THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 1, November, 1951
(Pages 17-20; Size: 12K)
(Number 1 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
IT is sometimes thought, in the academic world, that the best textbook can be recognized by its provision of concise and complete answers for all the questions raised in exploration of the subject discussed. But two of the most important and widely used theosophical texts, H. P. Blavatsky's Key to Theosophy and William Q. Judge's Ocean of Theosophy, are obviously unconcerned with this standard. The first page of The Ocean of Theosophy is characterized by the same tone of the unfathomable nature of Theosophy "in its deepest parts" as the first page of H.P.B.'s Preface, which cautions:That this book should succeed in making Theosophy intelligible without mental effort on the part of the reader, would be too much to expect; but it is hoped that the obscurity still left is of the thought not of the language, is due to depth not to confusion. To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle.The implication here is evidently that some "obscurity of thought" is unavoidable because even the most perfect verbal expression can never equal Ideation; and, perhaps, further, any attempt at too literal representation of the Wisdom Religion would be misrepresentation. Arbitrary religions and partisan social groupings can afford the luxury of pretensions to embody "the whole of truth" in words; the theosophist, striving for a broader and deeper vision, is paradoxically more modest in his claims. Each man's capacity for grasping and expressing principles reveals, not Absolute Truth in the abstract, but only his own truth, and each advance in understanding is the result of "progress by his own efforts."
With these thoughts in mind, intimated at the outset in the Key's Preface, the inquirer into Theosophy will undoubtedly realize the importance of considering all the points of emphasis made under the various chapter and section headings in the light of the ideas and problems of H.P.B.'s time of writing. For it is an inevitable corollary of the foregoing that if philosophical truth is relative to the perceptions of each individual, so are all applications of basic principles relative to time, place and circumstance. To read the Key in this fashion, further, is to invite a comparison between the cultural, religious, and educational trends of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and to stimulate some creative imagination in the reader. If, consequently, the reader searches for possible contemporary illustrations to extend or supplant the ones selected in 1889, he is not guilty of an irreverence -- perhaps, instead, he is seeking, in his own way, to follow the methods of self-instruction recommended by H. P. Blavatsky.
However, there is another primal consideration in respect to H.P.B.'s writings. We might almost say there are two books called The Key to Theosophy in the same volume, "in coadunition but not in consubstantiality." The basic principles of the philosophy are an unchanging core, whatever the illustrations or verbiage used for their representation. This it is that helps a student to gain feelings of confidence in both the teacher and the teachings, and this, the esoteric or noumenal "Key to Theosophy," exists with the same inner structure no matter how many times specific points of emphasis in the actual text might be changed. Had H.P.B. extended her life over another fifty years it is quite possible, is it not, that she would have re-written The Key to Theosophy at least every five or ten years? Yet the Philosopher would find the same essential meaning in each edition.
The first page of the Key, entitled "The Meaning of the Name," defines Theosophy in what appears to be an extravagant manner. Any use of the word "Divine," at least, is apt to stir our associations with theological references to specially ordained knowledge. In the succeeding paragraph, however, H.P.B. presents and clarifies an important shift in meaning. There is, she says, and always has been, true wisdom of a spiritual kind, known to those in whom the Divine Potentiality has been sufficiently realized, but this connection with superior wisdom is individually earned, never ordained. There are no "revelations" save the progressive awakenings of each aspiring soul, and Divine Wisdom is a matter of degree rather than of sudden dispensation. Who possesses "Divine Wisdom," then? The answer is that all men possess a portion, even though it should apparently little avail the majority. What is the work of Theosophy? First, to demonstrate that Divine Wisdom is the natural heritage of all mankind, reflected in both the solitary intuitions of the independent thinker and in the creeds of the world's great religions. Secondly, to provide, out of the inexhaustible storehouse of accumulated (Wm. Q. Judge says "verified") truth that makes "The Secret Doctrine," a groundwork of philosophical and psychological principles which will enable men to connect and correlate their own highest aspirations and thoughts.
Here we may consider the crucial meaning of all suggestive statements concerning man's present stage in evolution. We are in transition, Judge says, from the man possessed of the germ of mind, to the man of mind complete. We are not yet fully self-conscious, in other words, though we have reached a stage of moral responsibility completely beyond the animal world. Our visions of Truth in respect to our relation with the cosmos, correspondingly, are apt to be isolated and disjointed, not of a "steady, constant nature." Here, we might reflect, is the further line of demarcation between human adepts in wisdom and ourselves. We already are enabled to see portions of the truths they see clearly, but are unable to retain, with any satisfactory degree of clarity, what we see. Any man's noblest dreams partake of the "Divine Vision," but the dreams fade, or are twisted by creeds and prejudices of karmic environment. The function of philosophy is simply to enable men to retain and extend their visions of truth and the aspirations for progress they already experience.
Therefore, it may be that the simplest definition of Theosophy is that it is "wisdom about the soul nature of man," or wisdom about all that in man which is more than physical, wherever and however obtained or transmitted. The first representation of the Key To Theosophy is that such knowledge exists for some, and may ultimately exist for all. Another representation occurring explicitly in the Prefaces of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, is that H.P.B. herself has been able to study under adept teachers -- the preservers in tangible form of verified and verifiable teachings -- yet no mention is made of this in the introduction to the Key, nor in her definition of Theosophy provided on the first page. Here, instead, she is apparently speaking to illuminate the attitude of mutual study which from the first was intended to characterize the work of the Theosophical Society. It was no part of one's affiliation with the T.S. to accept H.P.B. as an agent or disciple of living Masters of Wisdom. The statements made in respect to such instruction were made "on her own personal responsibility" and did not involve the obligation to accept a "claim" on the part of the fellows of the Society. In consonance with this orientation we shall be able to note that it is not until the closing pages of the Key that she takes upon herself the difficult task of answering the question "Who are the rumoured Mahatmas?" Thereupon, she speaks of them as living men who are the theosophists' teachers, in that the essential outlines of study and doctrine were by them made available. But the initial emphasis is upon study, not upon the sources from which suggestions as to method of study were obtained. Thus we find, on page 19, that members of the Society were left "free to profess whatever religion or philosophy they like, or none if they so prefer," their only self-imposed obligation being to cooperate in the methods of study propounded as a basis for membership in the statement of the Three Objects of the Society.
The Program was essentially one of mental discipline, reflecting the spirit of the Eclectic Theosophical School of Ammonius Saccas, who, according to Mosheim, believed that one must, by philosophical reasoning, "reduce within bounds the universally-prevailing dominion of superstition" and bring back the "religion of the multitude".... to its original purity by "expounding it upon philosophical principles."
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:
THE SCIENCE OF MAN
A better knowledge of ourselves cannot be acquired merely by selecting positive facts in the mass of information concerning man, and by making a complete inventory of his activities. Neither would the completion of these data by new observations and experiments, and the building up of a true science of man be sufficient. Above all, we need a synthesis that can be utilized. The purpose of this knowledge is not to satisfy our curiosity, but to rebuild ourselves and our surroundings. Such a purpose is essentially practical.... The science of man will be the task of the future.
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 2 of a 20-part series)
Back to the
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
series complete list of articles.
Back to the full listing containing all of the
"Additional Categories of Articles".