THEOSOPHY, Vol. 46, No. 6, April, 1958
(Pages 256-260; Size: 14K)


[Part 1 of 2]

[The passages put together to form the installments of this series have been gathered from various sources in Theosophical literature, although the principle writer drawn from is William Q. Judge. Each passage is numbered at its conclusion and the source is given at the end of the installment.--Editors, THEOSOPHY.]
WHAT is study? It is not mere reading of books, but rather long, earnest, careful thought upon that which we have taken up. If a student accepts reincarnation and karma as true doctrines, the work is but begun. Many theosophists accept doctrines of that name, but are not able to say what it is they have accepted. They do not pause to find out what reincarnates, or how, when or why karma has its effects, and often do not know what the word means. Some at first think that when they die they will reincarnate, without reflecting that it is the lower personal I they mean, which cannot be born again in a body. Others think that karma is -- well, karma, with no clear idea of classes of karma, or whether or not it is punishment or reward or both. Hence a careful learning from one or two books of the statement of the doctrines, and then a more careful study of them, are absolutely necessary.

There is too little of such right study among Theosophists, and too much reading of new books. ... A proper use of ... The Secret Doctrine, The Key to Theosophy, and all other matter upon the constitution of man, leads to an acquaintance with the doctrines as to the being most concerned, and only when that acquaintance is obtained is one fitted to understand the rest....

Another branch of study is that pursued by natural devotees, those who desire to enter into the work itself for the good of humanity. Those should study all branches of theosophical literature all the harder, in order to be able to clearly explain it to others, for a weak reasoner or an apparently credulous believer has not much weight with others.

Western theosophists need patience, determination, discrimination, and memory, if they ever intend to seize and hold the attention of the world for the doctrines they disseminate. (1)

The wise man sagely said that of making books there is no end. If true in his day, it is the same now.

In the field of every day books there is so much light reading that the superficial habit of skimming is plainly everywhere apparent, and it threatens to show itself in theosophical ranks.

So well am I convinced there are too many superfluous books in our particular field, that, if I had a youth to train in that department, I should confine him to the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, and the Secret Doctrine for a very long time, until he was able to make books for himself out of those, and to apply the principles in them to every circumstance and to his own life and thought.

Those theosophists who only wish to indulge in a constant variety of new theosophical dishes will go on reading all that appears, but the others who are in earnest, who know that we are here to learn and not solely for our pleasure, are beginning to see that a few books well read, well analysed, and thoroughly digested are better than many books read over once. They have learned how all that part of a book which they clearly understand at first is already their own, and that the rest, which is not so clear or quite obscure, is the portion they are to study, so that it also, if found true, may become an integral part of their constant thought. (2)

Western writers have been in the habit of pooh-poohing the idea that we could learn anything from Indian books. ... But we believe in the cyclic theory, and it teaches us that in the ages man has been upon the earth he has evolved all systems of philosophy over and over again. The reason we turned to Indian books is that that land of all the rest has preserved its old knowledge both in books and monuments. ... In the Vedas, in Patanjali's Yoga System, the Bhagavad-Gita, and hundreds of other works, can be found the highest morality and the deepest knowledge. (3)

There are several hindrances to the doing of good work by individuals with resulting loss to the movement. These are all surmountable, for hindrances that are insurmountable are nature's own limitations that can be used as means instead of being left as barriers. One of these surmountable and unnecessary hindrances is the prevalent habit of reading trashy and sensational literature, both in newspaper and other form. This stupefies and degrades the mind, wastes time and energy, and makes the brain a storehouse of mere brute force rather than what it should be -- a generator of cosmic power. Many people seem to "read from the pricking of some cerebral itch," with a motive similar to that which ends in the ruin of a dipsomaniac: a desire to deaden the personal consciousness. Sensation temporarily succeeds in drowning the voice of conscience and the pressure that comes from the soul that so many men and women unintelligently feel. So they seek acute sensation in a thousand different ways, while others strive to attain the same end by killing both sensation and consciousness with the help of drugs or alcohol. Reading of a certain sort is simply the alcohol habit removed to another plane, and just as some unfortunates live to drink instead of drinking that they may live, so other unfortunates live to read instead of reading that they may learn how to live. Gautama Buddha went so far as to forbid his disciples to read novels -- or what stood for novels in those days -- holding that to do so was most injurious. People are responsible for the use they make of their brains for the brain can be used for the noblest purposes and can evolve the most refined quality of energy, and to occupy it continually with matters not only trivial but often antagonistic to Theosophical principles is to be untrue to a grave trust. This does not mean that the news of the day should be ignored, for those who live in the world should keep themselves acquainted with the world's doings: but a fair test is that nothing not worth remembering is worth reading. To read for the sake of reading, and so filling the sphere of the mind with a mass of half-dead images, is a hindrance to service and a barrier to individual development. (4)

The study of Theosophy ought not to be a matter of luxury and convenience, but an uttermost necessity. Unless we feel that study is as necessary to our constitution as physical food is essential to the well-being of the body, we shall not go at the purpose of study with enthusiasm, zeal and persistence -- a threefold energy, which carries with it success.

In the first place, then, to feel the absolute necessity for study; secondly, to have a clear idea as to what is to be gained by study. People often, especially in matters of philosophy or with Theosophy, take to it because they want something to believe in. Fundamentally, this attitude goes counter to the whole viewpoint of Theosophy which has nothing to offer us in the shape of belief. Theosophy has to be studied for the purpose of gaining knowledge which can ultimately be experienced. It is knowledge which we need to seek, and we should therefore bring to its pursuit the attitude of the genuine inquirer and student who does not want to establish out of his study that which he himself has already preconceived.

Now, there is a tendency in many Theosophical students to consider themselves finished exponents of the philosophy because they are able to repeat what they have read; yet, they have not thoroughly grasped the meaning of what they express. So, we need to ask ourselves, when we take up "The Ocean of Theosophy," "The Secret Doctrine," or "Isis Unveiled," are we studying the language -- the words -- or, are we trying to grasp the ideas? If it is the ideas we are trying to grasp, we need to pursue two distinct lines; first, read carefully so that we are able to repeat the ideas, not in the language of the author, but in our own language, in so straightforward and simple a manner that an ordinary intelligent mind can understand what we have been saying. If we have grasped, we get the power of expressing the idea ourselves. The faculty of making clear comes with the understanding. Secondly, one can not be said to have grasped a philosophical idea unless he has seen all that has been said against it -- its weaknesses and faults. If one can answer to himself in his own thoughts all the objections that are or possibly can be raised against an idea, then it is clear the idea has been grasped. (5)

Here is a service more needed than any other, which any student can render. The study of the Key to Theosophy, as one studies a grammar, the mastery of some one given subject, followed by an effort to write it out, or to speak it, in one's own language for one's self only at first, would assist the student to fix the chief points in his own mind, as well as to express them clearly. A few moments of such study daily, even weekly, would be of immense use to all. We do not need to read so widely, to think so discursively, to have knowledge so profound, or to run so far afield after occult mysteries and laws. We do need, and that urgently, to simplify our thought, to express it lucidly, briefly; to clarify our knowledge and to live what we know.

The opportunity thus afforded for doing good is incalculable. All about us are persons straining at the tether of their creeds, eager to break away to pastures of living Truth. Before the great mysteries of Life they stand dumb as the brute, but with enlarged capacity for suffering; endowed with the reason which in the brute is lacking, but which in the man of to-day receives little support, scant sustenance from all that he has been taught heretofore. If such a man be met, at the critical moment, by a theosophist willing and able to explain and give reason for what he believes; to indicate the bearings of theosophical truths upon the mental, social, and other conditions of the present time; to point out the relations of Karma and Reincarnation to universal law as partly known to the average mind; the value of the service rendered thus becomes evident, the need of self-education among our members is perceived.

The subject must be studied as we study any other. One branch after another may be taken up, each being the object of meditation and reading until we can render a clear account of it to ourselves in our own words, illustrated by our own experience. It is better to know a little very thoroughly, and to frankly say that we know no more (which always placates an inquirer and inspires confidence in our sincerity), than to seek to impress others by the wide range of our thought. We may incite wonder, but we shall not convince or aid. It may seem an insignificant path to point out when one says "Educate yourselves." It is, in fact, an initial step which is also the final step, for it never ends. And if the enlargement of our own minds, the amplifications and serenity of our thought, the clarification of the nature, the knowledge that we have helped others towards these priceless advantages were not sufficient reward for the faithful lover of his kind, reward for labour, inducement for further endeavour, then surely the greatest, the final incentive comes when he remembers that he can help Those who "build the wall" to protect humanity, that he may become Their co-laborer, himself a part of that living wall. The truest way to help is by clearly learning and clearly imparting theosophic truths. It is only done by not straining too far, by educating one's self gradually and thoroughly from the root up, with frequent trials of our own definiteness of idea. (6)


Sources: (1) "Of Studying Theosophy," William Q. Judge, Path, January, 1890; (2) "Much Reading, Little Thought," William Brehon (W.Q.J.), Path, June, 1890; (3) W.Q.J., Path, March, 1888; (4) W.Q.J., Theosophy, April, 1896; (5) THEOSOPHY, XI, 405; (6) Jasper Niemand, Path, August, 1891.

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