THEOSOPHY, Vol. 66, No. 11, September, 1978
(Pages 321-328; Size: 21K)


IN her first message to the American Theosophists, written in 1888, H. P. Blavatsky spoke of the "wave of transcendental influence" that was bringing about a distinct change in the spirit of the age, converting the earlier interest in phenomenalism into philosophic inquiry. The Founders of the Theosophical Society, she said, saw this possibility and need, and commissioned the effort now known to the world as the Theosophical Movement. As one of the Teachers directly connected with the Society said in 1880, in a letter to a highly placed Englishman, Allan O. Hume: "This is the moment to guide the recurrent impulse which must come soon, and which will push the age towards extreme atheism, or drag it back to extreme sacerdotalism, if it is not led to the primitive soul-satisfying philosophy of the Aryans."

Writing to American students some eight years later, H.P.B. credited the work under the leadership of William Q. Judge with "a new start in America which marks the commencement of a new Cycle in the affairs of the Society in the West." After these encouraging words, she added:

The Theosophical Society led the van of this movement; but, although Theosophical ideas have entered into every development or form which awakening spirituality has assumed, yet Theosophy pure and simple has still a severe battle to fight for recognition....

The faint-hearted have asked in all ages for signs and wonders, and when these failed to be granted, they refused to believe. Such are not those who will ever comprehend Theosophy pure and simple. But there are others among us who realize intuitionally that the recognition of pure Theosophy -- the philosophy of the rational explanation of things and not the tenets -- is of the most vital importance in the Society, inasmuch as it alone can furnish the beacon-light needed to guide humanity on its true path.

What, it is natural to ask, is "pure Theosophy" -- or "Theosophy pure and simple"? H.P.B's reply follows immediately. It is "the philosophy of the rational explanation of things and not the tenets."

A complementary statement by Mr. Judge, at the end of the sixth chapter of The Ocean of Theosophy, serves to expand H.P.B.'s meaning. He says:

... as Mind is being evolved more and more as we proceed in our course along the line of race development, there can be perceived underneath in all countries the beginning of the transition from the animal possessed of the germ of real mind to the man of mind complete. This day is therefore known to the Masters, who have given out some of the old truths, as the "transition period." Proud science and prouder religion do not admit this, but think we are as we always will be. But believing in his teacher, the theosophist sees all around him the evidence that the race mind is changing by enlargement, that the old days of dogmatism are gone and the "age of inquiry" has come, that the inquiries will grow louder year by year and the answers be required to satisfy the mind as it grows more and more, until at last, all dogmatism being ended, the race will be ready to face all problems, each man for himself, all working for the good of the whole, and that the end will be the perfecting of those who struggle to overcome the brute. For these reasons the old doctrines are given out again, and Theosophy asks every one to reflect whether to give way to the animal below or look up to and be governed by the God within.
The common project, then, is self-reform, inspired and guided by what Mr. Judge calls the "scientific and self-compelling basis for right ethics."

In what sense or in what form does Theosophy provide a scientific and self-compelling basis for ethical behavior? The answer seems clear. The rational foundation for ethics is metaphysics, having to do with the nature and destiny of man and the laws which govern his inner development. And, indeed, the teaching of these metaphysics is embodied in the "tenets" to which H.P.B. refers -- principally Karma and Reincarnation -- and those "old doctrines" spoken of by Mr. Judge which relate to the rationale of right human action. The tenets, then, which H.P.B. seems to make subordinate, are the means of the rational explanation of things.

From reasoning in this way it becomes apparent that metaphysical or philosophically scientific ideas, when applied, provide the light of explanation to the puzzles and dilemmas of human life. By this means the rational power of intellect gives support to moral and ethical intuitions, which is a way of saying that when mind and spiritual insight are joined, the unified human being acts justly and wisely, having only one object in view. This is full justification for the frequent assertion that Theosophy is religious science and scientific religion.

What, after all, is science, and what is religion? They are the two aspects of man's nature as a knowing or truth-seeking being. Science supplies an account of the structure of the universe and of the processes of nature and life, both within and without. Religion has for its concern the enlargement of meaning or fulfillment. The sense of purpose in human life is a religious feeling. Science, then, is the knowledge which illuminates and guides the expression of that motivation through all the complexities of manifested existence. Science is religion brought to self-conscious awareness of the means of fulfillment. Together they lead the aspirant to the final realization of godhood or divinity. But in isolation, both science and religion become forms of self-defeat. Both are negations of the reality of spiritual evolution, making us think, as Mr. Judge says, "we are as we will always be."

What is the chief cry and criticism of science in our time? Often coming from distinguished scientists, it is that there is no recognition of or reference to human purpose in the teachings of science. The method of science, relating solely to the structure of the visible universe, ignores as irrelevant or even nonexistent the great and surging movement in all nature -- and conscious in man -- toward a higher life. Inevitably, the potentialities of godhood in all are denied because the feelings by which those potentialities make themselves known are neglected. This is the only useful meaning for the word "Atheism" -- a denial of the reality of a higher life.

Religion without science, on the other hand, falls into the ultimate corruption of sacerdotalism, which is the abdication of the potential god within each human being. All the historic religions of the world, H.P.B. declares in "Is Theosophy a Religion?", "are true at the bottom, and all are false on their surface." It is not possible to understand either the intuitions which come from within or the teachings of high spiritual visitants to earth, without the clarifying light of mind. Priestly domination of mankind is the result of mental failure.

There can be no synthesis of science and religion without the regeneration of both through Theosophy. As H.P.B. said:

The teachings of the two are incompatible, and cannot agree so long as both Religious philosophy and the Science of physical and external (in philosophy, false) nature, insists upon the infallibility of their respective "will-o'-the wisps." The two lights, having their beams of equal length in the matter of false deductions, can but extinguish each other and produce still worse darkness. Yet, they can be reconciled on the condition that both shall clean their houses, one from the human dross of the ages, the other from the hideous excrescence of modern materialism and atheism.
The means of reconciliation lies in application of the tenets of Theosophy. H.P.B. explains:
Its doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one's reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and the real, as opposed to the false and the unreal. Tearing off with no uncertain hand the thick veil of dead-letter with which ... old religious scriptures were cloaked, scientific Theosophy, learned in the cunning symbolism of the ages, reveals to the scoffer at old wisdom the origin of the world's faiths and sciences. It opens new vistas beyond the old horizons of crystallized, motionless and despotic faiths; and turning blind belief into a reasoned knowledge founded on mathematical laws -- the only exact science -- it demonstrates to him under profounder and more philosophical aspects the existence of that which, repelled by the grossness of its dead-letter form, he had long since abandoned as a nursery tale. It gives a clear and well-defined object, an ideal to live for, to every sincere man or woman belonging to whatever station in Society and of whatever culture and degree of intellect. 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 worldwide knowledge and experience, and of an erudition which not only assists and guides his pupils toward 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. ("Is Theosophy a Religion?")
The program of reform here outlined should not be regarded as having its goal in the reconstruction of scientific and religious institutions. Such cultural changes may come, but they will not, H.P.B. warned, result from particular Theosophic influence, but from discoveries and experiences in the scientific fields themselves. Nor will the churches, as Mr. Judge remarked, ever come over to us in a body. Science and religion must first be joined in the lives of individuals, through practice of the philosophy from which both originated and in which they are never parted. Theosophy seeks emancipation of men's minds from the authority of existing science and religion, to be accomplished through self-discovery on the part of those who study the mysteries of life within themselves, and from intelligent criticism by observers able to point to the logical and practical shortcomings of established scientific and religious institutions. This public criticism is necessary, since institutions, being the consolidated effects of partial human attitudes and cultural limitations, are not given to self-reform. H.P.B. comments:
Thus, if theosophy does no more than point out and seriously draw the attention of the world to the fact that the supposed disagreement between science and religion is conditioned, on the one hand by the intelligent materialists rightly kicking against absurd human dogmas, and on the other by blind fanatics and interested churchmen who, instead of defending the souls of mankind, fight simply tooth and nail for their personal bread and butter and authority -- why, even then, theosophy will prove itself the saviour of mankind.
On both counts, then -- the social as well as the individual -- the Theosophic enterprise presents an inspiring prospect. It leads to self-discovery and knowledge on the one hand, and on the other, to greater independence and freedom of mind for people generally.

But what of the difficulties? While practical Theosophy, as H.P.B. says, "embraces every science in life, moral and physical," the acceptance of certain tenets and doctrines does not transform the inquiring man or woman into a sage filled with certainty and understanding. A "teaching" is not knowledge but a fruit of the knowledge gained by another. A tenet is a part -- a supporting part -- of a metaphysical structure which corresponds to the nature of things. A doctrine which tells, say, about the passage of the ego through the states after death, is a statement of the general laws of psychic transformation affecting all souls in the period between incarnations, and every student knows that a single interpretation of doctrine may suffer from misleading assumptions. To be a student, in short, is to set one's feet on the path to knowledge, but also to encounter hazards and distractions which are inevitable in any evolutionary journey. How, then, are doctrines and tenets converted into actual knowledge?

Application is the principle or law under which this conversion takes place. For the mind, explanation is the application of tenets and doctrines to a particular question or situation. For the man, the resulting action becomes the learning process. Plato's declaration, Ideas rule the world, was no idle utterance. Men are mind-beings, and mind-beings act according to the ideas they hold. For the student, then, the task is mental reconstruction. The tools are the teachings of Theosophy. As they are put into use, the conceptions of self, the world, of law, of others, and of human objectives, near and far, undergo change. One's thinking achieves better and better conceptual approximations of the natural order, which is to say, a clearer understanding of the events brought into the present by the law of cycles, with increasing recognition of what is wise action in relation to them. This applies to events both great and small.

But those who work according to theory, or, as H.P.B. once put it, "correct belief," are likely to make mistakes. Belief is not knowledge, but its seed. To become knowledge belief must take root in the soil of human experience, and survive through all the vicissitudes of earthly existence. It must continue to grow into knowledge during storms and trials as well as in benign surroundings. We learn most of all from our mistakes, and this, we may come to see, is the natural harvest of life. What, after all, is the human condition but the grand total of all our past mistakes -- the living structure of the Maya(1) which brings us into incarnation again and again? We discover more precisely how the law works -- or perhaps how it does not work -- by examining the effects of past action and correcting our misconceptions.

Since free will is a reality and individuality the means by which the light of spirit is focused on lower planes of existence, the karmic heritage of each one is different. We may act together as a hierarchy, but we gain our salvation -- which is self-knowledge -- by individual realization. It is for this reason that students must "study the universe and its mysteries within themselves." The higher laws of nature are to be learned in no other way.

To study the mysteries of the universe is to seek their rational explanation. Explanation is made to grow out of application of the tenets of the philosophy, and as fresh understanding becomes the basis for action, increase in knowledge results. We know only what we have acted upon. The rest remains hearsay, in some form of correct or incorrect belief.

As a text, The Secret Doctrine is a magnificent illustration of the two-fold task. This work is filled with instruction in occult metaphysics, giving a schematic outline of the universe in all its parts, their times and evolutions. Yet the metaphysics is everywhere interspersed with examples of application. Again and again the reader is told what some event, condition, or course of experience means to reincarnating souls. There is continual alternation between the meaning of objects and the development of subjects. We learn how the world was made and the part we have had in making it. There is no unbroken discourse on the occult constitution of the universe, but always explanation along the way of our place in the changing conditions of life. This is application on the human or mind plane of the cosmic metaphysics. Cosmology becomes biography. Our task is to recognize it as autobiography.

Progress is step by step. The intellect, with its two-dimensional or theoretical approach to all learning, rushes to logical conclusions, and then is bewildered by the slow pace of human development. To be able to leap in mind to an intellectual grasp of the entire cycle of human existence -- knowing the "teaching" in all its metaphysical symmetry, and accepting the rules laid down for disciples of all times -- is still not yet knowledge. The intellect makes abstraction after abstraction, each one different yet as "true" as the one preceding, but not even the totality of all possible true abstractions is the same as the knowing gained through conscious being. Abstractions are generalized expressions of tenets, doctrines, and correct beliefs, but knowledge comes from living the life. Knowledge is the subjective being of the one able to shed light from himself on whatever is to be known -- the one to whom it is said, "O thou who wast Disciple, but art Teacher now."

This is the climax of the becoming which begins with obtaining a rational explanation of things. The process of growth is long, extending through all the progressive cycles of incarnation. This is the term of man's Promethean mission, of which The Voice of the Silence says:

If thou art taught that sin is born of action and bliss of absolute inaction, then tell them that they err. Non-permanence of human action, deliverance of mind from thraldom by the cessation of sin and faults, are not for "Deva Egos." Thus saith the "Doctrine of the Heart."

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:


Divinity is always acquired. It is not an endowment. It does not exist of itself. If we could be made good, if we could be made to turn around and take a righteous course, life might seem very much easier to us. But there is no escaping the law; no one can get us "off" from the effects of our wrong-doing; no one can confer knowledge on another. Each one has to see and know for himself. Each one has to gain Divinity of himself, and in his own way. We think of this as a common world. But it is not so. There are no two people who look at life from the same viewpoint, who have the same likes and dislikes, whom the same things affect in exactly the same way. No two people are alike either in life or after the death of the body. Each makes his own state; each makes his own limitations; each acquires his own Divinity. Divinity lies latent in each one of us; all powers lie latent in every one, and no being anywhere can be greater than we may become. 


Next article:
The Outline of the Path


COMPILER'S NOTE: I added this footnote; it was not in the article. If it doesn't paint an accurate enough picture, or is incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot it and point it out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

(1) "Maya" means Illusion.
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