THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 10, August, 1952
(Pages 452-457; Size: 18K)
(Number 10 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
ANY evaluative discussion of one of H. P. Blavatsky's books inevitably raises the point of whether or not each commentary thereon is not an "interpretation," and the further point of whether all interpretations of a great teacher's work are not "dangerous." There is no doubt that the interpretations of the doctrines set forth by Buddha, by Jesus, and by others around whom religious followers gathered, have led to endless confusion, and to dogmas never intended by the original teacher. It is equally certain that innumerable interpretations of their teachings were bound to take place, since no systematic presentations were provided as the basis for critical comparison. The fact that neither Buddha nor Jesus ever committed anything to writing, and that the Buddha, who apparently discoursed in a manner such as to invite formal transcription, often spoke in paradoxes, would indicate that these teachers chose to encourage individual interpretation and to discourage an easy establishment of settled beliefs.
The case with H.P.B. seems obviously different. She speaks at times of Theosophy as a "system," and in the Key enumerates "doctrines" throughout approximately one hundred and thirty pages. This fact, perhaps to be associated with clear Secret Doctrine statements of prophecy respecting a universal unfolding of the powers of mind during the remainder of Fifth-Race evolution, would indicate that, in one sense, H.P.B. deliberately encouraged agreement upon "doctrine," and sought to channel "interpretation" toward its applications. The nineteenth century was temperamentally inclined to copious speculation rather than to synthesis. In offering so many particular formulations from the body of ideas she called the Wisdom-Religion, H.P.B. provided a stabilizing focus which could enable the true devotional spirit to re-awaken, even in the midst of controversies of highly individualized opinion. This focus seemed to be very much needed, then, and surely is today. Yet because the Karma of burgeoning intellectual energies led, through mass literacy, to the universal circulation of the written word, it was possible for H.P.B. to protect Theosophists from a swing of the pendulum too far in the direction of rigid interpretation. Her doctrines have a "definiteness" which cannot be found in the more generalized teachings of Buddha and Jesus, but it was feasible to accompany them with insistent reminders that each must find his own applications for himself.
So long as what H.P.B. herself had written was available for comparison, every re-statement of her Theosophic ideas could lead either its author, or other students to whom his words were provocative, toward a further awakening of thought. Ample indication that such considerations were often in H.P.B.'s own mind is provided in her "What Is Truth?" (reprinted in THEOSOPHY for June), and in numerous editorials concerning the policy of Lucifer and the Theosophist. A striking example of this perspective is furnished in "What Is Truth?" in the statement: "Indeed, the conclusions or deductions of a philosophic writer may be entirely opposed to our views and the teachings we expound; yet, his premises and statements of facts may be quite correct, and other people may profit by the adverse philosophy, even if we ourselves reject it." H.P.B.'s definitions of "absolute" and "relative" truth, too, could only be understood through the "interpretation" of experimental usage, and her vigorous enunciations of principle were always in extremely broad terms, thus serving as invitation to individualized application. [Note: A link to "What Is Truth?" has been placed at the end of this article. --Compiler.]
Most Theosophists have apparently by this time concluded, however, that H.P.B.'s statements of doctrine are best left as they stand. Despite the numerous attempts of erudite "students of occultism" to furnish additional or "corrective" teaching, H.P.B.'s writings carry an internal argument for their special authenticity -- a power and force which cause her words to be remembered, while others, however carefully phrased, are forgotten. The determination to refrain from "improving" H.P.B.'s statements of doctrine grew gradually through the passage of many transition years of the Theosophical Movement -- grew during her lifetime, grew through William Q. Judge's brief tenure after her passing. It was, of course, interrupted while successorship quarrels raged, but finally commenced growing once again. Yet this conviction does not represent an increase in "religious" attitude, wherein Authority serves as the guiding light, but rather manifests in inverse proportion to the maintenance of religious mind-sets. We may think, instead, that during the years of the greatest number of "successorship" claims, the typically religious inclinations of both leaders and followers became unmistakably revealed -- the very fact that there was a search for a successor to H.P.B. and that rival claimants obtained any hearing at all, being proof of this weakness. H.P.B.'s own statements of teaching are now left less tampered with and "improved upon" than they were even during her own lifetime, probably because only the authoritarian-minded are jealous of doctrine, and there are now far fewer of these in the Theosophical ranks.
Thus the adherence to the original expressions of H.P.B. does not result from any special claim she made of "perfection" for her written presentation, nor does it exist because such claims are now finally accepted. Not only did H.P.B. copiously apologize for the imperfections of her literary style and expression -- and she was never one given to false modesty or false apologies -- but any reader who wishes to be critical can find technical fault with many of her works. The reason why H.P.B.'s words are thought best left alone is simply because the passing years have allowed her to be recognized by an increasing number of students as a great teacher, and because, when one is recognized as a great teacher, words spoken are intuitively selected as especially fitting to study and ponder. When a student is convinced that H.P.B., as Judge said, "is the teacher," he is content to leave the task of initial formulation of Theosophical doctrines to her.
With deference to this realization, it seems fitting, here, to undertake little discourse on the central section of the Key to Theosophy, which is devoted to statement and explanation of "doctrine." What precedes and what follows this central section, however, seems to particularly invite discussion. Both the first and last thirds of the Key afford clear opportunity for study of H.P.B.'s methods and applications of philosophy. The early chapters, concerned with the relationship of the Theosophical Society to Theosophy, belong in this category, as also the section, "What is Practical Theosophy?" (beginning on p. 227).
To speculate upon H.P.B.'s reasons for choosing the points of emphasis found therein is rather different from speculating upon doctrine; perhaps the attempt is simply to become the better able to help and teach others by prolonged thought upon the method of instruction used by one recognized as a worthy instructor. It has not been in the interpretation of a great teacher's methods that "half-taught disciples" have gone astray, but rather in the desire to surpass or correct the teacher's truths -- a fitting example of which H.P.B. provides in discussion of Aristotle's failure because of pride, which led him to criticize what Plato taught when he might have been studying and pondering the words of his teacher. Even if one fails to understand completely the methods of a worthy mentor, -- and who can help but fail in some degree? -- he will have gained something from the effort, his very sympathy with that teacher's basic objectives and selfless motivations guaranteeing at least partial increase of enlightenment.
Perhaps the most important reason for studying the methods of a teacher is that such study leads one straightway to a realization that Theosophy is above all a word which stands for a great movement of ideas throughout the world, and that Theosophy cannot be represented in relation to universal education except in terms of the specific needs of each time and set of surrounding circumstances. If the teacher is a great teacher, core statements of doctrine may well be left to him, but the task of building bridges between the non-theosophical world and those core doctrines is the work of those who apprehend the fact that H.P.B. devoted much more time and energy to this task herself than to "pure" or abstract statements of doctrine. For her, the latter must have been an incomparably easier task, yet the tremendous bulk of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine was occasioned by her discussions of contemporary opinion in religion, psychology, philosophy and science.
H.P.B.'s doctrinal presentations and clarifications occupy the greater part of the central section of the Key, roughly speaking, from page 83 to page 215. With Section XII, "What is Practical Theosophy?", the emphasis is once more placed upon the application of the Theosophical attitude to the world of contemporary opinion and behavior. The link between the two -- the doctrinal and the practical -- is suggested by a consideration of "Adepts" or "Seers." On page 215 these are spoken of as "those who know," of their own knowledge, the validity of the Theosophical teachings briefly described. "They," writes H.P.B. "have entered in spirit these various planes and states we have been discussing."
The inquirer then asks whether the "production" of Adepts is to be regarded as the "aim of Theosophy." This question, we might say, is of itself an instinctive recognition of the fact that all doctrines and teachings must ultimately fructify in a standard of values for conduct. Yet because this same hypothetical inquirer is represented as strongly conditioned by the general Christian outlook, he tends to judge both Theosophy and the Theosophists in relation to the supposed ideal behavior of Adepts. So, significantly, it is at this point that H.P.B. injects an important qualification -- a qualification to be later found in her discussion of conduct -- the sort of qualification which explains the Theosophical determination to avoid imitative behavior. The Adepts, she says, are those who have come naturally to their eminence of knowledge, who have entered in spirit these various planes and states we have been discussing. Their attitudes and conduct cannot be imitated, and, therefore, the aim of the Society is certainly not the production of Adepts by any imitative system or method ever devised or yet to be devised. Ideally, the Theosophist, it appears, would never conventionally entertain the idea of "becoming an Adept," for such a desire, emanating from the plane of ideation upon which all of our normal ambitions also exist, would be irrelevant to that fundamental desire for learning which is alone able to open the gateway to further achievement. On page 218, furthermore, she writes that, "for ordinary men, for the practical duties of daily life, such a far-off result is inappropriate as an aim and quite ineffective as a motive." When the inquirer then wishes to know what may be the object or "distinct purpose" for members joining the Theosophical Society, the answer is simple and matter-of-fact:Many are interested in our doctrines and feel instinctively that they are truer than those of any dogmatic religion. Others have formed a fixed resolve to attain the highest ideal of man's duty.The tenuous distinction suggested by these remarks is made clearer by subsequent questions and answers. The inquirer, still attempting to appraise the Theosophical objective in conventional terms, wonders what function "faith" may have in deriving the greatest value from study of Theosophical teachings. If H.P.B. had undertaken to lay out a highroad to Adeptship, as some who followed her in Theosophical history have pretended to do, she would obviously have had to emphasize faith on authority -- her own. But it is precisely faith in authority which she strongly warns against:Between faith on authority and faith on one's spiritual intuition, there is a very great difference. One is human credulity and superstition, the other human belief and intuition. Those who limit that "credulity" to human authoritative dogmas alone, will never fathom that power nor even perceive it in their natures. It is stuck fast to the external plane and is unable to bring forth into play the essence that rules it; for to do this they have to claim their right to private judgment, and this they never dare to do.It is apparent from even these brief statements that H.P.B. rather expected misapplication of many of her counsels, knowing that the truly esoteric nature of the struggle for a higher life would be translated into terms of exoteric claims and status. This, we might think, was the hazard always attending a full presentation of Theosophical teaching such as that brought by H.P.B. -- a hazard, however, which it became necessary to risk in order to give opportunity to those few who had finally developed karmic readiness for a genuine aspiration to the higher life. Surely, she knew that what she calls "pure sentimentalism" could end by "overpowering the thinking faculties" of the vast majority who come into contact with Theosophical teachings, as had been the case with Christianity, and that they would construct but other versions of religion in unconscious abuse of the name Theosophy. Yet the very fact that H.P.B.'s own presentation made such developments possible indicates that she had compassion and respect even for those who thus made more obscure the subtleties of the message she brought. She accepts, for instance, the inquirer's insistence upon calling the "belief" of the Theosophist but another "faith" -- temporarily -- for the sake of one argument, pointing out that the Theosophist's faith must also involve a devotion to "strict logic and reason." Thus, she asserts, is the Theosophist's faith both expansive and self-corrective. "Hero worship" and the tendency to revere "human authority" will give rise among the Theosophists only gradually, but gradually, to a new kind of religion in which devotion to reason is also sacred. We can attain to the higher life and to the fruition of some of our latent powers, only by a gradual and self-induced evolutionary process. "The goal," she writes, "cannot be reached in any way but through life experiences." This is the only "hope for the future," actually, which is offered in Theosophical terms -- the hope that evolutionary opportunity will forever continue, and the faith that there is, within each one, the germ of a power which eventually makes reliance upon any and all "authorities" childish and superfluous.
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:
If you urge that I am young and tender, and that the time for seeking wisdom is not yet, then you should know that to seek true religion, there never is a time not fit.
[Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "What is Truth?", that was pointed to by the Editors. --Compiler.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 11 of a 20-part series)
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