THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 7, May, 1963
(Pages 177-180; Size: 12K)
[Article number (7) in this Department]
It would, of course, be nearly impossible as well as mostly irrelevant to try to determine how many persons involved in the Theosophical Movement are essentially of religious temperament and how many are agnostic. Certain it is that Theosophy has appealed and may appeal equally to both, though the initial approaches may seem so different as to almost constitute opposites. In such a consideration, and for those of "agnostic" bent, a sort of perpetual puzzle is posed by H. P. Blavatsky's many open statements concerning her direct connection with living Mahatmas, or Masters of Wisdom -- whom the Theosophical student may feel he knows about only from indirect testimony. Now the agnostic seems determined to seek truth on the basis of direct experience alone and, traditionally, is disposed to disregard any representations of sources of "special knowledge" unless these may be examined at first hand. He cannot, in short, honestly "believe" in H.P.B.'s contact with "Masters" in the same way that a Christian can believe in special communications from, Jesus as a transcendent being. Yet the same agnostic may feel a profound respect for H.P.B. and be inclined to regard everything she said as likely to contain the essence of that which needs to be known.
An agnostic is not a man insensitive to the dimensions of deep conviction, but often, rather, one who is fully aware of his own desire and need for a gnosis, while honest enough to reject the thought of gratifying the desire prematurely or superficially. In so far as Adepts, or Masters of Wisdom, are considered to be illustrations of universal tradition -- the teaching that there always have been and always will be great teachers -- the agnostic can feel a full response. He may feel that he knows that some beings have attained high spiritual status, while at the same time doubt either his capacity or the capacity of any contemporary to say just who such beings are. But to assume that such inability is a permanent condition is to pass beyond agnosticism into denial and skepticism. The agnostic can find no quarrel with H.P.B.'s statement that "the human heart has not yet fully uttered itself, and we have never attained or even understood the extent of its powers; it cannot be unreasonable to infer and believe that a faculty of perception is also growing in man, enabling him to descry facts and truths even beyond our ordinary ken." So may not the agnostic feel that an extraordinary being such as H.P.B. could have developed such perception as to enable her "to describe facts beyond ordinary ken"?
Let us now turn to one of H. P. Blavatsky's statements regarding the context in which the existence of specific Adepts may be mentioned. She writes (Fundamentals of Theosophy, p. 21):At an advanced point upon the path, Adeptship is reached by those who have devoted several incarnations to its achievement. For, remember well, no man has ever reached Adeptship in the Secret Sciences in one life, but many incarnations are necessary for it after the formation of a conscious purpose and the beginning of the needful training. Many may be the men and women in the very midst of our society who have begun this uphill work toward illumination several incarnations ago, and who yet, owing to the personal illusions of the present life, are either ignorant of the fact, or on the road to losing every chance in this existence of progressing any further. They feel an irresistible attraction toward occultism and the Higher Life, and yet are too personal and self-opinionated....During the two decades from 1876 to 1896, a great number of claims were made by various Theosophists respecting their supposed communications with Masters -- either the specific adepts to whom H.P.B. referred as "instructors" during her writing of Isis or, perhaps, other and more glamorous invisible sages. Amidst the many claims and counterclaims, it has been of more than casual interest to note that only William Q. Judge's statements concerning specific Masters were in complete harmony -- both as to tone and content -- with Madame Blavatsky's. Judge, too, provided a context of evolutionary philosophy respecting such beings, and the major share of his attention, in writing, was given to the presentation of this philosophy, rather than to intriguing statements about a particular adept communicant. Among Judge's various introductions to the general subject of Mahatmas, one in particular is both disarming and inviting. Here he sets forth no claims, but leaves the door open for further questions and discussion:What appears to the Western mind to be a very strange superstition prevails in India about wonderful persons who are said to be of immense age, and who keep themselves secluded in places not accessible to the ordinary traveler. So long has this been current in India that the name applied to these beings is well known in the Sanskrit language: "Mahatma," a compound of two words, maha, great, and atma, soul. The belief in the existence of such persons is not confined to the ignorant, but is shared by the educated of all castes.Subsequent to this Mr. Judge admits a relation between the persuasion of many Theosophists in respect to the existence of Masters and religious beliefs in general:
The credence given to such a universal theory grows out of an old Indian doctrine that man is a spiritual being -- a soul, in other words -- and that this soul takes on different bodies from life to life on earth in order at last to arrive at such perfect knowledge, through repeated experience, as to enable one to assume a body fit to be the dwelling-place of a Mahatma or perfected soul. Then, they say, that particular soul becomes a spiritual helper to mankind. The perfected men are said to know the truth about the genesis of worlds and systems, as well as the development of man upon this and other planets. (Echoes from the Orient.)Were such doctrines held only in India, it would be natural to pass the subject by with this brief mention. But when it is found that a large body of people in America and Europe hold the same beliefs, it is interesting to note such an un-Western development of thought. The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875, with the avowed object of forming a nucleus for a Universal Brotherhood. Within its ranks there flourish beliefs in the Mahatmas of India and in Reincarnation and its twin doctrine, Karma. (Ibid.)Later, Mr. Judge speaks of such teachings as those pertaining to Mahatmas, reincarnation, and karma as "grand theories," thus affording the man of agnostic temperament a feeling of hospitality to his position. But on this difficult topic, what is it precisely that both the religiously-inclined "believer" and the scientifically-inclined agnostic have in common? In either case, if a man is profoundly influenced by the impact of H. P. Blavatsky's writings in general, he will follow H.P.B. into areas beyond his present ken with considerable confidence in her worthiness as a guide. If he wishes to "believe" in the real existence of those to whom H.P.B. referred as her own adept teachers, he will do so; that is he will think, feel, and evaluate as if he knew of his own knowledge of this relationship between H. P. Blavatsky and her teachers. His attitude toward the relationship will be one of faith, based upon devotion to an ideal.
The agnostic, on the other hand, can only fully explore this "grand theory" when he thinks, feels, and evaluates as if it were known to him to be true. The difference between the two may lie simply in the fact that the agnostic's belief is provisional -- provisional, not in the sense of skepticism, but as an accomplishment of realizing that he does not yet realize that which may be known to H.P.B.
There come times in the lives of all human beings, including the youngest and the oldest, when one needs to proceed as if something not yet fully known is known with a surety and clarity which is only to come later. To the extent that any religious system has aimed at bettering human behavior, the mandates of morality have been based upon this assumption. But the Theosophist apparently has an additional task: he is called upon to be aware of the discrepancy between his belief and his actual knowledge. Yet he is also invited to swallow the natural pride of self-assertiveness whenever he finds one he considers a true teacher. It is not easy, in our cycle, to believe and behave "as if" many things known to the teacher are also truths for ourselves. But without the ability to place trust in this fashion, a man is usually incapable of reaching a state of mind which makes it possible for the teacher to teach all that can be taught, or for himself to learn all that may be learned.
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:
IMAGE WITHOUT SUBSTANCE
The vast majority of all Americans believe in God; yet from all observations, scientifically organized as well as random observations, it seems clear that this belief in God has very little consequence for action and the conduct of life. Most people are concerned with health, money, and "education" (the latter as part of social success), and not at all with the problems which would arise if they were concerned with God. ... If there is anything to be taken seriously in our profession of God, it is to recognize the fact that God has become an idol. Not an idol of wood or stone like the ones our ancestors worshipped, but an idol of words, phrases, doctrines.
[Article number (8) in this Department]
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