THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 5, March, 1953
(Pages 212-216; Size: 15K)
(Number 17 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
THE title of the Key sub-section, "Why is there so much Prejudice against the T.S." (p. 271 ), is perhaps of greater reflective importance than much of the specific material on pages which follow. For there is no doubt that a considerable amount of prejudice against Theosophy exists today, even though neither Spiritualists nor any existing Societies for Psychical Research seem much concerned with attacking Theosophical teachers, writings or programs. As for "the upper ten and their imitators and sycophants," the "wealthy dozens of the middle classes," some very threatening political movements have taken the center of the stage as their objects of fear. The interesting question, then, today, is this: what are the sources of contemporary prejudice against Theosophy and Theosophists?
This is but one of the many occasions upon which we are encouraged to ponder the consequences of the failure of the Theosophical Movement of the last century to maintain the integrity of H. P. Blavatsky's position in the world of ideas. The negative attitude towards Theosophy so frequently encountered today is obviously chiefly oriented around disrespect for many proclaimed Theosophists -- for the pretentiousness, arrogance and blind dogmatism which has often accompanied "Theosophic" representations. And, curiously, this general attitude of mind is today current among many who are allies of the type of Theosophical Movement H.P.B. endeavored to start.
The scholarly world has moved towards appreciation of a need for comparative study of religions; modern historiographers have revised many histories previously written from prejudices of theology and national chauvinism, while psychologists have reopened their investigation of the soul of man. But representatives of all these trends, though perhaps deriving aid in initial impulse from H.P.B.'s Theosophical Society, seem to have rather completely by-passed consideration of Theosophy itself. W. Macneile Dixon, for instance, whose The Human Situation rephrases some of the central ideas of Theosophical philosophy, had no formal Theosophical contact whatsoever. Disciplined philosophical thinkers are apt to regard "Theosophical mysticism" as a prime example of undisciplined ratiocination in the indulgence of wish fulfillment.
Though "prejudice against Theosophy" exists, it now exists on grounds quite different from those which were influential in 1891, since the old grounds are no longer valid. None of H.P.B.'s leading contentions are now regarded as absurdities by informed readers and thinkers. The evidence is very clear and specific, and there should be some profit in reviewing it briefly:
The philosophical doctrine of karma, once received as a strange complex of ideas attributable to "heathen" religion, if one were a Christian, or to "irrational mysticism," if one were a devotee of scientific mechanism, now is widely known and respected, both in terms of its essential meaning and as a word that finds significant usage in the English language. Comparative studies of the great religious faiths, as advocated by enlightened philosophers and educators, have had much to do with this. Works such as Lin Yutang's Between Tears and Laughter and Edmond Taylor's Richer by Asia have given strong presentations of the significance of the karma-philosophy, and a treatise such as Simone Weil's Iliad, Poem of Force, has connected the idea of karma with the philosophical dimensions of Greek thought, to which modern culture admittedly owes so much inspiration.
The idea of reincarnation has finally been given serious consideration in the academic world, and those English philosophers who seriously advocated its consideration, such as Macneile Dixon, G. Lowes Dickenson, and John MacTaggart, are shown increasing attention by their peers in the field of philosophy. C. J. Ducasse's recent Nature, Mind and Death presented the essential logic of the arguments for reincarnation, for the first time, it is believed, to the august members of the American Philosophical Association, while novelists, playwrights and innumerable authors who make a living from the re-presentation of intriguing ideas, have further brought the conception of rebirth before the eye and mind of the public.
H. P. Blavatsky's claim that psychic phenomena and mediumistic data may have a rational, philosophical explanation, is accepted by modern psychic researchers and by many psychologists. Further, in the psychological field, articles appearing in Psychiatry, journal of the William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, and in books such as Erich Fromm's Psychoanalysis and Religion and The Forgotten Language, re-enliven and re-define the concept of soul. Striking at a level of interest somewhere in between the two last mentioned types of defense of "the hidden man" was Gina Cerminara's Many Mansions, offering psychic testimony in support of "the magnificent possibility that reincarnation is a truth."
J. B. Rhine's Reach of the Mind proceeds from a study of incontestable evidence of extra-sensory-perception to the admission that informed thinkers must now regard such questions as the soul's immortality to again be open questions. Anthropologists have revised oversimplified versions of Darwinian theory, and, in the face of a growing weight of evidence, are prepared to admit the probability that man and not the ape is a primary type, while at the same time the length of man's stay on earth has been increased again and again by anthropological estimates.
While physicists have proceeded to demolish the distinctions between "matter," "energy," and "intelligence," a few biologists have begun to describe the presence of an electro-magnetic field which determines and sustains the form of all cellular structures, thus approaching the concept of the astral body from yet another direction than those implied by psychic phenomena and E.S.P. investigation.
These transformations have resulted in the fact that few, today -- and fewer tomorrow -- will be shown disrespect for a proclivity to use the word "soul," to wonder about the possibility of the soul's immortality, to give serious attention to the idea of reincarnation, even to proclaim belief in it, or to maintain that the philosophy of karma provides an exceedingly noble and inspiring basis for human ethics. Theosophists, then, we repeat, on the strength of the foregoing, do not today receipt for disrespect from either scholars or the public because of any of the philosophical ideas which they hold.
The temper of serious modern criticism is directed not against honest philosophy -- as was once unfortunately the case -- but is directed against the lack of philosophical temper which has been noticeable in so much Theosophical promulgation. The charge that Theosophists represent but another creed and cult, so untrue in regard to H.P.B.'s genuine devotees in the last century, has unfortunately been made true by nominal Theosophists in the meantime.
That such a development is a tragedy of the first magnitude can hardly be doubted, and it is not a tragedy to be alleviated by the "logical" expedient of counselling all Theosophists to stop using the word "Theosophy" altogether, and rest their case on the inherent reasonableness of unnamed Theosophical ideas, put forth as speculations. For, while such a suggestion would be rationally defensible on some counts, its full implementation would destroy one of the subtlest and most important contributions which H.P.B. strove to make -- by assertion and demonstration of the existence of a Wisdom Religion present in all times and ages. The conception of the Gnosis, when one reflects upon it, has important relevance to the seriousness with which all philosophical thought may be considered. Men need to feel not only that their particular lines of present thinking have a mathematical possibility of being true, but, also, need assurance that truth in respect to man's inner and higher nature is actually known, that it presently exists and that it may be verified and tested. There is high hope in the affirmation that there is a body of knowledge which has both served as inspiration for the greatest of human history and which may serve the humblest individual today. This is the crux of Theosophy in a historical sense, and is also "religion" in its purest sense. For religion, in its purest sense, depends upon veneration for a great brotherhood of spiritual and moral instructors. Pure religion is a proper placement of the devotional feeling, and it is such "proper placement" of the religious feeling that average humanity so badly needs. H.P.B.'s own position as an extremely important link in the chain of Great Teachers, to whom allegiance can and may be given, must not be disregarded, and therefore it is that the name Theosophy cannot be deserted.
Faced with all these realizations, what is the Theosophist to do? What is the best way of rescuing "calumniated reputations," and of being "true to the name," Theosophy? Here, the line laid down by H.P.B. herself would seem exceeding clear, even if very difficult to follow. H.P.B. sought above all to make the readers of her major works familiar with the transformations of mind which were characteristic of evolving Western civilization in general and of their own time in particular. Those who undertook such an investigation, in the spirit recommended by so many pages of H.P.B.'s writings, no longer looked upon themselves as "rivals" to the members of religious faiths. They sought, instead, as did she, with sympathetic understanding, whatever common ground and language might serve as a point of departure for educative efforts to aid in transcending the sectarian viewpoint altogether.
Much reading and much thought are mandatory for those who attempt to fit themselves to continue the task, and it may be interesting for the student to reflect that, even in this regard, H.P.B. has demonstrated her phenomenal greatness: No other Theosophist, whether devoted student or pretender, has been able to evidence anything like her familiarity with the significant works of both ancients and moderns, or her specific awareness of the basic issues occupying the attention of leaders in various fields of contemporary thought. It is not simply that no true Theosophists would try to duplicate the scope of Isis Unveiled or the Secret Doctrine. The plain fact is that no one can, and it is, perhaps, precisely in the breadth and scope of horizon of H.P.B.'s works that we find clues to the central meaning of Theosophical discipleship.
On page 271, The Key, H.P.B. states that "intrinsically, Theosophy is the most serious movement of this age." The most serious is the most subtle, the most serious is always the widest in breadth and scope, and the most serious is also more than apt to be that which requires the greatest effort and discipline. H.P.B.'s wisdom, even a small part of it, can hardly be acquired by any means other than that of following the path she showed -- the path of the widest study of which one is capable.
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:
Nothing is so much to be feared as any alliance with the despisers of reason; nothing so much to be desired as to follow whithersoever the argument leads.
On this broad and open way of the mind there are no concealments, no pretences, no hidden weapons. Your thoughts and mine cannot win success by lurking in the shadows, or striking at adversaries from behind their backs. They can be challenged, opposed, ridiculed, rejected in open discussion. Denounce the reason, attack it, despise it, you cannot do it to death. It will recover from every wound, and return to the encounter after every defeat.
We shall do very well in the company of reason until we try to account for reason itself. Then we are immediately at a loss, and plunged in the depths of the ocean. Meanwhile we must take as our motto the saying of Terence -- 'Nothing is so difficult as to be beyond the reach of investigation.' We are not to assume that what is now unknown is for ever unknowable.
--W. MACNEILE DIXON
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 18 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".