THEOSOPHY, Vol. 44, No. 2, December, 1955
(Pages 49-53; Size: 14K)
[Part 29 of a 29-part series]
FEW if any Theosophists will find easy the task of accurately defining Theosophy; there are good and sufficient reasons for this difficulty. These can be perceived as soon as one reflects upon the fact that, while theo-sophia has often been associated with devotion to particular teachers and teachings, it has also represented the essence of individual inquiry into what are usually called "religious mysteries." Since religion usually connotes discipleship both to a specific teacher and to a fairly settled structure of faith, and since individual inquiry usually signifies relinquishment of all static referents, the Theosophist is apt to appear to be trying for an impossible synthesis. It is, in fact, the basic Theosophical "belief," though, that this sort of synthesis is possible.
It is one thing, however, to believe that a synthesis between the devotional life and analytical inquiry is not impossible, and quite another to delude oneself into thinking that the joining of the two is, or ever will be, easy. In the eyes of many conversant with the subtleties of this achievement, a too-confident Theosophist may appear more than a little ridiculous; for example, if one vehemently asserts that Theosophists have nothing to do with belief, but only with "knowledge," and that he, as a student of Theosophy, has no beliefs, he will seem to border on absurdity. For to believe that one has no beliefs, and has passed forever beyond reliance upon or need for them, is to mis-state fact, as well as to entertain serious delusions of grandeur. Yet, on the other hand, a prejudice against "blind belief" is one of the few constructive prejudices in existence.
Just as the effort of the individual Theosophist to be philosophical in relation to his private matters of religion involves penetrating subjective mysteries, the history of usage of the word Theosophy is similarly involved in complexity. We can discover, for instance, if only from a reading of dictionaries and encyclopedias, that a full definition of Theosophy must take into account three different usages -- each with a relation to the others, but each meriting particularized reflection. The following considerations are certainly relevant to the clarification of usage, while suggesting, also, something of the relationship between the psychology and the history of Theosophy.
(1) As a term of general classification, theosophy signifies belief in the possibility of direct, individual cognition of all that is usually called "divine" or ultimate mystery. Reference to divinity may be symbolical or metaphorical, and the knowledge of "God" and things divine implied is held in theosophy to arise from the comprehension, or intuition, of each student -- not dependent upon priestly assistance, theological belief, nor conditions established by historical revelation.
(2) "Theosophy" also stands for all programs of study based upon the assumption that each religion is apt to contain a measure of basic truth, and that such truth can best emerge only when differing traditions of belief receive comparative examination. Thus the work of the Theosophical school of Ammonius Saccas in the fourth century undertook the evaluative study of all religions and philosophies -- honoring truth wherever it might be found. The Theosophical Society in the last century, founded in 1875 largely through the influence of Madame H. P. Blavatsky, established an identical program: Men and women, whatever their particular faith or affiliation, were invited to share and compare from their various standpoints, endeavoring to maintain open minds, and hoping to gain new insights, particularly from the neglected treasure-houses of eastern philosophy.
(3) "Theosophy" has also come to stand for some particular and persistent conclusions and/or reputed discoveries, reached by numbers of those who, over the centuries, have undertaken study on the aforementioned basis. Thus the conception, for example, of an evolution of soul through a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates and Ammonius Saccas, to name but a few, having believed in free and comparative examination of all religious doctrines, apparently shared the view of the later German philosopher, Schopenhauer, who remarked that rebirth "presents itself as the natural conviction of man whenever he is allowed to reflect in an unprejudiced manner." Such unanimity on the question of immortality was pointed to by Madame Blavatsky as also indicating a natural fraternity in knowledge and among all knowers thereof -- existence of a "Gnosis" into which many sages have become initiated. She speaks of Theosophy as scientific religion and religious science -- composed, in part, of a "secret doctrine" which need no longer remain secret from those willing to divest themselves from all creedal and factional prejudice. Though everything actually known about the spiritual or "God-like" aspects of man's nature thus becomes a part of Theosophy, the word also signified, for Madame Blavatsky, a body of knowledge presently available, together with a clear statement of its fundamental propositions, in the writings she presented.
Theosophy, we have said, is not essentially "doctrine." Nor is Theosophy adequately describable in terms of ideas, no matter how philosophically valid, nor "facts," howsoever authenticated. Perhaps the truest definition would be one which designates as "Theosophy" all that certain ideas and perspectives have accomplished in the minds and lives of men. Here, at least, we have guarantee that Theosophy will not be separated from the vast "Theosophical Movement" about which H. P. Blavatsky wrote.
That the identification of the word "Theosophy" with a movement of ideas and aspirations traceable to "the remotest antiquity" was one of H.P.B.'s two central points of emphasis can hardly be doubted. The structure of Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine were clearly chosen to supply a variegated chain of evidence for this contention -- and to raise the assertion beyond the classification of mere "contention." Was this a concession to the passion for "objective evidence," characteristic of nineteenth-century science? Or was it rather a demonstration that, when one reasoned from correct intuitions, evidence to satisfy the intellectual part of man's nature could be found without real difficulty? Here we come to one of the psychological roots of any "theosophy" worthy of the name -- in the premise that reason and intuition are not essentially at loggerheads, that truly grand dreams and imaginings have corollaries in "objective" reality, and that each man is capable, therefore, of achieving a synthesis which may correctly be termed his own portion of "divine wisdom."
The second major emphasis of H.P.B.'s works may be found in the claim that a gnosis, definite and accurate, exists and has always existed -- a "body of knowledge" which can be transmitted both through the efforts of humanity's greatest teachers and by humble disciples. The critic of Theosophy, at this point, may think he has found justification for holding that Theosophy is but another set of revelational claims; the present intent, however, is to call attention to the fact that, once the existence of a living philosophy of reincarnation and karma had been demonstrated as native to every race and clime, the existence of such a gnosis as that presented by H.P.B. is one of the few logical conclusions which may be seen to follow. If untrammeled philosophy and individual mystic experience consistently revolve around the same essential ideas, if the attempted conditionings of orthodoxy fail to contain or smother such convictions as those on soul evolution through reincarnation and karma, a strong case is automatically established for the gnosis approach to religious questions.
So, for rational man, conviction of the reality of a Wisdom Religion depends upon demonstration of the continued existence of a Theosophical Movement -- one reason why it is impossible to define Theosophy correctly by brief reference to any particular set of doctrinal forms. "Intuitive man" may not require such an apparently roundabout route, but it is also one of the first principles of philosophic discipline, emphasized by H.P.B., that one does not truly know anything that he does not know in every fiber of his being. Certainty is not reached by reason or intuition alone, but by cooperative blending of the two.
There are, then, several "theosophies" to be considered by a student: (1) The Theosophical Movement throughout past history, as indicated by such definitively eclectic work as that of Ammonius Saccas. (2) The theosophy acquired by each individual according to his own rational and intuitive guidance. (3) All the symbols, glyphs, allegories, and teachings depicting the continued evolution of the soul through a "series of progressive awakenings." (4) The Theosophy presented as a body of wisdom, inclusive of "true doctrine," by Madame Blavatsky.
So the task of defining Theosophy is very much like Theosophy itself -- impossible in any completeness of meaning, without a proper effort toward synthesis. It is not by any one of the many "correct" descriptions of Theosophy that one comes to understand either the meaning of the Theosophical Movement of past ages or of H. P. Blavatsky's efforts in the last century. No better way, perhaps, exists for comprehending the universal nature of "theosophia" than for each one to undertake the sort of analysis that has been explored in this brief article.
The analysis, the painstaking questioning, and the research natural to the scientific temperament here play their part; at the level of philosophical definition, the formal disciplines of logic and the contributions of semantics have clear relevance to the explorations of all Theosophists who seek to better "know what they truly know" apart from that which is merely believed. There are, of course, many to point out the distinction between what other people know and what they merely believe to be true, but the Theosophist is compelled to be primarily concerned with distinctions between what he himself knows and what he merely believes.
Theosophy, after all, is meant to achieve an end to sectarianism precisely because it suggests the need for transcending all of those specialized definitions which give men of orthodoxy false assurance. The death of sectarianism comes from broadmindedness, which is "eclecticism" in its highest and best sense, and by the correspondent and subsequent awakening of the highest faculties of mind.
The Theosophist may have beliefs, he may have a definite faith, he may show devotion to certain teachers in particular, but he also is obliged to know that he has beliefs, that he professes and expresses a faith, and that he has a special feeling for a special teacher. If he relies upon belief, faith and devotion, and is unaware that he does, he is in danger. The Theosophical Movement has, in many ages, been forced to adopt iconoclastic guises simply because the unwarranted assurance of those who followed a great teacher -- and who thought the knowledge of that teacher also theirs -- has led to rigidities of belief destructive of original meaning.
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:
To fully define Theosophy, we must consider it under all its aspects. The interior world has not been hidden from all by impenetrable darkness. By that higher intuition acquired by Theosophia -- or God-knowledge, which carried the mind from the world of form into that of formless spirit, man has been sometimes enabled in every age and every country to perceive things in the interior or invisible world. The search after man's diviner "self," so often and so erroneously interpreted as individual communion with a personal God, was the object of every mystic, and belief in its possibility seems to have been coeval with the genesis of humanity, each people giving it another name.
--H. P. BLAVATSKY
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