Theosophy (An Introduction)



From the Greek theos, god, and sophia, wisdom; a philosophical-religious system which claims absolute knowledge of the existence and nature of the deity, and is not to be confused with the later system by the founders of the Theosophical Society. Nowadays, however, theosophy has come to signify the tenets and teachings of the founders of the Theosophical Society. This society was founded in the United States in 1875 by Madame H.P. Blavatsky, Col. H.S. Olcott, and others. Its objects were to establish a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, to promote the study of comparative religion and philosophy and to investigate the mystic powers of life and matter. The conception of the Universal Brotherhood was based upon the oriental idea of One Life -- that ultimate oneness which underlies all diversity, whether inward or outward. The study of comparative religion was materialized into a definite system of belief, the bounds of which were a dogmatically fixed. It is set forth in the Theosophical system that all the great religions of the world originated from one supreme source and that they are merely expressions of a central "Wisdom Religion" vouchsafe to various races of the earth in such a manner as was best suited to time and geographical circumstances. Underlying these was a secret doctrine or esoteric teaching which it was stated had been the possession for ages of certain Mahatmas, or adepts in mysticism and occultism. With these Madame Blavatsky claimed to be in direct communication, and she herself manifested occult phenomena, producing the ringing of astral bells, and so forth. On several occasions these efforts were unmasked as fraudulent, but that is no justification for believing that Madame Blavatsky was entirely a person of deceitful character. There can be very little doubt that she was one of those rare personalities who possess great natural psychic powers, which at times failing her, she was driven in self-protection to adopt fraudulent methods. The evidence for the existence of the "Great White Brotherhood" of Mahatmas, the existence of which she asserted, is unfortunately somewhat feeble.

It rests, for the most part, on the statements of Madame Blavatsky, Col. Olcott, Mr. Sinnet, C.W. Leadbeater, and others, who claimed to have seen or communicated with them. With every desire to do justice to these upholders of the Theosophical argument, it is necessary to point out that it has been amply proved that in occult, or pseudo-occult experiences, the question of self-hallucination enters very largely (see Witchcraft), and the ecstatic condition may be answerable for subjective appearances which seem real enough to the visionary. Again the written communications of the Mahatmas give rise to some doubt. It is pointed out for instance that one of them employed the American system of spelling, and this was accounted for by the circumstance that his English has been sophisticated by reading American books. 

The revelations of Madame Blavatsky were in reality no more than a melange of Buddhistic, Brahministic and Kabbalistic matter; but the Theosophical Society numbered within its members several persons of very high ability, whose statements and exegesis of their faith placed it upon a much higher level and more definite foundation. If the system is intensely dogmatic, it is also constructed in a manner akin to genius, and evolved on most intricate lines. This system was to a great extent pieced together after the death of the original founder of the society, on which event a schism occurred in the Brotherhood, through the claims to leadership of William Judge, of New York, who died in 1896 and who was followed by Katherine Tingley, the founder of the great theosophical community at Point Loma, California. Col. Olcott became the leader of the remaining part of the Theosophical Society in America and India, being assisted in his work by Annie Besant, but a more or less independent organization was founded in England. 

A brief outline of the tenets of Theosophy may be attempted. It posits absolute belief in its views instead of blind faith. It professes to be the religion which holds the germs of all others. It has also its aspects as a science -- a science of life and of the soul. The facts which it was to lay before humanity are as follows: "There are three truths which are absolute, and which cannot be lost, but yet may remain silent for lack of speech. The soul of man is immortal and its future of the thing, whose growth and splendor has no limit. The principle which gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard, or seen, or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception. Each man is his own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself, decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment." Although Theosophy posits the existence of an Absolute, it does not pretend to knowledge of its attributes. In the Absolute are innumerable universes, and in each universe countless solar systems. Each solar system is the expression of a being called the Logos, the Word of God, or Solar Deity, who permeates it and exists above it, and outside it. Below this Solar Deity are his seven ministers, called the Planetary Spirts, whose relation to him is like that of the nerve centers to the brain, so that all his voluntary acts come through him to them. (See Kabbala). Under them are vast hosts or orders of spiritual beings called devas, or angels, who assist in many ways. This world is ruled by a great official who represents the Solar Deity, which is in absolute control of all the evolution that takes place upon this planet. When a new religions to be founded, this being either comes himself or sends one of his pupils to institute it. In the earlier stages of the development of humanity, the great officials of the hierarchy are provided from more highly evolved parts of the system, but whenever men can be trained to the necessary level of power and wisdom these offices are held by them. They can only be filled by adepts, who in goodness, power and wisdom are immeasurably greater than ordinary men, and have attained the summit of human evolution. These advance until they themselves become of the nature of deities. There are many degrees and many lines of activity among these, but some of them always remain within touch of the earth and assist in the spiritual evolution of humanity. This body it is which is called the "Great White Brotherhood." Its members do not dwell together, but live separately apart from the world and are in constant communication with one another and with their head. Their knowledge of higher forces is so great that they have no necessity for meeting in the physical world, but each dwells in his own country, and their power remains unsuspected among those who live near them. These adepts are willing to take as apprentices those who have resolved to devote themselves utterly to the service of mankind, and anyone who will attract their attention by showing himself worthy of their notice. Such an apprentice was Madame Blavatsky. One of these masters has said: "In order to succeed the pupil must leave his own world and come into ours." 

The formation of a solar system and the cosmogonic operation of the theosophical conception has been treated in several separate articles at this site; as have the various planes on which the personality of man dwells in its long journey from earth to the final goal of Nirvana. The theosophical conception of the constitution of man is that he is in essence a spark of divine fire belonging to the Monadic world. For the purpose of human evolution this monad manifests itself in lower worlds. Entering the Spiritual World it manifests itself there as the triple spirit having three aspects, one of which always remains in the Spiritual Sphere. The second aspect manifests itself in the Intuitional World; and the third in the Higher Mental World; and these two are collated with intuition and intelligence. These three aspects combined make up the ego which is man during the human stage of evolution. The way or path toward enlightenment and emancipation is known as karma. The human personality is composed of a complex organization consisting of seven principles which are united and interdependent, yet divided into certain groups, each capable of maintaining a kind of personality. Each of these priniples is composed of its own form of matter and possesses its own laws of time, space and motion. The most gross of those, the physical body, is known as rûpa, which becomes more and more refined until we reach the universal self âtmâ; but the circumstances which determines the individual's powers, tests and advantages, or in short his character, is his karma, which is the sum of his bodily, mental, and spiritual growth and is spread over many lives past and future; in short, as man soweth, so must he reap; and if in one existence he is handicapped by any defect, mental or physical, it may be regarded as the outcome of past delinquencies. This doctrine is practically common to both Buddhism and Brahminism. 

After this digression, which was entered into for the purpose of affording a fuller view of the theosophic conception of human personality, we return to the constitution of man. The ego existing in the Higher Mental World cannot enter the Physical World until it has drawn around itself a veil composed of the matter of these spheres: nor can it think in any but an abstract manner without them -- its concrete ideas being due to them. Having assumed the astral and physical bodies, it is born as a human being; and having lived out its earth-life sojourns for a time in the Astral World, until it can succeed in throwing off the shackles of the astral body. When that is achieved man finds himself living in his mental body. The stay in this sphere is usually a long one -- the strength of the mental constitution depending upon the nature of the thoughts to which he has habituated himself. But he is not yet sufficiently developed to proceed to higher planes, and once more he descends into the denser physical sphere to again go through the same round. Although he come from on high into these lower worlds, it is only through that decent that a full recognition of the higher worlds is developed in him. 

In the Higher Mental World, the permanent vehicle is a causal body, which consists of mater of the first, second, and third sub-divisions of that world. As the ego unfolds his latent possibilities in the course of his evolution, this matter is greatly brought into action; but it is only in the perfect man, or adept, that it is developed to its fullest extent. In the causal body none of the possibilities of the grosser bodies can manifest themselves. The mental body is built up of matter of the four lower sub-divisions of the Mental World, and expresses man's concrete thoughts. Its size and shape are determined by those of the causal vehicle. 

While on earth the personality wears the physical, mental, and astral bodies all at once. It is the astral which connects him with the Astral World during sleep or trance. (See Astral Plane.) It is easy to see how the doctrine of reincarnation arose from this idea. The ego must travel from existence to existence, physical, astral, mental, until it transcend the Mental World and enter the higher spheres. 

We have in this sketch attempted as far as possible to eschew the oriental verbiage of the older theosophical teachers, which it is understood is now replaced by more modern terms, but this we have retained in some of the lesser articles dealing with Theosophy. The theosophic path to the goal of Nirvana is practically derived from Buddhistic teaching, but there are also other elements in it -- Kabbalistic and Greek. The path is the great work whereby the inner nature of the individual is consciously transformed and developed. A radical alternative must be made in aims and motives of the ordinary mortal. The path is long and difficult, and as has been said extends over many existences. Morality alone is insufficient to the full awakening of the spiritual faculty, without which progress in the path is impossible. Something incomparably higher is necessary. The physical and spiritual exercises recommended by Theosophy are those formulated in the Hindu philosophical system known as Raja Yoga. The most strenuous efforts alone can impel the individual along the path, and thus to mount by the practice of Vidyâ, that higher wisdom which awakens the latent faculties and concentrates effort in the direction of union with the Absolute. The way is described as long and difficult, but as the disciple advances he becomes more convinced of his ultimate success, by the possession of transcendental faculties which greatly assist him to overcome difficulties. But these must not be sought for their own sake, as to gain knowledge of them for evil purposes is tantamount to the practice of Black Magic. 

It is not pretended that in this brief sketch the whole of the theosophical doctrine has been set forth, and the reader who desires further information regarding it is recommended to the many and excellent handbooks on the subject which now abound.


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