WHY STUDY THEOSOPHY?

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written by
G.A. Farthing

"Theosophy ... has existed eternally throughout the endless cycles upon cycles of the Past, so it will ever exist through-out the infinitudes of the Future, because Theosophy is synonymous with EVERLASTING TRUTH."

[The Key to Theosophy, p 304, orig. ed.]

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Theosophy is here taken to mean all the information and the massive system of thought given us through the writings of H.P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.) in her major books and articles and in the letters written to A.P. Sinnett by the Masters concerned with the founding of the Theosophical Society. While most of H.P.B.'s writings were not actually written by the Masters, they were admittedly inspired by them.

The question why study this kind of Theosophy is often asked by members of the Society, and it is as often answered in a number of ways. Whereas some members feel that they can whole-heartedly support the first object - to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity - and they may even subscribe to the sentiments of the second and third objects, they do not see why they should study Theosophy as such when there is so much other material available which seems wholly relevant?

Some other members have their own religious teachings or have been brought up or instructed by a teacher to whom they owe a continuing loyalty. They have perhaps easily adapted their religious ideas to include those of reincarnation and Karma in a general way, and feel thereby they have adapted them to the teachings of Theosophy. Regarding these religious views, however, the following passage from the Preface to The Secret Doctrine should be borne in mind:

But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised.

Further, would-be students of Theosophy should be aware of the statement in The Key to Theosophy (p 20, orig. ed.):

[The Society] 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.

They should also have regard to what the Master K.H. wrote to Sinnett which answers directly those who express the view that the original teachings are restricted or limited:

... we have a duty set before us; that of sweeping away as much as possible the dross left to us by our pious forefathers. New ideas have to be planted on clean places, for these ideas touch upon the most momentous subjects. It is not physical [i.e., spiritualistic] phenomena but these universal ideas that we study, as to comprehend the former, we have first to understand the latter. They touch man's true position in the universe, in relation to his previous and future births; his origin and ultimate destiny; the relation of the mortal to the immortal; of the temporary to the eternal; of the finite to the infinite; ideas larger, grander, more comprehensive, recognising the universal reign of Immutable Law, unchanging and unchangeable in regard to which there is only an ETERNAL NOW, while to uninitiated mortals time is past or future as related to their finite existence on this material speck of dirt. This is what we study and what many have solved.

[Mahatma Letters to A.P Sinnett (M.L.) VI, 24, 2nd, 3rd ed.; M.L.12, 39, chron. ed.]

Some would-be student members may also be members of the Esoteric Section (E.S.) imbued with ideas of service to the Masters and of eventually qualifying themselves to become chelas or pupils of those Masters. As members of the E.S. they will receive periodical letters and have recommended literature. These two, the literature and their commitment to the Masters, may justify a view that there is no need for further study. However, a proper regard for the Masters would necessarily involve knowledge of, and respect for, their teachings as they gave them out, directly or indirectly, and it must be remembered that they said repeatedly that in the matter of communicating the message H.P.B. was their sole agent. Under the "freedom of thought" code, of course, literature by others may be read, but it does not have the same authenticity theosophically as that of the Masters and H.P.B.

H.P.B.'s instructions to her Inner Group (The Secret Doctrine Vol.III, p 433 et seq.) are a magnificent supplement to the teachings given elsewhere in her writings, particularly in The Secret Doctrine. Knowledge of these previous teachings is necessary before the full value of the Instructions can be appreciated. The proper title of these Instructions is significant: "Some Papers on the bearing of Occult Philosophy on Life". The word 'occult' should be noted particularly. It is this glimpse behind the scenes of our ordinary existence that is the principal distinguishing feature of the theosophical message.

Some members may feel that almost any kind of formal study, and particularly that of the writings of H.P.B., is beyond them. They are content to attend lectures and lodge meetings, and generally enjoy the amenities and the atmosphere of lodge life, maybe doing odd jobs, but without feeling any necessity to apply themselves to any serious reading. They see no reason to do so. They will never know, however, what they might get from the great works if they never try.

Further, it must be acceded that the Masters of the Wisdom knew what they were doing when they cast their message at the level they did. In Mahatma Letter XLIV (45 chr.ed.) to Sinnett (February 1882) they said:

One or two of us hoped that the world had so far advanced intellectually, if not intuitionally, that the Occult doctrine might gain an intellectual acceptance, and the impulse given for a new cycle of occult research. Others, wiser as it would now seem - held differently, but consent was given for the trial.

It must be noticed here that the giving out of the occult doctrine was a trial. It might receive 'intellectual acceptance' but it was not expected to be 'popular'. Here the distinction must be made between Theosophy (the occult doctrine) and the Society which was to promote its three objects. The Masters did say, however, that Theosophy was the soul of the Society, its inmost enlivening centre without which, they said; it was a "corpse".

Further, among some members, and for this there may be personal reasons, there is a genuine antipathy towards the H.P.B. literature. Almost any excuse will be made for not reading it. It is amongst this section of members that the Society's emphasis on 'freedom of thought' is made much of. The teachings contained in the great literature are regarded as dogmatic and authoritarian, and this is felt to be totally against the idea of freedom of thought. Freedom of thought in this connection is often taken to mean that Theosophy is undefined and undefinable, and anybody's opinion or view of it can be regarded as Theosophy. Moreover, anyone's opinion is as good as anyone else's, regardless of whether they are students or not. This is quite untenable because such people usually know nothing of the content of the great works of H.P.B. and they therefore hold their views out of real ignorance. A further point here is that opinions are personal, i.e., of the lower mind (the unreal), and can be seriously divisive, whereas Theosophy concerns the higher mind, the Eternal Verities (the real). It is impersonal and unifying. Ultimately there is only Truth itself which is certainly not a matter of opinion.

No member is under any obligation or constraint to believe anything; the Society promotes no dogma. In a letter from one of the Masters are the words, "We make no unwilling slaves".

However, those who have studied the literature, even in moderate depth, will know that Theosophy is a comprehensive, quite specific, system of thought and practice in its own right. They will also know that throughout the H.P.B. literature: i.e., Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine, The Key to Theosophy and many of the Collected Writings, there are many illustrative and definitive statements as to what Theosophy is. These not only give the reader information but relate Theosophy to the whole field of religious, philosophical, psychological and scientific knowledge as it was up to the end of the 19th century. Most of this has changed little since then. In any case, Theosophy deals with the "eternal verities" which do not change.

Quoting The Secret Doctrine:

The Secret Doctrine [Theosophy] is the accumulated Wisdom of the Ages, and its cosmogony alone is the most stupendous and elaborate system ... the facts which have actually occupied countless generations of initiated seers and prophets to marshal, to set down and explain, in the bewildering series of evolutionary progress, are all recorded on a few pages of geometrical signs and glyphs. The flashing gaze of those seers has penetrated into the very kernel of matter, and recorded the soul of things there ... it is the uninterrupted record covering thousands of generations of Seers whose respective experiences were made to test and to verify the traditions passed orally by one early race to another... How did they do so?... by checking, testing and verifying in every department of nature the traditions of old by the independent visions of great adepts.

[The Secret Doctrine Vol.I, 272]

There are many passages in similar vein to this. These are often read but their full implications are not always realized. Considerable attention and thought has to be brought to bear on what is actually said for it to become meaningful.

Such is the extent and grandeur of the ancient, ageless Wisdom we now call Theosophy to which, in part and in principle, we are heirs, if we will avail ourselves of it. Its horizons are limitless and its depths unfathomable, at least by ordinary minds. The passage quoted above was an attempt to give an idea of the content of The Secret Doctrine.

The differences between Theosophy and the extant exoteric literature are based on a working knowledge of the inner realms of existence. This knowledge is referred to as Occultism (Esotericism), a synonym for Theosophy. It is the knowledge of the hidden nature and processes (powers and forces) of Nature herself, possessed only by Initiates (Adepts) in the Arcane Sciences. Such were our Masters and, to a large extent, H.P.B. herself. The original theosophical literature is written with this knowledge as a background. It is redolent with the wisdom and benign spirit of its authors, and is unique. There is not, and never has been, such a literature made public before in the world's history. All writings, lectures, etc., the content of which could have been written or delivered had Theosophy never been propounded, are not in the special sense of the word Theosophical.

This knowledge augments, i.e., supplements and complements, what is contained in the existing exoteric literature; for example, the following paragraphs indicate, in outline only, some of these additions.

a) Theosophy tells us specifically and in some detail of the origins of things whereas the normal religious literature deals with the subject very figuratively and by allegory.

b) Theosophy goes into the structure of the Cosmos and the corresponding principles in man in some detail. The universe is sevenfold, as indeed is man's nature and each plane or principle has seven sub-principles and each of those, seven sub-sub-principles and so on. The significance of this is that, for example, it accounts for the infinite variety of colour and sound experienced by our senses and of the whole gamut of emotional feeling, together with an almost infinite variety of content of thought with its virtually infinite variety of functions. Over and above the mental processes are those of the upper principles of man; which, when operating result in true spiritual knowledge and insight, in consciousness. The persevering student gradually develops 'eyes to see and ears to hear', as it is put in the Christian scriptures; in other words, intuition grows.

c) It divides the principles of man into groups, the body, soul and spirit. It allocates the principles to each of these, enriching our concepts. The difference between the Personality and the Individuality is stressed more than perhaps in any other literature and the idea of the connecting link between the lower and upper man is introduced (Antahkarana). We can then understand the physical, psychic and spiritual physiology of man, the development of which is the object of our long evolutionary journey.

d) Life 'Ever-becoming' - another main tenet of Theosophy - the whole evolutionary process. It includes the formation of globes, the development of human races correspondingly, and the emerging spiritual powers of man, is dealt with in detail. The relevance of this is the programme that each human being has to pass through up to the very last stage before he can reach his intended state of development at the end of the last Round at the end of the life of our planet.

e) The paramount significance of UNITY, "Existence is One Thing" reiterating the Indian "Thou are THAT", but explicitly, and with its implications to be realized only by much thought and prolonged meditation. The study of Theosophy does, however, introduce us to the idea of the possibility of our having such a realization for ourselves.

f) The plain language detailed account of after-death states - very much at variance with previous 'spiritualist' versions, but related intimately and necessarily to the whole evolutionary process and the Law.

g) The existence of entities on the evolutionary scale lower and higher than man at any time. The post-human entities are those from whom we have derived much that now comprises our present human nature, particularly mind.

h) The Law: that which never ceases to operate in the infinite 'duration' of total cosmic time. It is the law by which everything comes  and goes in due season. It is also the law by which things, including human beings, come to be as they are: flower to seed to fruit eternally, until they have fulfilled their destiny.

i) A comprehensive authentic explanation by those who know, in terms of the human principles, the cosmic planes and the Law, of spiritualistic phenomena in all their variety, and explanations of many kinds of psychic/ physical happenings, e.g., precipitation of letters, apports, automatic writing, etc., etc., not to be found anywhere else.

No such attempt to make known these secrets of the nature and workings of Nature had ever been made public before, at least to the extent that they were then. The serious enquirer into the nature of life cannot afford to ignore what is available to him in these great works.

It is quite unrealistic to try in an article to give even a brief idea of all the subjects covered in the theosophical literature but some idea can be gained from a perusal of the 'Contents' page of the books themselves.

The world has obviously had its great teachers and its great writings, particularly the religious scriptures of the East, prior to the advent of Theosophy. These, however, were exoteric, i.e., they contained only as much information (and much of that in figurative or parable form) about the nature of Cosmos as was felt could be safely given out to the world at large without endangering the knowledge or those who studied it and practised the teachings prescribed. Behind all this literature, however, there is a tradition of a secret knowledge available only to those who were initiated into its arcana, members of occult brotherhoods and so on; such were our Masters. Such also were the initiated Brahmins, heirs to the secrets behind the Upanishads, etc.

The Secret Doctrine, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett, and to an extent Isis Unveiled made available to mankind at large some of this hitherto secret information. The prime significance of this outpouring was that it related man specifically and intimately to the whole of Cosmos, by way of his internal principles, i.e., his subjective faculties. The teaching is that by knowing about these principles and then activating them, enlivening them, a man can, in his own consciousness, become aware, by identification, of some of the otherwise hidden workings of Nature.

Because of the possibility of this realization, of one's identity in consciousness with the heart of Nature (Cosmos), Theosophy is referred to as divine Wisdom and as religion - religion itself, not a religion. It is not a system of belief and it subscribes to no God, anthropomorphic or otherwise, outside of us.

It must be accepted by all would-be students that the study is long and arduous. In its essential nature it is not so much the acquisition of a mass of information concerning the nature of Cosmos and man, dealt with from many aspects, but the efforts made to apply one's self and understand the teachings. These efforts, persevered with, develop faculties in us that would otherwise lie dormant. H.P.B. said this in so many words. In answer to a question by Commander Bowen, a recipient of much teaching from her in the last days of her life, who suggested that the study of the basic ideas H.P.B. was then propounding must be exceedingly fatiguing:

"H.P.B. smiled and nodded. One must not be a fool (she said) and drive one's self into the madhouse by attempting too much at first. The brain is the instrument of waking consciousness and every conscious mental picture formed means change and destruction of the atoms of the brain. Ordinary intellectual activity moves on well beaten paths in the brain and does not compel sudden adjustments and destructions in its substance, but this new kind of mental effort calls for something very different - the carving out of 'new brain paths', the ranking in different order of the little brain lives. If forced injudiciously it may do physical harm to the brain."

[Mme Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy, p 10]

It seems there is a price to be paid for everything. Any serious student seeking genuine enlightenment will know the effort necessary for success, and that fatigue must be endured to train our little brain cells to traverse new paths. Any aspiring student, however, who has achieved anything, will gratefully admit that the effort was worth it.

This matter of linking one's self in consciousness to the greater inner depths of nature can be regarded as religious. For the would-be enquirer who has not yet made the acquaintance of it there is an article by H.P.B. entitled "Is Theosophy a Religion" [Collected Writings Vol.X, 159, originally published in Lucifer for Nov. 1888] The whole question of Theosophy, the Theosophical Society and religion in general is discussed wonderfully in that article. In it there are many illuminating passages describing Theosophy and the nature and function of the Theosophical Society. For example, on p 165:

Practical Theosophy is not one Science, but embraces every science in life, moral and physical. It may in short, be justly regarded as the universal "coach", a tutor of world-wide knowledge and experience, and of an erudition which not only assists and guides its pupils towards a successful examination for every scientific or moral service in earthly life, but fits them for the lives to come, if those pupils will only study the universe and its mysteries within themselves, instead of studying them through the spectacles of orthodox science and religions. ... One [Theosophy] is, as an ideal, divine Wisdom, perfection itself; the other [the Society] a poor, imperfect thing, trying to run under, if not within, its shadow on Earth. ... Theosophy is the soul of its Society; the latter the gross and imperfect body of the former.

This whole article ought to be compulsory reading for all members or aspiring students of Theosophy.

And so there is a vast amount of information, instruction and encouragement to the would-be theosophist if only he would willingly and enthusiastically put himself in the way of it. This is the justification for the study of Theosophy. For those who are not so moved to make the effort, perhaps they would get some joy and enlightenment from reading the lesser, but still great work, The Key to Theosophy. This would be a good starting place anyway and at least serve as an introduction which might create an appetite for a later but possibly more rewarding immersion into the almost limitless depths of the other writings of H.P.B. The Masters were so anxious that she should complete this huge task before she died that they kept her alive on two separate occasions of dire illness in order that she might do so. Even if the Society should not survive into the future generations, mankind to come will always have this literature.

In the light of all that has been said above, the following words in The Key to Theosophy become particularly significant. "It [the Society] was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities." This is a charge laid upon all members who can and will study the great teachings of Theosophy, assimilate them and to the best of their ability, and  disseminate them. In this connection it should be remembered that the Maha Chohan, the Masters' Master, said that "the Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner-stone, the foundation, of the future religions of humanity." As such a corner-stone it would have to have an enduring message based on truth and nothing but the truth, which would command the respect and devotion of all mankind. Such a message is contained in the Theosophy as given us by the Masters.

---oOo---

October 1999

 

 


This document has been reproduced from Geoffrey Farthing's digital copy created in 2002,
and currently in the archive material of The Blavatsky Trust.
The Blavatsky Trust 2013

 

 


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