THEOSOPHY, Vol. 54, No. 2, December, 1965
(Pages 40-43; Size: 13K)


[Article number (24) in this Department]

Words, because they are the concrete expression of the subjective, inner man, become his tools as found in language; but contemporary speech often proves inadequate for lack of proper words. Is it not, therefore, desirable to invent or redefine words to convey meanings? Certainly, language "grows," as witness most of the philological developments found in our lexicons. Scientists, and scholars in particular, have aided by a constant minting of new words.

In the last century, at the founding of the Theosophical Society, it became clear that a theosophical nomenclature must be developed, even though this might involve words that were "foreign-sounding" to Western ears. Madame Blavatsky, as the chief founder, and William Q. Judge emphasized the inadequacy of the English language to provide fitting terms in which to clothe the essential psychological truths of Theosophy. In a similar way, by the injection of revitalized meanings, many words can be better ensouled with the spirit and majesty of the ancient Wisdom-Religion in this modern era.

In The Key to Theosophy, H.P.B. invites consideration of such questions as she discusses the need for improving theosophical nomenclature. Under the heading, "Definite Words for Definite Things," she begins by sympathizing with an inquirer's comment that the terminology employed by Theosophists in general exposition was quite undisciplined. She then remarks:

I have thought of this myself. The whole trouble has arisen from this: we have started our expositions of, and discussion about, the "Principles," using their Sanskrit names instead of coining immediately, for the use of Theosophists, their equivalents in English. We must try and remedy this now.
This need not, however, be taken as an endorsement of unlimited invention of new philosophical terms, for H.P.B. is speaking of the particular need to supply adequate English equivalents for the Sanskrit names of distinct "principles" and the nature of man. Her own disposition, evidenced in her article, "Psychic and Noëtic Action," was to make use of both new and rejuvenated terms given usage by contemporary thinkers. In this way, she showed that she was not "inventing" a new school of thought, and that Theosophy, properly considered, was to be discovered as an underlying affirmative theme among the advanced thinkers of any age. [Note: For those who would like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "Psychic and Noëtic Action" article at the end of this one.--Compiler.]

Consistency in this approach, indeed, sharply distinguishes H.P.B.'s writings from those of others who have borrowed from her major works and set up personally dominated schools of thought. Invariably, when such provincialism has characterized sectarian groups, newly-coined terms have been plentiful. Both William Q. Judge and Robert Crosbie, whose approach has been synthesized in the tradition of the United Lodge of Theosophists, refrained from this sort of inventiveness -- establishing a safeguarding precedent against personalizing theosophical study and promulgation.

The suggestion that appropriate English equivalents should be employed by Theosophists to clarify Sanskrit terms does not imply that the Sanskrit words, themselves (which often convey necessary philosophical subtlety), be replaced. Mr. Judge says as much in a short article, "Another Theosophical Prophecy" (reprinted in THEOSOPHY 3:66):

The Sanskrit language will one day be again the language used by man upon this earth, first in science and in metaphysics, and later on in common life. ... Terms now preserved in that noblest of languages will creep into the literature and the press of the day, crop up in reviews, appear in various books and treatises. ... This new language cannot be English ... but will be one which is scientific in all that makes a language, and has been enriched by ages of study of metaphysics and the true science. [Note: For those who would like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to WQJ's "Another Theosophical Prophecy" article at the end of this one.--Compiler.]
Even in such abbreviated reference works as Joseph Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins we discover that the etymologist must know something of Sanskrit in order to trace many psychological and philosophical terms to their origins. Thus the "pure" meaning -- and the most useful meaning, from a theosophical point of view -- is often suggested by looking up the original Sanskrit word. "Desire," for instance, has in Sanskrit a neutral, psychological meaning. Only in the terms provided by Christian theology has "desire" been associated exclusively with "corruptions of the senses," with evil or degradation. Noting the increasing attention now paid to the teachings of Eastern philosophies and religions by Western psychologists, we may predict that more Sanskrit terms will find their way into English usage with each decade, and that dictionaries will consequently be enriched in a manner calculated to encourage a philosophical attitude of mind.

As an example, we offer the fruitful effort of one adroit in enriching the meanings of words -- in this case the projection of a new association of ideas by means of the word "altrocentric." This term, he believes, suggests one who is confirmed in the practice of altruism.

To suggest such a term as "altrocentric," therefore, may possibly serve as a stimulus to thought, without any effort to establish habitual usage. A particular difficulty in this instance, of course, lies in the fact that "egocentrism," as a limiting use of the mind, cannot be regarded as the opposite of true altruism -- for the latter connotes a broadening of empathy and understanding radiating from the "egoic center" and reaching beyond any one fixation of attention.

In pondering upon word meanings and usages, we are led repeatedly to a peculiar observation -- that words in the Theosophical lexicon are apt to have developed a duality of meaning, according to time, place, and usage. A word or a phrase is of itself equivocal or bifocal, and contains no clear meaning until vitalized by the thought-current of a rational man. Karen Horney, in Neurosis and Human Growth, indicates that a person who endeavors to submerge himself in socially useful activities may become a rather incapable altruist, precisely because some of his own distortions of personality have not been faced and corrected. The "shirking of responsibility for self" she writes, "lowers the creative potential of the individual." The inner self is operating at low frequency, and "when the real self is 'locked out' and exiled, one's integrating power will be at a low ebb." These are the complications present in many average representations of "altruism," and must be granted. Thus we have the puzzling phenomenon of the man who appears to be an "altruist" demanding a great deal of appreciation for his efforts.

Mr. Shipley gives a rather more informative discussion of altruism than that supplied by Webster:

The Fr. expression, le bien d'autrui, the right of another, was shortened in legal phrase to l'autrui. The philosopher Comte took this shorter term (possibly from the It. form altrui, from L., alteri, to another) and coined the noun altruisme -- translated into Eng. as altruism. Comte opposed it to egoism, from L. ego, I. Egoism is the general philosophical point of view; egotism (the same word, with the t added to separate the vowels) has come to be used for a more personal selfishness, a conceit, a too frequent using of the word I.
Le bien d'autrui originated as a philosophical and ethical concern for what H.P.B. calls the "slightest invasion" of another's right. What then, in terms of altruism, are the fundamental rights of man? Behind all conceptions of political liberty and economic security is the right of man to be interpreted, first, even if only tentatively, according to his own philosophy and standard of values. Unless we are able to attempt this, eager to find, in anyone, a portion of ourselves; unless understanding can bridge the gap between widely differing versions of "proper" opinion and conduct -- we are "altruists" only in name.

Therefore it is that one of the foci for effort in the Theosophical Movement of the present and the future lies in reinterpreting and revivifying the higher altruism of Buddhi-Manasic understanding. The original basis of the Theosophical Society encouraged a friendly comparative study of unfamiliar religious beliefs and this modulus clearly can be extended to include an attempt to understand sympathetically every opinion or form of conduct divergent from prevailing norms.

Altruism is not a matter of specific deeds, nor is it an ideal. Regarded as an idea, it becomes identified with conventional conceptions of virtue, and this also is misleading. Apparently, whenever a man regards altruism as a virtue he loses part of its real meaning. As Mr. Judge once wrote, "Altruism is not so much an ideal as a matter of practice."

So another hidden question about "concern for others" is whether the concern is positive or negative in feeling. Some are interested in troubles and sufferings to divert attention from their own, and these may easily accept the whole of human existence as a "misery-go-round." But one who has an affirmative philosophy of life -- an orientation which suggests the possibility of a better world which may be brought to birth -- offers a rich gift to all whom he contacts, though he never meddles in the personal problems of another, with managerial delusions. The greatest of all gifts is that of a philosophy revealing infinite potentialities for human progress.

The English language, as every language to some degree, contains many terms useful in speaking of Theosophy. Any word which signifies or even implies the existence of a transcendent "Inner Man" is, or could be, a natural part of theosophic vocabulary; for the fundamental affirmation of Theosophy is that such an inner man exists -- the real Self in us all -- and that it can come to know more about itself.

Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Psychic and Noëtic Action", that was mentioned in the above article. And here's the link to WQJ's article, entitled "Another Theosophical Prophecy", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by the Editors.--Compiler.

Next article:
(February 1966)
[Article number (25) in this Department]

Back to the
complete list of articles.

Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".

Main Page | Introductory Brochure | Volume 1--> Setting the Stage
Karma and Reincarnation | Science | Education | Economics | Race Relations
The WISDOM WORLD | World Problems & Solutions | The People*s Voice | Misc.