An Outline of the Principles of Theosophy

An article by Geoffrey Farthing

hpb seal

The Great Banyan Tree, Adyar, India

The Great Banyan Tree in the grounds of The Theosophical Society, Adyar.

WHEN so much literature is available on the subject, a talk on An Outline of the Principles of Theosophy, at an annual convention of the Theosophical Society, might appear to be quite unjustified. Nevertheless, to have another look together at some of the teachings we were given might perhaps be interesting and stimulating. It does seem that many members of the Society, particularly those who have a religion incorporating the ideas of reincarnation and karma, regard their religion as being in itself Theosophy. This also applies to those Christians who add those concepts to their religion and then feel that they are possessed of Theosophy, In adopting such an attitude many, even within the Society, tend, surely, to forget that Theosophy is the common element which runs through all religions, and must therefore be greater than any single religion's expression of it. It is not itself a religion but is the wide esoteric knowledge behind all the exoteric ecclesiastical forms and practices that have not departed too far from the original source. It is these forms with which the populations of the world are familiar. However, the earnest inquirer, the real student, the "apprentice" occultist is led to, and becomes aware of the ancient, traditional, inner knowledge, samples of some of which are in the teaching given us by the Masters, through Madame Blavatsky. I propose dealing with the subject of my talk in two ways:

(l) Technically, summarizing the information in diagrams; and (2) In terms of living and the development of man's inner faculties.

Each time those given teachings are repeated and considered, by dialectic methods and intuitionally, more of their meaning becomes apparent; it becomes deeper, vaster and more significant.

l . Technical Aspects

I have endeavoured to summarize the main points of the technical aspects of the teaching in three tables. The first one deals with origins from the one "Absolute omnipresent, eternal, boundless and immutable Principle" mentioned in the first of the three fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine. All speculation on this Principle is impossible, says H, P. Blavatsky, since it transcends the power of human conception. She refers to it as Be-ness as opposed to Being. It seems me that this Absolute, whilst beyond any attributes that we can ascribe to it, must in some way be subject to or in fact itself be the great Law of periodicity, cycles of existence and non-existence, of activity and rest; cycles which to us, for example, are represented by life and death, and so on. It is this aspect of it, if we may so call it, which is referred to as the Great Breath, in-breathing and out breathing. During out-breathing the universe is. During in-breathing the universe is not. This, surely, is an indication of the workings of the Law even in these primordial conditions.


In this table, on the left-hand side, are shown some factors of incipient existence which seem to me to have a proper place under the heading of Unmanifest. On the right-hand side of the table is their correspondence in the existent or manifest state.

Factors Manifest and Unmanifest

On this side we see the great dichotomy which runs through all Nature in a multitude of ways. Purusha-mülaprakriti, spirit-substance, time (motion) - space, positive-negative, male-female, active passive, and so on. All of them are headed by an original dichotomy mentioned by Madame Blavatsky, again in the first of the three fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine, as Absolute Abstract Motion and Absolute Abstract Space. These are difficult metaphysical concepts meant to convey something to our minds. The first of these, abstract motion, she says is the root of consciousness, abstract motion itself representing unconditioned Consciousness; and Space is the Mother, potentially, of all matter.

When considering Prakriti as Matter we have the beginnings of existence as we know it. Something of the "All Potentiality" has become actuality, and the Spirit-Substance dichotomy becomes energy-matter. At this stage differentiation takes place and we begin to get the multitude of kinds and conditions of substance and forces and combinations of substances that we find in Nature and in living forms.

At this level we can begin to think of Time. Madame Blavatsky has written much about Time and distinguishes it from duration. Duration, she says, always is. Time, which must be related to something, is of the mind; we create it. Unconditioned consciousness or simply consciousness itself has duration, but that of which it is conscious has existence only in time. This, of course, includes the normal vehicles or organs of consciousness such as the physical brain. The consciousness exists only in the ever-present Now and it is with respect to this point of present time that there is a past and a future. It is interesting to note that present time is not actually, in itself, anything at all. It does not have an existence, not even as a moment, however short we may consider it to be. All before it is past and all ahead of it is future, in terms of our normal thinking. Present time - now - is when, in essence, we - you and me - are, and we can never have our being at any other time. It is worth noting also that we can never do anything at any other time but now. All before this instant is a memory or an effect. All after it is an anticipation, and both of these are subjective states as far as we are concerned. If this is realized, as opposed to remaining an idea, it can evoke a special state of awareness, a significant state of "spiritual" consciousness, raising perception out of the limitations of the purely personal.

An awareness of the significance of the great dichotomies wherein matter, for example, is seen as a confining, limiting principle, gives an insight into, and understanding of, the problems of evil and suffering which are of so much concern to us in our living. These matters are dealt with at length in The Secret Doctrine.


Table II extends the classifications in Table I as far as manifestation is concerned. Everything is derived from the Absolute but manifestation itself appears to divide again into two. On the left-hand side of the table we have the abstract aspect and, on the right, the apparent aspect. The apparent is that which is registered by any sense, of feeling, touching, tasting, smelling, etc., and even knowing.

Table - Maifestation; Abstract and Apparent

Considering first the left-hand side which essentially, and in single words, summarizes the contents of the three fundamental propositions, we have: (l) Unity (2) Law and (3) Evolution

On the right side, that of apparent existence, these correspond to:-
(1) Differentiation or Diversity (2) Process and (3) Progress

Expanding on these, we have Diversity or Differentiation, represented by monads, and the multiplicity and multifarious nature of everything in existence. These include tattvas, senses and faculties. All this class of phenomena can be grouped together and described as the qualities of life.

Under Process, which is the working of the Law, we see the operation of living, governed by the Law, the activities of everything each according to its kind, and we see the great Law in all its aspects in operation. We see, for example, the comings and goings of all life forms in time. We see the universe in balance, with all its forces maintained in equilibrium, to provide the necessary stability, to be the stage or field of existence for all that is in and on it as, for example, is earth. In countless ways we can see the operation of harmony. We see cause and effect endlessly weaving their tangled web through aeons of time. Also under the heading of Process we see everything going about its business; plants growing, animals coming, going, feeding, breeding - and we see in mankind each man and woman as a unit in relationship, intimate relationship, with other units in family life, in commerce, in agriculture, and each learning by experience.

Progress is the operation of evolution. It is, so to speak, the accumulated experience of living. It necessarily involves growth, unfoldment, development, not only of vehicles or bodies, but of the potentialities of the Spirit trying to express itself through those bodies.

Referring to Table Il, between the Abstract and the Apparent, we have within it a secondary table showing the descent of Being into life and awareness. First, there must be Power to bring what potentially is into being. This Power is something again inherent in the Absolute which, in the out-breathing, becomes active. We can equate to be anything it must be something equivalent to substance at a very high level. It is by way of the Monad - the Ätmä-Buddhi combination - becoming an element of individual man's being through his higher Manas that the qualities of these levels of being become available to him. In terms of his faculties and consciousness, they become, when unfolded, his means of spiritual knowledge, wisdom, and, to use a Christian religious expression, grace.

As we saw before, spirit is at the root of energy. In The Secret Doctrine we are told that energy throughout the Cosmos is often personalized under the name of Fohat, and Fohat operates in various forms from the highest to the lowest levels of existence, manifesting in our world as the electricity we now so commonly use in our homes. On the material side, energy equates to matter, Fohat to Mahat, the universal Mind wherein all the archetypes of existence and everything that is in it pre-exist the coming into being of a universe. Our universe springs from seeds which were themselves the fruit of a previous one. Further down in the scale of being, energy and matter reflect into Life and Form. Life we commonly know as JÏva, and a particular life as jivätmä. These two, life and form in combination, are the elements of an active entity, a dynamic being. They constitute a unit of life, animate and responsive, and a characteristic of such a unit is always consciousness. Such a unit is a conscious being. In us, this being is essentially a point of awareness in time and space. In itself it is dimensionless. It has no size. At this stage, consciousness is actualized, and becomes conditioned in various modes according to the condition of its vehicles. These are dealt with in the next table.


Table Ill lists information given us about the powers and qualities in Nature and their correspondences. This information is in the third volume (Vol. V, Adyar ed.) of The Secret Doctrine. Probably the most common classification of the qualities in Nature is that in which the planets are used to personify each its own quality,

Käma Rupa
Animal instincts
& passions.
(Tejas = Fire)
Do 1 & 10 Iron Liver
Life giver,
Substitute for Inter-Mercurial
secret planet
Präna or Jiva
(Pritjhivi i.e. Earth)
Re 2
Spiritual and
Physical Life
Gold Heart
Messenger and Interpreter
Spiritual Soul
Mi 3
Devachanic Triad
Mercury Pituitary
Saturn Käma Manas
Animal Soul
(Vayu = Air)
Fa 4
Between material &
spiritual triads
Lead Corpora-Quadri-gemina
Jupiter Auric Envelope Blue (Ädi) So 5 Tin  
Venus Manas
Human Soul
Indigo or Dark
Blue (Äkäsha)
La 6 Copper Pineal
Earth's Planet
Astral Double
'Parent' of Physical
(Apas = water)
Ti 7
Reflection of
septenary man
Silver Spleen

Mars typifies the energy behind generation. It corresponds to the instrument of our emotions and particularly the desires of our psychic natures which impel us to action, sometimes violent. In the matter of colour and quality, it is red and Fiery - to be understood in the old philosopher's sense.

The Sun is the lord of all life. At the level of our ordinary being it is the source of präna, the JÏva, the life principle of our individual life. It is spiritual and physical life. Its colour correspondence is orange and its tattva, somewhat surprisingly, is Earth.

Mercury, in H.P.B.'s classification, is equated to Buddhi, the Spiritual Soul, the vehicle of Ätmä, and its colour is yellow and tattva Anupädaka.

Saturn is equated to Chronos, time. He is the tester of our strength, he corresponds in us to the hard parts and bone structure of our bodies. In terms of human principles, he is Käma-Manas, the animal soul as against the human Egoic soul which comes under Venus. Saturn's colour is green and the tattva is Air.

The expansive Jupiter is equated to the auric envelope, that which envelops all other human principles, and his colour is blue and tattva Ädi.

Venus corresponds to Manas, the thinker, but in this, case the thinker at the higher level as opposed to Kä ma-Manas. It is that faculty which puts us in touch with and enables us to intuit the qualities in Nature at a high level. Its colour is indigo or dark blue and in general terms it corresponds to Äkäsha, the substance of the universe that can manifest at various levels, such as the physical, psychic, etc.

Lastly we have the Moon, in The Secret Doctrine described as the earth's parent and corresponding to linga-sarira, the double, the mould of the physical body. Its tattva is. water and its colour violet.

The other columns of the table give us the correspondences in terms of musical notes, numbers, metals and the internal organs of the body.

We must remember that all this information, as given, has a symbolic significance only. Its real meaning can only be apprehended when our inner faculties, corresponding to the qualities symbolized in the table particularly by the planets, are more and more able to respond, and the qualities. are then increasingly inbuilt into our own natures. We should remember also that the correspondences given in this table are the esoteric ones and not the exoteric ones commonly given in other literature. All Nature fits this seven-fold pattern. This is one of the distinguishing marks of Theosophical occultism as against every other system. For example, in most literature there are five tattvas, or elementary principles, whereas in the esoteric system there are seven. In many classifications there are five or fewer human principles. In the esoteric system there are seven.

It is not generally realized how much information about other systems is given us in our Theosophical literature, nor how many keys to what otherwise would be obscure data. No other system is as explicit or gives us so much information in clear language, and it should be remembered that this information was given out to the world, that is, the public in general, for the first time in the early Theosophical literature. This is our heritage, and it is up to us to make as much use of it, and to make it known as widely as we possibly can, because it explains so much that man is ignorant of and speculates ignorantly about, hence his superstitions.

II Living Aspects

It is important to realize that Theosophy ultimately deals with life and consciousness, yours and mine, and want to make the point, that wonderful as it is, the knowledge given us in the three tables is only information. The content of the tables is a brief summary of some of the teachings of the Masters as given us by H. P. Blavatsky. It symbolizes in words, and so in ideas, that knowledge. I want to make the point that, as words, and as ideas, this knowledge is merely the alphabet of Theosophy. All of what we have so far been discussing can be learnt with the mind. In my view, the real principles of Being, or the fundamentals of Theosophy, can only be known or properly appreciated in terms of life; in terms of the life of each one of us, in terms of our experience, in terms of what goes on in our own consciousness, in terms of our responsive faculties and our active capabilities, and in terms of our inner and outer relationship with the world about us. I would like to make the point that these things are real, but our ideas about them are not and can be just fantasy. This is a point that should be pondered on.

I would like to refer to an Adyar Pamphlet, No. 116, called The Cosmic Mind by H.P.B. She starts it with the words: "Whatever that be which thinks, which understands, which wills, which acts, it is something celestial and divine, and upon that account must be Eternal." (p.1) Then, later in the pamphlet, she refers to Edison, the great American inventor, and his imagination. She says: "Imagination ... is the best guide of our blind senses, without which the latter could never lead us beyond matter and its illusions." (p.2) In this pamphlet she says that the Science of her day rejected the idea of absolute life and a life principle as an entity. Modern Science may have softened that view a little, but I feel it would not commonly accept the idea of life itself as being something possibly distinct from the vehicle through which it operates. She did instance one scientist who believed otherwise. She mentions Dr. Pirogoff, an anatomist-surgeon, who dissected thousands of human organs. In a posthumously published writing he mentioned the existence of a distinct vital force independent of any physical or chemical process. In his memoirs he declared:

"We have no cause to reject the possibility of the existence of organisms endowed with such properties that would impart to them - the direct embodiment of the Universal Mind - a perfection inaccessible to our own (human) mind ... Because we have no right to maintain that man is the last expression of the Divine creative thought."

"Our reason must accept in all necessity an Infinite and Eternal Mind which rules and governs the ocean of life ... Thought and creation, ideation, in full agreement with the laws of unity and causation, manifest themselves plainly enough in universal Life without the participation of brain ... Directing the forces and elements towards the formation of organisms, this organising Life-principle becomes self-sentient, self-conscious, racial or individual. Substance, ruled and directed by the life-principle, is organized according to a general defined plan into certain types." (pp. 5, 6 - Adyar Pamphlet No. 116)

Here he seems to be referring to the varieties of form and characteristic referred to in our Table Ill. It may not be necessary in certain countries such as India, where the idea of invisible powers represented by innumerable deities is accepted as commonplace, to stress the idea of an Intelligent life principle which manifests as Cosmic Law and all its aspects. Things are very different, however, in the West, where the development of personal mind and its application to materialistic and commercial activities renders it almost impervious to ideas of any dynamic principle in Nature other than that which manifests through the energies of matter, and which can be qualitatively and quantitively examined by the scientist.

Western psychologists are beginning to sense that there is some important deficiency in their theories regarding the workings of the mind if they omit the concept that in each of us there is a deep spiritual factor which we ignore at our peril, at least as far as mental and emotional health are concerned.

The quotation from Dr, Pirogoff continues:

"... If, in our conceptions of the Universe, it be our fate to fall into illusions, then my 'illusion' has, at least, the advantage of being very consoling. For it shows to me an intelligent Universe and the activity of Forces working in it harmoniously and intelligently; and that my 'I' is not the product of chemical and histological elements but an embodiment of a common, universal Mind. The latter I sense and represent to myself as acting in free will and consciousness in accordance with the same laws which are traced for. the guidance of my own mind, but only exempt from that restraint which trammels our human, conscious individuality."

"The limitless and ethereal, is not only a postulate of our mind and reason, but also a gigantic fact in itself. What would become of our ethical or moral principle, were not the everlasting and integral truth to serve it as a foundation?"

H.P.B. adds to this that: "We feel proud to find him accepting, almost wholesale, the fundamental doctrines and beliefs of Theosophy." (p.7) The rest of this pamphlet further amplifies this view.


In closing, I would summarize my points as follows:

1. That Theosophy gives us a classified and systematic knowledge about the nature and working of the Universe and of our relationship to it. This provides us with a sufficient, intellectual background which justifies our acceptance. This can replace the beliefs on these matters propounded by the various religions of the world. Our Masters claim that what they told us was of their own knowledge. If we can accept this we can replace the figurative and often speculative beliefs required of us by conventional religions and replace them by something which, although in the first instance it may have to rest on belief, can be a belief not only in the statements of those who claim to know but in the comprehensive rationalism of the whole scheme. With study this scheme assumes the nature of a harmonious whole, the Unity with every part and aspect of it essential to the well-being and proper functioning of the whole. This is one of the great difficulties in trying to give Theosophical instruction. It seems to me to be impossible to talk on any aspect of Theosophy without relating it to the whole and it takes many years for the whole picture to become apparent, even in outline.

This matter of not being able properly to deal with Theosophy piecemeal has two consequences. One is that it necessarily takes many years of study to acquire an insight into its truth and comprehensive nature. The second is, however much we might want to do so, it cannot really be simplified. Many of the ideas, such as karma and reincarnation, can, of course, be expressed in relatively simple terms, but in so doing we run the grave risk of distorting them, taking them out of context and rendering them incomprehensible in a deep sense, because they can properly only be understood in relation to the whole. For example, a proper understanding of the Ego, which is the human Divine principle in man, is essential to a proper understanding of reincarnation, and of certain spiritualistic phenomena. As long as we are imprisoned in the idea that we are personalities who, in some way or another, are going to persist, we cannot really understand reincarnation.

In saying that Theosophy cannot be simplified, the question as to whether those religions which contain, say, ideas of reincarnation and karma are not in themselves Theosophy, was raised. I think a study of our classical literature will indicate very clearly that they, with their dogma and rituals, are not. Some of the additional data and explanations of Theosophy are needed for the allegories and symbolic language of our religions to be made comprehensible in rational terms. These keys are available to the esotericists within the various religions, but the explanations are not available to mankind generally. This has led to the awful superstitions which so commonly beset man. In many countries we are ridden by caste and detailed and ineffective ceremonial. In others we are told the idea that a Divine Redeemer can eradicate the results of our sins. Against the truth of Theosophy, these notions of caste and ceremonial and vicarious atonement cannot stand. In the Theosophical Society we hold that the finding of Truth is by individual effort and that to profess "belief" without investigation and personal experience is not enough and does not lead to true spiritual unfoldment.

2. The other point, then, in this final summary I would like to stress, is that our Theosophy not only gives us knowledge of the workings of the Universe, it gives us knowledge of our own workings. It is in this light that we are able to take charge of ourselves and, in accordance with the Law, our own destinies. This alters man's stature. Not only does it say that no-one else can atone for his sins, it says that he has to abide by the consequences of them, Further, it also says that, whereas now he might be enjoying or suffering the effects of past causes which he has generated, he has it within his power, by right action, to make his future not only more pleasant but more significant and effective in terms of his long-term development over many lives; and in redeeming himself, to that degree he redeems the whole of human kind. The future is in each man's hands; in the hands of each of us - now.


A lecture given at the International Convention at Adyar, 1971.
The Theosophist February, 1972

Button to return to top