THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 8, June, 1953
(Pages 369-372; Size: 12K)
(Number 20 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
ANY extended commentary on one of H. P. Blavatsky's books is bound to serve at least one function -- the writer is rewarded by a better understanding of what H.P.B. meant by referring to her monumental Secret Doctrine as simply a collection of "a few truths." The essential point she had in mind, we may well think, is that students should never be allowed to feel that "Theosophy" is ever completely encompassed by them, wrapped up in a neat and final package. No one, she said, possesses Theosophy in its entirety. Similarly, a commentary upon The Key to Theosophy enables a writer to see that "whatever one treats of, whatever one speaks of" is bound to be nothing more than a certain emphasis, optimistically selected in the hope that it will highlight various important points in the text.
If we are to carry out the implication of those of her statements which presented her Theosophy as but a "fragment" or "portion" of all that might be designated by that name, we may think that H.P.B. was doing her "treating and speaking" with full awareness of the temporal and spatial limitations of each point of emphasis she selected. As students, we are seldom so self-conscious, all too easily allowing ourselves to feel, first, that in grasping some relatively comprehensive summary made by H. P. Blavatsky at one point in time, we have grasped the whole of Theosophy on the subject under discussion, and, second, that we qualify to disseminate that particular idea accurately. If there are those capable of conceiving themselves as likely candidates for such delusions, an attempt at commentary on the Key seems recommendable as an excellent cure.
Such considerations would seem of considerable importance if one is to understand H.P.B.'s first representation, in the Key and elsewhere, of the necessity of Theosophists to rid themselves of sectarian tendencies. For one thing, a "sectarian tendency" is clearly the mistaken notion that one comprehends "all" that needs to be known on any given subject, and that, secure in the companionship of others who know this same "all," one is blessed by a superior mental existence. Mr. Judge spoke of the "non-sectarianism H.P.B. died to start," and, in regard to the Key, we may also speak of that non-sectarianism which H.P.B. lived every day of her life, and through the medium of all of her writings. In glancing back over The Key to Theosophy in its entirety, while making no attempt to focus attention upon any particular passages or subjects, one of the first things demanding our attention is her selection of "dialogue" as the means to present Theosophical perspectives and doctrines. It is obvious enough that H.P.B. herself wrote all of the "queries" and "objections" raised by "Enq.," but unless one stops to ponder this fact for a moment, and notes her evident sympathy for the sort of mind she is depicting in "Enq.," something in the pervading tone of the Key may be missed: The "enquirer," as H.P.B. represents him, is no fool. He makes cogent points and raises logically legitimate objections to her replies; in other words, he possesses a high level of intellectual integrity, and even though he is not prepared to accept Theosophy as a "new faith" for himself, he is willing to listen to a fairly put presentation.
These particular commentaries in THEOSOPHY have entirely omitted discussion of H.P.B.'s doctrinal presentations in the central section of the book. Yet in these sections, just as in those dealing with the Theosophical Society, or with practical applications of Theosophical principles to problems of education, politics, and social reform, we discover a measured balance between the agnosticism of the "Enquirer" and the phrasings H.P.B. chooses for provisional answers to the questions. The first few pages under the heading of "Theosophical Teachings as to the Nature of Man," for instance, continue the tone of impartiality set earlier in the book. On page 86, after listening to H.P.B. present the rationale of intelligent evolution proceeding on other planets, the enquirer -- H.P.B. herself! -- asks: "What are your data for this assertion?" H.P.B. then admits that "science in general will never accept as proof the cumulative testimony of an endless series of seers," but continues by suggesting the possibility of an ultimate synthesis in methodology. The "methods used by our scholars and students in the psycho-spiritual sciences," she writes, "do not differ from those of students of the natural and physical sciences."
Whenever the "Enquirer," seeming a little stunned by some of the Eastern doctrines presented, refers to them as "strange theories," H.P.B. consistently endeavors to indicate that theosophical presentations are not meant to represent any truth pertaining to nature or man in final exactitude or entirety. The only claim is that there are fundamental principles or laws of nature, and that theosophical doctrines help to illuminate them. On page 87, in reference to some material in Esoteric Buddhism which H.P.B. is defending, she writes:These theories may be slightly incorrect in their minor details, and even faulty in their exposition by lay students; they are facts in nature, nevertheless, and come nearer the truth than any scientific hypothesis.A constant sensitivity to the temperament of rational enquirers into Theosophy is illustrated also in many of H.P.B.'s articles. Her Philosophers and Philosophicules, first published in 1889, derives its central thesis from an attempt to throw light upon one of the many paradoxes of theosophical exposition. Here we have one of the most thought-provoking passages H.P.B. ever wrote, one which demonstrates that "doctrine" and "dogma" are never synonymous terms for the true Theosophist. Again adopting the attitude of "enquirer," H.P.B. willingly admits an "apparent" contradiction, which she presents in this fashion:In the published "Constitution and Rules" great stress is laid upon the absolutely non-sectarian character of the Society. It is constantly insisted upon that it has no creed, no philosophy, no religion, no dogmas, and even no special views of its own to advocate, still less to impose on its members. And yet--Doctrines, then, have a temporal usefulness. But, as she asserted in "What is Truth?", they never should be taken as representative of any "absolute" reality. Again, in Philosophers and Philosophicules, she admits the continual emphasis among Western Theosophists on specific teachings, yet she calls it an "error" to suppose that even these teachings are the "backbone" of the Theosophical Movement:
"Why, bless us! is it not as undeniable a fact that certain very definite views of a philosophic and, strictly speaking, of a religious character are held by the Founders and most prominent members of the Society?"
"Verily so," we answer. "But where is the alleged contradiction in this? Neither the Founders, nor the 'most prominent members,' nor yet the majority thereof, constitute the Society, but only a certain portion of it, which, moreover, having no creed as a body, yet allows its members to believe as and what they please." In answer to this, we are told:--
"Very true; yet these doctrines are collectively called 'Theosophy.' What is your explanation of this?"
We reply:--"To call them so is a 'collective' mistake; one of those loose applications of terms to things that ought to be more carefully defined; and the neglect of members to do so is now bearing its fruits. In fact it is an oversight as harmful as that which followed the confusion of the two terms 'buddhism' and 'bodhism,' leading the Wisdom philosophy to be mistaken for the religion of Buddha."
But it is still urged that when these doctrines are examined it becomes very clear that all the work which the Society as a body has done in the East and the West depended upon them. This is obviously true in the case of the doctrine of the underlying unity of all religions and the existence, as claimed by Theosophists, of a common source called the Wisdom-religion of the secret teaching, from which, according to the same claims, all existing forms of religion are directly or indirectly derived. Admitting this, we are pressed to explain, how can the T.S. as a body be said to have no special views or doctrines to inculcate, no creed and no dogmas, when these are "the back-bone of the Society, its very heart and soul"?These teachings are most undeniably the "back-bone" of the Theosophical Societies in the West, but not at all in the East, where such Branch Societies number almost five to one in the West. Were these special doctrines the "heart and soul" of the whole body, then Theosophy and its T.S. would have died out in India and Ceylon since 1885 -- and this is surely not the case. For, not only have they been virtually abandoned at Adyar since that year, as there was no one to teach them, but while some Brahmin Theosophists were very much opposed to that teaching being made public, others -- the more orthodox -- positively opposed them as being inimical to their exoteric systems.Perhaps one might conclude from all of the foregoing that H.P.B., like Socrates, was just as much interested in the asking of important questions as in providing the bases upon which individuals could answer them -- or, perhaps, at the higher levels of thought, these two amount to much the same thing.
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 -- and then you will find links to the two articles by HPB.
It is no easy matter to live a life that is modelled on Christ's, but it is unspeakably harder to live one's own life as truly as Christ lived his. Anyone who did this would run counter to the forces of the past, and though he might thus be fulfilling his destiny, would none the less be misjudged, derided, tortured and crucified.
--C. G. JUNG
[Note: Here are the links to HPB's two articles that were quoted from and mentioned in the above article by the Editors: "Philosophers and Philosophicules" (the one quoted from twice), and "What is Truth?" (which was mentioned). --Compiler.]
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