THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 9, July, 1963
(Pages 244-247; Size: 11K)


[Article number (9) in this Department]

I have been more than a little surprised on attending Theosophical study groups in several areas to encounter only one class in which sympathetic attention to some of the biblical scriptures was attempted. It is easy enough to realize why the Theosophist would emphasize the value of Eastern philosophies and religions, since we are already "surrounded," so to speak, by the atmosphere of Christianity, but is it not precisely the Theosophical presentation of biblical scriptures which is needed? This would seem to be indicated in many of H. P. Blavatsky's writings.

This point, we think, is well taken. It is true that the essential psychological meaning in such a document as Matthew's version of the Sermon on the Mount needs the cross-fertilization of other scriptural passages to come into clearest focus, but the essential meaning is there and should be thoroughly appreciated. Perhaps the Theosophist, in an inevitable reaction against the personalized, authoritarian-deity aspect of Christian theology, has sometimes failed to distinguish characteristic emphases on the weaknesses and sinful propensities of man and such a true affirmation of the Higher Self as that made in the Sermon on the Mount; and in that Sermon we do have a fully integrated philosophy, not simply a collection of "good sentiments."

Consider, for instance, the significance of such a paradox as that suggested by the verse, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" and the subsequent passages:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16.)

These sayings of the Teacher of Nazareth are clearly Buddhist in orientation. There are, in other words, two kinds of Karma: one dealing with the Law of causation and effect as activated by the "lower nature" of man; the other, the Law as activated by the motivations of the higher nature. Those who are "meek" in respect to worldly things may also at the same time express the strength of spiritual affirmation. This is essentially the teaching of the first sermon of the Buddha, when he says:
All that we are is the result of what we have thought: all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness pursues him like his own shadow that never leaves him.

Whoso lives disciplining himself, unmindful of pleasures, his senses restrained, moderate in eating, full of faith and dauntless energy (Virya) -- him verily Mara doth not overturn as a gale doth not overturn a rocky mountain.

Conquest of self is indeed better than the conquest of others. Neither a deva (god) nor a gandharva (celestial musician), neither Brahma nor Mara could turn into defeat the victory of one who always practices self-control. (The Dhammapada, pp. 1, 2, 23.)

Note the parallels of spirit in these further passages, first from the Sermon on the Mount and later from verses of The Dhammapada:
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no regard of your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore when thou dost thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall regard thee openly. (Matt. 6:1-4.)

*  *  *

Better than a man who offers, month after month for a hundred years, a thousand sacrifices is that man who pays homage to one grounded in wisdom. Superior is that homage to a century of formal sacrifices.

A man is not a pillar of the Law because he talks much. He who even though he has heard little of the Law but himself has discernment, who always considers the Law, he is the Pillar of the Law, he is established in the Law. (The Dhammapada, pp. 24, 60.)

Other direct parallels suggest themselves, particularly in regard to the enunciation of the doctrine of satyagraha (integral nonviolence) and noncondemnation of others. It is the teaching of Jesus that the faults of other men are irrelevant to the development of one's own understanding and compassion, and so we have Jesus' remonstrance to those who would have stoned the woman caught in adultery: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." And the parallel in the teachings of the Buddha comes with the reminder that we cannot judge from externals, since "from a mass of blinded mortals arises the disciple of the truly Wise One, shining with exceeding glory of his own Wisdom." With these few reminders, we can appreciate the Lord's Prayer in perhaps a different way, seeing in it, beyond a sort of "personalized" message, an enunciation of that spirit which puts trust in the Law and in Life:
... Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matt. 6:8-14.)

That the Gospels, despite the synthetic process of their manufacture, contain profound philosophy is made apparent by H. P. Blavatsky. She says in Isis, for example, that "the original Matthew was a secret book and is said to have contained many of the esoteric teachings of Jesus"; that the Gospel according to John "was written by an unknown Gnostic author. It gives an account of the parables of Jesus, but stresses his philosophy and is permeated with Greek thought." And in The Secret Doctrine (I, 384) H.P.B. says: "The writers of the New Testament, whoever they were, must have been aware also of the priority of the Egyptian esotericism, since they have adopted several symbols that typify purely Egyptian conceptions and beliefs -- in their outward and inward meaning -- and which are not to be found in the Jewish Canon."

It has not been the ethos and mythos of Christianity which are opposed by the Theosophical student. It is simply that these myths need to be better understood. Work towards their revival in proper context should be undertaken by those who feel a natural attraction to the best in Christianity. But this is not, so to speak, the trend of our times -- a point made very clear by Joseph Campbell, who also discusses the "keys" to an understanding of all partially esoteric scriptures. Dr. Campbell writes:

In modern progressive Christianity the Christ -- Incarnation of the Logos and Redeemer of the World -- is primarily a historical personage, a harmless country wise man of the semi-oriental past, who preached a benign doctrine of "do as you would be done by," yet was executed as a criminal. His death is read as a splendid lesson in integrity and fortitude.

But wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved. Such a blight has certainly descended on the Bible and on a great part of the Christian cult.

To bring the images back to life, one has to seek, not interesting applications to modern affairs, but illuminating hints from the inspired past. When these are found, vast areas of half-dead iconography disclose again their permanently human meaning.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


In the theory of religion, as in that of other types of human experience and indeed also in theoretical issues of the natural sciences, questions of fact are inseparably bound up with questions of terminology; so that as soon as inquiry attempts to penetrate below the surface of a topic and to establish anything not already familiar, the need becomes imperative to be clear as to which things exactly one means to indicate by the names one employs.

It seems to the present writer, who regards the Buddha, Jesus, Zoroaster, and other such religious geniuses as spiritual benefactors of mankind, that what those great teachers themselves taught -- as nearly as it can be ascertained -- is vastly more illuminating and inspiring than what their all-too-common little followers have since done to, made of, added to, or omitted from, the original teachings. 


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