THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 1, November, 1954
(Pages 15-19; Size: 15K)
(Number 1 of a 3-part series)
A STUDY IN PREFACES
THE Prefaces to the several books which constitute the authentic Message of Theosophy -- the books of Madame H. P. Blavatsky and her co-worker William Q. Judge -- all strike a common note. Both writers disclaim any originality for the ideas and doctrines set forth, other than of mere form and expression. Every Preface points to the source whence the teachings have been derived, that source being an unbroken line of Adept Teachers going back into the very night of time. It is this declaration and this attitude which marks the true teacher and faithful disciple, and by the same token the false teacher and the faithless disciple may be known, the latter being loud to assert himself as authority and source. A precept in the Voice of the Silence contrasts the two attitudes thus:The "Doctrine of the Eye" is for the crowd; the "Doctrine of the Heart" for the elect. The first repeat in pride: "Behold, I know"; the last, they who in humbleness have garnered, low confess: "Thus have I heard."In Mr. Judge's short Preface to the Ocean of Theosophy, the concluding paragraph is unequivocal:No originality is claimed for this book. The writer invented none of it, discovered none of it, but has simply written that which he has been taught and which has been proved to him. It therefore is only a handing on of what has been known before.Robert Crosbie's Preface to the Tenth Edition of the Ocean reveals him as a faithful transmitter:The earnest student will do well to study conjointly the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and Wm. Q. Judge; from them he will learn Theosophy pure and simple; will recognize the community of knowledge and complete accord that existed between them and will more fully appreciate the mission and nature of those two Personages.Mr. Crosbie's Preface also tells why the recognition of the unique value of The Ocean of Theosophy was so long delayed. It was due to the purblindness of "latter-day writers" who sought chiefly to exalt themselves and their books. In the words of Mr. Crosbie:Some twenty-two years ago, the first edition of "The Ocean of Theosophy" was published by its author, Wm. Q. Judge. Since that time thousands of books dealing with Theosophy have been published by more or less prominent students of Theosophy, but unfortunately for the public, none of these show the knowledge, grasp and range which is so evident in the present volume, -- and still more unfortunately, the methods pursued by these latter-day writers have served to obscure the fact of the existence of an exposition of Theosophy written by a Teacher of that Science of Life.We turn next to the very first of the Theosophical Prefaces, the one to Isis Unveiled. Here H. P. Blavatsky not only points to the source of her unique exposition -- the Sages of the Orient -- but both she and these Sages point to a source beyond any written or any other form of external record. They point to an interior source: the Immortal Spirit of Man himself. We quote pertinent passages bearing on both of these ideas:The work now submitted to public judgment is the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science.... It is an attempt to aid the student to detect the vital principles which underlie the philosophical systems of old.... But it shows neither mercy for enthroned error, nor reverence for usurped authority. It demands for a spoliated past, that credit for its achievements which has been too long withheld. It calls for a restitution of borrowed robes, and the vindication of calumniated but glorious reputations.Reverting to the Preface to the Ocean, it is clear that Judge also referred to the inner source of spiritual knowledge, and that he did not wish anyone to accept what he had written as formally "authoritative," or as dogmas to be believed. This Preface also indicated that some of his knowledge was acquired at first hand and direct; and it follows that what one man can do, others may also accomplish if they pursue the necessary course. The pertinent passage is:
They [the sages of the Orient] showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of Euclid. For the first time we received the assurance that the Oriental philosophy has room for no other faith than an absolute and immovable faith in the omnipotence of man's own immortal self. We were taught that this omnipotence comes from the kinship of man's spirit with the Universal Soul -- God! The latter, they said, can never be demonstrated but by the former. Man-spirit proves God-spirit, as the one drop of water proves a source from which it must have come. Tell one who had never seen water, that there is an ocean of water, and he must accept it on faith or reject it altogether. But let one drop fall upon his hand, and he then has the fact from which all the rest may be inferred. After that he could by degrees understand that a boundless and fathomless ocean of water existed. Blind faith would no longer be necessary; he would have supplanted it with KNOWLEDGE.
Centuries of subjection have not quite congealed the life-blood of men into crystals around the nucleus of blind faith; and the nineteenth is witnessing the struggles of the giant as he shakes off the Lilliputian cordage and rises to his feet.... The day of domineering over men with dogmas has reached its gloaming.
Our work, then, is a plea for the recognition of the Hermetic philosophy, the anciently universal Wisdom Religion, as the only possible key to the Absolute in science and theology.Bold statements are made in it upon the knowledge of the writer, but at the same time it is to be distinctly understood that he alone is responsible for what is therein written: the Theosophical Society is not involved in nor bound by anything said in the book, nor are any of its members any the less good Theosophists because they may not accept what he has set down. The tone of settled conviction which may be thought to pervade the chapters is not the result of dogmatism or conceit, but flows from knowledge based upon evidence and experience.Mr. Crosbie, in his Preface to the Tenth Edition, notes this fact of Mr. Judge's direct knowledge -- but also that Judge was one who knew, rather than the only true teacher:The passage of years has served to show, not only the value of this little book, but the status of Mr. Judge as a Teacher. Everything he has written bears impress of his deep knowledge to every real student of Theosophy. Even the ordinary reader cannot fail to perceive that only "One Who Knows" could have so applied Theosophy to the circumstances and conditions of every-day human existence.The first sentence of the Preface to The Secret Doctrine contains a plain intimation that its author is but the writer. This is followed by further personal disclaimers, and unequivocal declarations of the real source and true authorship.These truths are in no sense put forward as a revelation; nor does the author claim the position of a revealer of mystic lore, now made public for the first time in the world's history. For what is contained in this work is to be found scattered throughout thousands of volumes embodying the scriptures of the great Asiatic and early European religions, hidden under glyph and symbol, and hitherto left unnoticed because of this veil. What is now attempted is to gather the oldest tenets together and to make of them one harmonious and unbroken whole. The sole advantage which the writer has over her predecessors, is that she need not resort to personal speculations and theories. For this work is a partial statement of what she herself has been taught by more advanced students, supplemented, in a few details only, by the results of her own study and observation.Both The Secret Doctrine and the Ocean Prefaces have still another important point in common. The authors assert their personal responsibility for what the books contain. In one of the excerpts already quoted, we note Mr. Judge's assumption of individual responsibility for his Ocean of Theosophy; and in The Secret Doctrine Preface, H.P.B. wrote: "The writer, therefore, is fully prepared to take all the responsibility for what is contained in this work, and even to face the charge of having invented the whole of it." What is the significance of this assumption of personal responsibility by the authors, in view of their declaration that they are only transmitters of truths having an immemorial lineage? Although this applies generally to all writers and speakers, it is peculiarly applicable to those having a duty to set forth highly metaphysical ideas. While it is true that the teacher aims at clarity of exposition, it is also true that such clarity is never perfect for every student. Nor can anything relieve the reader of his responsibility as a Thinker.
But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised.
It is more than probable that the book will be regarded by a large section of the public as a romance of the wildest kind; for who has ever even heard of the book of Dzyan?
The strongest factor of individual responsibility arises from the very nature of Theosophy and the method of its impartation. Theosophy is represented as a body of knowledge, and as such its appeal is necessarily a rational one. Theosophy addresses itself to the manasic principle -- the principle which is the distinctive endowment of the human being. Confused sects and cults usually arise when some psychological experience is the sole basis for the impartations of their founders, a following being built up on the irrational and unverifiable. And this is a negation of individual, manasic responsibility. These founders point to their "revelation" as warranting unquestioning belief, and in so doing they repudiate personal responsibility; the followers are carried away by strong psychic natures, becoming passive and dependent, and unless checked in time, are drawn into the vortex of glamour. In expressly assuming responsibility for the contents of their books, both H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge served notice to all that they stood ready to uphold and defend what they had written on the basis of its inherent reasonableness, and that acceptance from readers and students must rest on the same basis. As stated in The Secret Doctrine Preface: "Further, it claims consideration, not by reason of any appeal to dogmatic authority, but because it closely adheres to Nature, and follows the laws of uniformity and analogy." Man's power to know is an integral part of his immortal soul. As a precept of The Voice of the Silence expresses it:Thy shadows live and vanish; that which in thee shall live for ever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life: it is the Man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.
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:
BIAS OF SELF-DEPRECIATION
As regards ourselves, the teaching of modern knowledge is easily summarized. It proclaims our complete unimportance. And strangely enough the individual person, from his own point of view the most valuable of nature's achievements, has the shortest life. The law appears to be -- the more worthless the object the more enduring, the more precious the more ephemeral. The stone outlives the flower, the oak of the forest the man. And the mind which observes and studies all the world contains, which makes the discoveries, which penetrates to nature's secret places, is the most transient entity in the whirling flux of things. It vanishes while the senseless objects of its study endure. The pavement on which we walk has a longer life than we, the buildings outlast their architects, the artist's brush the genius who used it. We perform miracles, but no room is left for the miracle worker. Streamers of idly swaying sea-weed in the drift of its ocean tides, that is what we are, or the breathing of a melancholy tune, its notes in a falling fountain.
There is something peculiar in this self-depreciation....
A STUDY IN PREFACES
(Part 2 of a 3-part series)
Back to the
"A STUDY IN PREFACES"
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".