higher mind level and knowing by being. This is Self - Realization proper. When this is achieved, there comes the quickening of our real divine faculties of higher intelligence, wisdom, compassion and love. After these come Will. Will is that by which the law is operated throughout the Cosmos. When we are possessed of this - perhaps the highest faculty in man - we become creators in line with the will of the Cosmos.
Such, in general terms, are the qualifications of the Theosophical Society and of Theosophy, which it is its function to disseminate, for being the cornerstone of the future religions of humanity. No organization could be better qualified.
The common definition of religion is the re-linking of ourselves as personalities back to deity. This re - linking is the regenerative process of evolution. It happens when we permanently merge our lower' consciousness with our higher Selves. This is the result of Self-Realization.
The Mahachohan [see Theosophy Wiki] wrote in 1881: 'All of us have to get rid of our own Ego, the illusory apparent self, to recognize our true self in a transcendental divine life. ' This is the process of Self-Realization.
The Mahachohan gives us much guidance as to the doctrine we should be promulgating. He says, for example: 'Once unfettered, delivered from their dead-weight of dogmatic interpretations, personal names, anthropomorphic conceptions and salaried priests, the fundamental doctrines of all religions will be proved identical in their esoteric meaning.' We must discover this esoteric core: it is Theosophy proper.
Again, he says: Teach the people to see that life on this earth even the happiest is but a burden and an illusion, that it is but our own karma, the cause producing the effect, that is our own judge, our Saviour in future lives, and the great struggle for life will lose its intensity.'
It is clear that one of the things we have to do is to eradicate from the human mind the idea of a personal God. The notion, promulgated by exoteric Christianity, that we are weak and miserable sinners who can do nothing of ourselves must also be removed.
God is nothing like what the religionists would have us believe. 'He' is not an entity in any shape or form. 'He' is not almighty or omniscient, or anything else of like nature. 'He' is, so to speak, a noun and not an adjective. God is not omniscient; only the creatures of a manifested universe are capable of knowing in any sense in which we use that word. But God is Universal Mind or, more properly, its noumenon. 'He' is that from which all comes; 'He' is behind all life, all sentience, all faculty, but 'He' knows nothing and can do nothing. These facts must be made plain.
A priest saw a gardener working in a beautiful garden. 'Is it not wonderful what God can do?' called out the priest. 'Perhaps, replied the gardener, 'But you should have seen this garden when God had it by himself!' Plants are indeed evolved by Nature, but only man can cultivate them and improve the strain in order to make them into a beautiful garden.
The Mahachohan continues: 'The world in general and Christendom especially, left for two thousand years to the regime of a personal God, as well as its political and social systems based on that idea, has now proved a failure.'
This wrong idea about deity is one thing, at least, that we can start to put right in the world.
The realization of the true nature of deity would alter, in time, not only religious but political thought. Men have been schooled to submit to 'authority', especially in matters of religion. Let us teach them that there is no longer any need whatever to submit to authority in these matters.
Now, why is it that it is the Theosophical Society and not Theosophy, that was intended to be the cornerstone of religion? It is because Theosophy, as a teaching, cannot propagate itself. Only people can do that, and the people who have access to the teaching are the members of the Theosophical Society. This is our responsibility.
We can begin first by ceasing to misrepresent Theosophy. We can correct mistaken impressions; we can disseminate right ideas. Right ideas are those that are conformable to nature and that can be confirmed by observation, Beyond that we must surely heed what those who have progressed beyond us have to say about the working of Nature, particularly her inner workings that as yet lie outside our own experience and beyond our limited faculties.
In order to cease misrepresenting Theosophy, to correct wrong impressions, and to disseminate right ideas, we have, ourselves, to know the teaching. This also is the responsibility of those of us who try to further the Masters' intentions for the Society in the matter of religion.
If we can remove from mankind the idea that God is an entity, out there, separate from us, and inculcate the idea that man is in and of nature herself, related to her, in all her departments, at all levels of being, and that they are all reflected into his being from the gross physical to the highest divine realms, we would then put man back into the all-inclusive embrace of 'God' as 'theos'. No man can ever separate himself from the 'ground' Of his own being; he is one, eternally, with the whole. As we come to realize the truth of this, we shall feel part of the whole process. We are units within the body corporate just as the cells which draw their life entirely from us, are units within our body. Both we and the cells in our bodies have their own consciousness. We cannot have bodies without cells and every cell forms part of the body. It is the same with humanity. There could be no humanity without the units that compose it. None of us can say, 'I am of no consequence. ' We are all indispensable units in the whole process of life.
This, and the idea of Unity, is the basis for the brotherhood we are to promote as the first object of our Society. If we could succeed in this a new world idea would be born.
The Masters said that 'the crestwave of intellectual advancement must be taken hold of and guided into spirituality.' This is the basis of our whole task. Put another way, it is to guide 'the crestwave of intellectual advancement' away from materiality. But it cannot be forced again into the beliefs and emotional worship of the old time.
What is our power in this matter? H.P.B. says: 'The essence of the higher thoughts of the members in their collectivity must guide all action in the T.S. because it is the collective aspect of many such thoughts that can give the correct note of action.' This is why it is imperative that we discover Theosophy for ourselves. If we do not, we cannot have thoughts about it and it has no reality for us; it becomes an idea like any other; it becomes another -ism like any other -ism, But Theosophy is none of these things: it is basic truth. H.P.B. writes:
To be true, religion and philosophy must offer the solution of every problem. That the world is in such a bad condition morally is a conclusive evidence that none of its religions or philosophies, those of the civilized races less than any other, have ever possessed the TRUTH. The right and logical explanations on the subject of the problems of the great dual principles, right and wrong, good and evil, liberty and despotism, pain and pleasure, egotism and altruism, are as impossible to them now as they were 1881 years ago. They are as far from solution as ever they were, - but to these must be somewhere a consistent solution, and if their doctrines prove their competence to offer it, then the world will be the first one to confess that must be the true philosophy, the true religion, the true light, which gives truth and nothing but the truth.
To conclude, here is a passage from The Key to Theosophy. The Enquirer comments on the self - sacrifice of the Founders and wonders why they did it. And Theosophist replies:
Believe me for no self-gratification; only in the hope of training a few individuals to carry on our work for humanity by its original programme when the Founders are dead and gone. They have already found a few such noble and devoted souls to replace them. The coming generations, thanks to these few, will find the path to peace less thorny, and the way a little widened, and thus all this suffering will have produced good results, and their self-sacrifice will not have been in vain. At present, the main fundamental object of the Society is to sow germs in the hearts of men, which may in time sprout, and under more propitious circumstances lead to a healthy reform, conducive of more happiness to the masses than they have hitherto enjoyed.
Might we not all be numbered among that small band of reformers?
First Published 'The Theosophist' February-March, 1982