Name and History
The name Theosophy has had a long history. Ammonius Sakkas (d. about 245), father of Neo-Platonism, claimed to have invented it; and since his time it has often been used to describe the method of reaching a direct intuition of God, and of all things only “in” Him, and a way of achieving a mysterious self-identification with the Self of God. Those who possessed this ideal and this method considered themselves men of “divine wisdom,” superior to all others.
The notion was flattering and captivated men of high character, but also, of inferior calibre. The former displayed an activity which may be called, roughly, “mystical” the latter, one that can be no less roughly called “magical.” Mysticism is the effort to reach the direct vision of God by spiritual means: magic, in this sense, the effort to do so by relatively mechanical means.
The Catholic Church has always preached the Beatific Vision, which transcends even the most sublime intellectual conceptions of God and all imagination, as the destiny of all those who leave this life “in grace,” grace being mediated through Christ only, incorporating us with Him, causing the Holy Spirit to indwell us in a particular way, and making us true adopted sons of God.
The most startling manifestations of sanctity are but manifestations of an interior fact, i.e., an exceptionally close supernatural union between a soul and God; and theosophists are quite right in subordinating the special phenomena that they claim to experience, to the substance of their doctrine, even though it has been, historically, the exhibition of such phenomena which gave modern Theosophy its vogue.
Christian mysticism passed from St. Paul and St. John through writers like the pseudo-Dionysius to St. Augustine, the Victorines, German mystics like St. Gertrude, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, SS. Catherine of Siena and of Genoa, the Spanish school like SS. Teresa and John of the Cross down to modern times, and Catholic writers on mysticism are perhaps more numerous than they ever were.
There have been “second class” Catholic writers, like Maria d’ Agreda; but it is noticeable that Theosophists have preferred “mystics” who diverge more or less from Catholic orthodoxy, like Tauler and Eckhardt, “illuminist” authors, J. Bohme, and even Swedenborg. Indeed, they display very great interest (and rightly; the subject in itself is interesting, even though concerned with a perversion of the human spirit) in “magical” writers such as the degenerate Gnostics, inferior Neo-Platonists, the Kabbalists, and men like Cornelius Agrippa, “Paracelsus,” or Pico della Mirandola. The occultist passion of the Templars and the Masons proceeds to the Rosicrucians of the nineteenth century revival, through men like Saint Martin “Eliphaz Levi” (the ex-abbe Constant), “Papus” (Dr. Encausse), till it reaches those moderns who prefer even the unwholesome and fantastic to the normal.
But Theosophy has its history “backwards,” too. Through the Gnostics, the Graeco-Judaic philosophies of Philo and Alexandria, obscure parts of Plato’s work (and the Pythagoreans, or Orphics) it reaches back towards India and Persia, and ends by claiming affinity with, if not the fatherhood of, some schools of Buddhism, and in fine Brahmanism.
I fear we have to insist that the modern literature of Theosophy, so far as it concerns itself with history, is of no value at all, unless of course you admit a priori that clairvoyance provides the authors with knowledge accessible to no one else. In particular, Theosophic books dealing with oriental religions are misleading. I recommend as an antidote two works of M. R. Guenon (Payot; Paris): Theosophisme: Histoire d’une Pseudo-Religion: and hisIntroduction Generale a l’Etude des Doctrines Hindoues I do so the more readily as these works were not by a Catholic; indeed, the author displays a veneration for oriental modes of thought, and a contempt for ours, which outpasses the due measure.
At least he shows very clearly how shoddy is the material turned out by Theosophists on their own subject; and, while the distinguished Italian scholar, P. Oltramare, could call his studies of ancient Indian thought “L’histoire des idees theosophiques dans l’Inde: I, La theosophie brahmanique” (Paris), he has to apologise for the distrust his title must excite nowadays, when the name Theosophy “is affixed to the strangest wares: an amalgam of mysticism, charlatanism and thaumaturgic pretensions which have been combined, in the most unlikely fashion, with an almost childish anxiety to apply the method and terminology of science to transcendent matters. India itself could not but be besmirched by the ridicule and disfavour so justly incurred by the curious doctrines of Mme. Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant” (pp. ii., iii.).
M. Paul Carty competently contrasts M. Oltramare’s work with Mrs. Besant’s quite unscientific study of Indian religions (Four Great Religions: and The Religious Problem of India) . It is a pity, too, that English-speaking Theosophists should have learnt what they know of the Hermetic literature not least through the work of Mr. G. Mead, whose books have no scientific value.
Theosophy, then, makes its peculiar boast out of its organic connection with a world-stream of human-divine effort witnessed to by a continuous history. Theosophy is a “divine science,” complete and eternal, known in its entirety to but a few, and communicated by them so far as possible to those capable of receiving it, under various symbols suited to the assimilative capacity of each, or of successive generations. It is then the source of all religions, all philosophies, all science, but it is no one of them.
“Theosophy is not a religion. But something of Theosophy can be found under all religious symbols, in all religious dogmas, for the good reason that it is the RELIGION-SCIENCE whence have issued all religions and all sciences.” (A. Arnould: Les Croyances fondamentales du Bouddhisme, Paris, 1895, p. 5).
To the question “Is Theosophy a religion?” “It is not,” answers H. P. B. (cf. Key, p. I). “It is Divine Knowledge or Science.” Similarly, “it is the doctrinal exposition of the Truths demonstrated by OCCULT-SCIENCE” (A. A., p. 6).
“In the sense given to it by those who first used it,” writes Col. Olcott,1 “the word means divine wisdom, or the knowledge of divine things. The lexicographers handicap the idea with the suggestion that it meant the knowledge of God, the deity before their minds being a personal one; but such was not the intention of the first Theosophists.
“Essentially a Theosophical Society is one which favours man’s original acquisition of knowledge about the hidden things of the universe, by the education and perfecting of his own latent powers. Theosophy differs as widely from philosophy as it does from theology (italics ours). It has been truly said that, in investigating the divine nature and attributes, philosophy proceeds entirely by the dialectic method, employing as the basis of its investigation the ideas derived from natural reason; theology still employing the same method, superadds to the principles of natural reason those derived from authority and revelation. Theosophy, on the contrary, professes to exclude all dialectical process and to derive its whole knowledge of God from direct intuition and contemplation. ”
This has been quoted to emphasise the fact that Theosophy bases its statements either upon the ipse dixit of some Mahatma, or on a special psychic process unknown to the ordinary man. This must always be recalled when it declares it advances nothing that has not been proved up to the hilt.
Arnould writes of these Guardians of the Immemorial Doctrine that “their number is great,” that they are “Beings more completely developed than antecedent or existing humanity. These more advanced Beings have traversed the entire human course, and help their less advanced brethren. All humanity shall one day reach this degree of development, like that which Westerns assign to their anthropomorphic God,” and then it will be their turn to help others (pp. 15, 16).
For while “a few isolated individuals, borne on by a peculiar enthusiasm, a spiritual moral, and physical hygiene and persevering toil,” achieve the goal before their brothers (p. 46), and alone have evolved that sixth principle, or Buddhi, which is as superior to the intellect as the human soul is to the animal (p. 66) yet they can and do put off their entry into Nirvana for the sake of teaching fragments of their lore to men, and may then be called Buddhas of Compassion (p. 49). H. P. B. rationalizes2 these Mahatmas (=Great Spirits) not a little: though they guide and protect, yet they do not inspire the T. S. or the writings of its leaders (p. 299). So, too, Mrs. Besant says they work for humanity, use the T.S. as an instrument, bless it, and help it at a crisis.3 Miss Lillian Edger, in a very convenient little book called Elements ofTheosophy, 4 says of them that they can “function at will on anyone of the three planes on which our evolution is proceeding.” They work “unseen, unthanked, even as God Himself works in every form” (p. 121).
From them come the inspirations of art, the intuitions of genius, and the promptings of heroism. From them come physical discoveries and spiritual movements. They appear, it may be, as men, and are misunderstood and persecuted. They may be called Initiates, Adepts, Magi, Hierophants, Mahatmas, Elder Brothers, Great Souls, or Masters. We are told to number among them Pythagoras, Orpheus, Moses, Christ, St. Paul, St. John, Clement and Origen, Krishna and Buddha, high-priests ofvarious cults (including that of the Temple at Jerusalem), Alexander the Great, and many others.5
The evidence for their existence may indeed be its “metaphysical necessity.”6 It is postulated by the Law of Cyclic Evolution. The divine germ in man comes from and returns to God, through an uninterrupted series of more or less divine Beings. There cannot, therefore, but be Mahatmas. However, H. P. B., H. S. O., A. B., and even humbler disciples, have been in epistolary communication with these Masters, and A. B., in H. P.B. and the Masters, collects a considerable amount of what she considers adequate evidence of their consorting with mankind.7
The Lamas of Tibet (where they are usually domiciled) are said, however, to have denied their existence, while Mr. Hodgson, in the service of the Society for Psychical Research, together with most independent students, will not admit it either.8 To those who do not grant its a priori necessity, the evidence of the few “eyewitnesses” seems, he argues, valueless; and so is the correspondence by which they, mistakenly enough, reveal their “miserable poor style” and ideas which are “absolute rubbish.”9
Mme. Blavatsky, however, despises the attacks of the S.P.R., which she calls “a flock of stupid old British, wethers, who had been led to butt at them by an over-frolicsome lambkin from Australia” (p. 297).
If she is asked why the Masters do not appear to disprove the charges which are made against them, she asserts that they sometimes do, but that they usually despise to (Key, p. 295). She reiterates the argument that if they do not exist, then she herself has invented the entire contents of their philosophy and all the practical knowledge ascribed to them, so that since she exists, it doesn’t really matter whether they do or don’t (ibid., p. 298); that to attempt to prove they do not exist is to wish to prove a negative and, finally, that she wishes to goodness modern Theosophists had never mentioned Masters, Adepts, or Occult Knowledge (ibid., pp. 300, 302).
The Church has a doctrine of Tradition, of Sainthood, and of the Beatific Vision and the “spiritual body” to which the saved are destined. But the Tradition is not secret: nor is it doled forth by privileged individuals. Nor can Sainthood be produced by human effort only still less by any “cyclic law.”
Nor are Christian beliefs held “blindly,” as Theosophists often say (e.g., Key: pp. 87,218, etc.). Those of the Theosophist, however, are. For they rest on evidence provided clairvoyantly or clairaudiently or in some other extra-scientific way, or transmitted by “Masters.” But there is admittedly no “proof” of the validity of the former, or of the existence of the latter. Therefore the whole affair becomes subjective, and quite unlike Christian “evidence.”
Mme. Blavatsky’s Key is in the shape of a catechism; for the sake of brevity we shall condense slightly its questions and answers without affecting, we trust, their bearing.
“Do you believe in God-the God of the Christians, the Biblical God?”
“In such a God we do not believe. We reject the notion of a personal, or an extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God. The God of theology is a bundle of contradictions. We will have nothing to do with him.”
“Then you are Atheists?” “Not that we know of. We believe in a Divine Universal Principle, the root of ALL, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being. Our DEITY is everywhere, in, over, and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for IT is the mysterious power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and even omniscient creative potentiality. IT does not (think); because it is Absolute Thought itself. Nor does it exist, as it is Be-ness, not a Being. Our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating builder of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence. It is a sphere without circumference-ITSELF” (Key, pp. 61-66).
The confusions here are manifold. Man has an “analogical” knowledge of God: that is, he knows Him in a human way, not false, but essentially inadequate. He does not know Him as God knows Himself, immediately and comprehensively: if he did, he would be God. Hence man’s very idea of God as “Being” is derived and inadequate, but not false. Moreover, God is eternal-this does not mean “very old,” but existing wholly simultaneously: and He is omnipresent, which does not mean extended throughout the universe, but wholly present in every part of it. Nor does the “personality” of God mean that He exists as we do, with our “personal” limitations; but that whatever perfection there is in “personality” is also, essentially and as in its source and infinitely, in Him.
H. P. B. is right in claiming for God that He is infinite and unqualified: wrong, when she suggests that (i) we cannot know anything about Him by our reason; and (ii) that He is the universe or evolves into it. The “negative way” of speaking of God-denying to Him anything that we human-wise know-is not adequate though legitimate. It means, that we deny any of the human limitations of our experience as true about God; but affirm all their substantial content as infinitely true of Him.
The Christian God is therefore thinkable in a way imperfect, yet true so far as it goes: the Theosophic God is not thinkable at all. Yet the Theosophist keeps on thinking about God. He calls it the causeless cause, the rootless root, the One, etc. To be consistent He should say (and sometimes does) that we are equally right in calling Him non-root, non-cause non-principle, etc. He had better define God as O=X, and let the matter drop.
Theosophy inclines to “idealistic Pantheism” the Universe emanates from God, as ray from sun, or is immanent in Him, as drop in ocean, or is Himself, as my dream is I. There is no “creation,” but the” ‘periodical and consecutive appearances of the universe from the subjective on to the objective plane of being.’ This is the ‘Cycle of Life,’ the ‘Days and Nights of Brahma,’ or the time of Manvantara and that of Pralaya (dissolution). (This process is) Eternal reality casting a periodical reflection of itself on the infinite spatial depths. This reflection ‘is a temporary illusion, and, as flitting personalities, so are we’ (Key, pp. 83-85). ‘In Eternity,’ M. Arnould reminds us (p. 12), ‘there is but a single moment, ALWAYS.
” ‘If, for a single moment, there had been nothing, then there would always have been Nothing. Before creation, as after, is Eternity! Where seize, where place, the moment of Creation? It exists not! It cannot exist!
” ‘The periods (of activity and rest) can be compared to the double rhythmic beating of the heart. There is a great rhythmic throbbing in the Infinite, in the UNIQUE ALL, which causes transitory forms to emanate, where through the UNIQUE SPIRIT circulates and develops and reabsorbs them.’
“Theosophists can never free themselves from this welter of metaphor: and even Mrs. Besant says: ‘God is all, and all is God’ ” (Theosophy: Religious Systems of the World, p. 642,1903, etc.).
H. P. B. rejects Pantheism, at least in so far as its “real and primitive meaning has been distorted by blind prejudice and a one-sidedness of view. If you accept the Christian etymology of this compound word, and form it of pan, “all,” and theos, “God,” and then imagine and teach that this means that every stone and every tree in Nature is a God or the ONE God, then, of course, you will be right, and make of Pantheists fetish-worshippers” (Key, p. 63). But one must etymologize the word, she goes on, “esoterically.” The Christian etymology is as correct, as H. P. B.’s conception of their theology is absurd.
The Indian terms quoted above are not only used by Theosophists as symbols, but are explained in materialistic detail. A Manvantara comprises 360,000,000 years,10 and, together with a Pralaya, composes the 100 billion (and more) years of a world period, or Kalpah. During a Pralaya (putting the thing in its Indian form) only Brahma (neuter) exists-Sat, the Unknowable and Absolute.
A new Manvantara dawns: Brahma (masc.) awakes. At once He sees, “Nothing exists.” Forthwith we have the opposition of Being and Not Being, the Duality, sat-avidya. The vision of the “being” that once was recurs to Him-Brahma’s own revelation, Mahat, the third “logos.” The Trinity, Sat, Satavidya, Mahat, is complete. The out- and in-breathings of Brahma then make and reabsorb the Universe.
Mrs. Besant (Introd. , p. 21) develops this doctrine of the Emanating All by means of a quite unhistorical adaptation of the Greek term Logos, enabling her to assure the Bishop of London that after all Theosophists believe in the Trinity. Underlying this is a (i) fatalist and (ii) meaningless conception of the Infinite “evolving,” that is, in any case, changing, which it cannot do; and either improving itself by becoming more than it was, or degrading itself by getting mixed up with matter and having to disentangle itself once more. The Christian doctrine of creation is only inadequately thinkable: the Theosophist one of a fluctuation, a throb, in the Godhead, is positively unthinkable.
Theosophic teaching presents the world as existing in seven planes, not superimposed, but interpenetrating, for each consists of a grosser or purer manifestation of reality so that the slightly less gross has plenty of room to exist and vibrate between the atoms of the grosser. Each plane therefore has its special dimension, time, consciousness and inhabitants.
It seems idle to offer details of the history of this our evolving world. Briefly, it rises in a septuple spiral, mankind passing through seven cycles corresponding to the planets. Mr. Sinnett, Growth of the Soul, 1896, p. 265, says that seven root-race periods make up one world period; seven world-periods (following each other on as many planets in succession), one round; seven rounds, one manvantara; seven manvantaras, one scheme of evolution; seven schemes of evolution (more or less contemporaneous in their activity), the solar system.
He proceeds to relate just how far each planet has got in its evolutionary process-Mars is behind us; many of us lived there; did we but visit it, “as some of our more advanced companions can and do,” we should find traces of our passage. Venus is far ahead of us: in fact, “the guardians of our infant humanity” descended thence, stimulated our faculties, and caused us to stand rather further on in our process than we have the strict right to do.
To these Elder Brothers he devotes an entire chapter. Earth-men are at their fourth stage, our third having been lived in the lost continent of Lemuria, where consciousness dawned and man split into the two sexes. Mr. Scott Elliott, in The Lost Lemuria (with two maps) established H. P. B.’s revelations about Lemuria by geology and so forth, and describes also the fourth race that lived in Atlantis (The Story of Atlantis; 4 maps).
Its catastrophes occurred respectively 800,000, 200,000, and 80,000 years ago. But, like H. P. B., he relies for his information upon clairvoyance, scoffing somewhat less than she does at the “abysmal ignorance” of palaeontologists who deny such things, and indeed the whole school of Western Science formed in the school of “Mill, Darwin, Tyndall, Hegel, and Burnouf.” The fifth or Aryan race is rushing down to absolute evil: Europe is in a religious, philosophic and philanthropic cul de sac: it is in America that the sixth root-race of our cycle shall be prepared, due some 700 years hence.
Mr. Leadbeater indeed knows its very diet, consisting largely of a sort of blancmange variously flavoured and tinted, and partaken of in tea-gardens: no chairs; but marbled hollows in the ground: the plates too are marble and the whole is flooded after each repast. (Man, p. 427; 1913). No one will want us to offer more of this sort of detail.
Meanwhile Man, the Microcosm, is himself septuple, four parts composing the physical, three the spiritual, man. The following is H. P. B.’s chart (Key, p. 92):
(a) Rupa, or Sthula Sha ira = Physical Body
(b) Prana = Life, or Vital Principle
(c) Linga Sharira = Astral body
(d) Kama rupa = Seat of animal desires and passions
(e) Manas-a dual principle in its functions = Mind, intelligence, the higher human mind, whose light or radiation links the Monad, for the lifetime, to the mortal man
(f) Buddhi = The Spiritual Soul
(g) Atma = Spirit
The first four “principles” compose a man’s personality, the last three his Individuality. The Atma, H. P. B. says, is “one with the Absolute” Sinnett, that it is matter like the rest, only very subtle. Arnould (who describes all this, pp. 63-67) prudently exclaims, “Quant au septieme principe, Atma, n’en par/ons pas. ”
At death, the first four principles, or rather “states of consciousness,” evanesce: the one real man, immortal in essence, if not in form, Manas, embodied consciousness (Key, p. 100), “God fallen into matter” (A. B., Introd. , p. 27), alone will subsist. Human evolution is the effort of this god to reascend to its proper plane, taking as much of its purified personality with it as it can. But it cannot do this in one lifetime only; reincarnations are therefore necessary, a discarnate existence averaging 1,500 years occurring between each, in the Devachanic or “heaven” plane.
Of this and of the Astral plane, Mr. Leadbeater can give many details based on clairvoyance and the teaching of the Masters. Each is divided into seven sections. In the Astral plane, its scenery, inhabitants and phenomena, the soul is in a sort of Hades or Purgatory: crass sensualists live as in a black viscous “fluid” at the bottom: on the second highest is the selfish religionist enjoying harp and crown; on the highest, the selfish intellectualist.
This astral condition is largely responsible for fairies, angels, ghosts, etc.; apparitions are often the astral corpse shelled off by the purified spirit; they try to maintain a fictitious life by obsessing living persons, or haunting public-houses or butchers’ shops. Mr. Leadbeater’s account of the Devachanic Plane (1902) is fuller; to its planes he assigns inhabitants according to what he considers their degree of unselfish but anthropomorphic religion or respectability: on the lowest you may find a “small grocer” on the sixth, Vishnu and Siva worshippers “wrapped up in a cocoon of their own thoughts”, the Irish peasant and the Madonna; the Spanish ecstatic and her Christ. On the fourth are unselfish pursuers of spiritual or artistic knowledge, like Mozart or Bach; but Mohammedanism or Christianity seldom get their devotees so far as this, save for a few Gnostics or Sufis.
Devachan is a result, not a reward: it is still illusory; you get there the best version of the best you had absorbed before death. It lasts as long as one’s garnered spiritual forces need in order to energise and express themselves. There is then for the Theosophist no permanent heaven nor hell: nothing finite can remain “stationary.” We do not remember our previous incarnations, for the Ego is furnished in each with a new body, brain, and memory-a clean shirt on which it were idle to look for bloodspots though the murderer may wear it.
And the “astral eidolons” of man’s lower quaternity await a “second death” meanwhile, they are but phantoms without divine or thinking elements left in them; it is these that can be magnetised towards a medium, take form within his aura (outside which they dissolve like jellyfish outside water) and live through his brain.
Now reincarnation is not in itself unthinkable: whether it takes place can be decided only by a due authority. Vague elusive impressions that “I have been here before,” “I inexplicably dislike so and so,” have no probative value of any sort: “unmerited inequalities of birth,” or physique, etc., do not need reincarnation to explain them, and men are judged according to their lives in their circumstances, and not in the air, merely according to an abstract morality: finally, if the break in my consciousness between two incarnations is complete, I am morally and practically a new person; continuity between my selves is merely mechanical; it would be immoral to punish my new self for sins committed by the old one.
Karma means the law of cause and effect working itself out deterministically, and rigorously governing the whole process of man’s existence and the series of his states. It is the Ultimate Law of the Universe, for social and national Karmas grow out of the aggregate of individual ones (Key, pp. 198-215). It leaves then no room for regret, hope, repentance, atonement, or prayer.
” ‘We do not believe in vicarious atonement, nor in the possibility of the remission of the smallest sin by any god. What we believe in is strict and impartial justice. [This is the sense in which Karma is “Relative and Distributive,” a law of readjustment giving back Harmony (which is synonymous with Good) to the world.] There is no repentance’ (here we resume H. P. B.’s assertions in standard works): no ‘casting our sins at the foot of the Cross.’
” ‘There is no destiny but what we ourselves determine; no salvation or condemnation except what we ourselves bring about.’ Weak natures may accept the ‘easy truth of vicarious atonement, intercession, forgiveness.’ The Ego, then, becomes its own saviour in each world and incarnation (Key, p. 155). Christianity does but introduce one external, miraculous, and therefore unmoral Saviour.
“Hence prayer especially is idle.
” ‘Do you ever pray?’ the Theosophist is asked. ‘We do not, we act.’ ‘Pray?’ (Buddhists would exclaim) ‘to whom? or to what?’ (And yet they are confessedly far more virtuous than Christians.) To ask for help from Christ were ‘moral idleness, revolting, degrading to human dignity’ (Key, pp. 66-72). It is absurd to suppose that an answer can be given to every foolish and egotistical prayer.
“Both Buddha and Christ corroborate this. Doubtless Jesus says: ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (that of “Christ” H. P. B.), that will I do’; but this, interpreted esoterically, means Christ = Buddhi-Manas = Self. The only God we must recognize and pray to, or rather act in union with, is that Spirit of God of which our body is the temple” (ibid.).
Free Will is certainly the greatest mystery of human life, and no metaphor drawn from the mechanistic universe around us can properly describe it, though we have a direct consciousness of it. The history of Theosophy, in this matter, has been a desperate effort to reconcile the doctrine of Karma with free will.
We are told that we can “choose” to alter the tendency due to some wrong act; but that very choice is as much dictated by one’s Karma as the wrong act was-each is the necessary result of what preceded it.
Do what I will, I cannot see any reason, offered by Theosophists, for denying that Karma is a doctrine of fatalism and, quite logically, involves a rejection of merit, reward, or punishment, all of which flow no less logically from a belief in the radical freedom of the will. Karma offered as an explanation of an undoubted mystery annihilates the possibility of choice.
H. P. B., therefore, by Prayer, “will-prayer,” “internal command” to “our Father in heaven” in its esoteric sense, is but an inevitable communing with self, i.e., the core of self, and a “suggestion” administered to all the outer selves. All men (Christ included) have Divinity more or less dormant within them. Wake it up! Or rather when because of Karma, it inevitably starts to wake up, your prayer will become less of a petition from a man, that an angel could grant, than-just God talking to Himself.
Theosophy tends towards a “social,” non-self-regarding Ethic, with a sort of mechanical justice because everything, in the long run, is one. The Theosophist will therefore de-animalise the body, but not injure it-especially by abstinence from meat, alcohol and marriage, by breathing exercises accompanied by noble thoughts:
“I breathe the breath of Life: I send love to all mankind. I breathe the life-dispensing ether: I send forth thoughts of life for all mankind. I breathe the eternal movement of the divine life; I send wishes for health for all mankind. I breathe the universal Life Spirit, full of strength: And deny all weakness of Life and of the Soul.” And so on, ending, for Amen, “So breathes every man that is born of God.”
But there are no hard and fast rules for behaviour, and all such practices are “esoteric,” the Enlightened seeing that there is but one soul in all, and refusing to sacrifice the life even of beast or fish. We are not told what to do about vegetables. The essence therefore of Theosophist ethic is altruism-though even this is a misnomer, since All are One, I am you, and you I. Hence, on lower planes, tolerance, social effort, forgiveness-even the supreme sacrifice made by those who put off their Nirvana so as to help others. We refer, for Nirvana, to Essay No.6, since Theosophists, while rightly refusing to call it annihilation, or to admit Pantheism, have added nothing to an explanation of what it is.
It would then seem that Theosophy, confronting the immemorial problem set by the coexistence of the individual and society, and the fact that the former can never cease to be an individual yet reaches his perfection only in “society,” have, by their habitual looseness of talk, modifications of doctrine to suit their audiences, and personal impressionisms, complicated that problem not a little, save when they have destroyed it by teaching a fatalistic Karma, which explains nothing, either as to origin or end, let alone as to route.
Theosophy and Religions
Buddhism and Spiritualism
Theosophy professes to be the ancient wisdom allegedly lying behind all philosophies and religions. But it has been so strongly coloured with Indian expressions that it is often confused with Buddhism, and Buddhism (as in Ceylon) has been much used by Theosophists for political and nationalist purposes.
Col. Olcott, by the way, had been King Asoka in a previous incarnation, and H. P. B. (Key, pp. 12-15) considers even the “dead letter” of southern Buddhism to be far grander, nobler, more philosophical and scientific than that of any other religion.
In India, theosophy was given a Brahman colour, and Mrs. Besant fought bitterly against Catholic missionaries, being indeed received as an incarnation of the goddess Sarasvati, goddess of science, wife of Brahma, Christ being, she said, an incarnation of Vishnu.11 Enough to say that Theosophy would disdain to be linked with Spiritualism, though H. P. B. allows a certain amount of credibility to spiritualist “phenomena” provided the spiritualist explanations be not admitted. She regards such phenomena as proper to one of the lower ranges of occult science, a science singularly apt to be misused for selfish ends.
Theosophists made much more of phenomena at first than they do now: H. S. O. was in fact converted from Spiritism because he saw spiritist phenomena equalled and transcended at will and in broad daylight by H. P. B. and eastern adepts. He gives examples in Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science, p. 251. Whatever be the facts about Theosophist “miracles,” it must be noticed that they differ from those of the Gospels and of Catholic history at large, in origin, nature, moral and spiritual setting and consequences, and probative value.
We mentioned above (p. 2) the Coulomb scandal, information about which exists in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. iii., parts vii., ix., pp. 201-400. Mme. Coulomb said that H. P. B. faked her “phenomena” H. P. B. said that all the letters alleged by Mme. Coulomb to have been written by her were forgeries. A. B. says that they could not possibly have been written by her, because they are “uneducated,” whereas H. P. B. was “brilliant, however familiar and conversational.” To others they seem exactly in H. P. B.’s style.
H. P. B. repudiated the accusation, in the undisputed words subjoined, which sufficiently show her style: –
“I swear by the Master whom I serve faithfully, and for the sake of carrying whose orders I suffer now, let Him curse me in the future birth, aye, in a dozen of births, if I have ever done anything on my own hook, if I have ever written one line of these infernal letters And if the only person I believe implicitly on earth-Master-came and told me I had, then I would lay it at his door; for nothing and no one in this world could have taken away the recollection of that deed-that idiotic and insane deed-from my brain and memory but Himself-so you had better shut up and ask Him. The idea of it! Had I been such an ass. . . .” etc.
H. S. O. prevented Mme. Blavatsky from prosecuting for libel the Christian College Magazine, Madras, which had published the letters, just as she was stopped from prosecuting Hodgson when he called her a Russian spy.
When Theosophists speak well of Christianity it must be firmly remembered that they do so at the cost of denying its absolute, final, and unique validity, and of detecting in it an esoteric doctrine which Christians are ignorant of or deny. Mrs. Besant finds (rather like Modernists) a way of using the terms “Trinity,” and “Redemption,” but also of holding that in “all religions of the world” the Second Person of her Trinity somehow incarnates Himself and that Christ is adored by the Hindu as Vishnu.
This is the bad old system of amateurish comparative religion, which vaguely identified, or interconnected, the stories of Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, and Christ. It has no scientific value nor ever had, but was current in Mrs. Besant’s middle life. Mrs. Besant, in Esoteric Christianity (1901) said that Comparative Mythologists derived their “similarities” in religion from a common trunk-human ignorance: and Comparative Religionists also did so from a common trunk-Divine Wisdom.
Supreme Teachers, possessed of the whole Wisdom, doled it out, though reluctantly (pearls before swine) to inferior men, Paul, the Great Initiate, for example, saying he gave them but milk, and insisting much on the “mystery” that was his to impart. (We say curtly, that what St. Paul meant was that divine revelation hitherto believed to be given by God to the Jews only was as a matter of fact, for all men, and that he in particular was “apostle to the Gentiles.” (see Essay No. 21, p. 31).
Relying on some worthless Gnostic work, but above all on clairvoyance, she and H. P. B. know that the Roman Church really considers Christ as the Gnostics did, i.e., as chief of the Aeons. Of the iniquitous Roman distorters of theosophic truth, need we say that the Jesuits are the worst (A. B., in the Theosophist, January, 1913, p. 481, etc.). “Money is poured out like water; one day’s post brings attacks from Rome, from Stockholm, Hong Kong.” Since the Masters confessedly convey their instruction in a shell of myth, we need not suppose that A. B. believed all, or any, of this.
What is clear about most Theosophists that I have read is that they neither had, nor have, any knowledge of the ordinary doctrine of the Catholic Church (open to all, not to an elite); that they originally drew their notions about it from the worst version of Christianity supplied (as apparently it still is) by the Middle West of the U.S.A., and that they utilised the shockingly bad religious history of the period in which modern Theosophy blossomed in order to speak of Isis, Buddha, and what not in connection with Christianity, and, that they have never learnt anything ever since.
A. B. therefore borrows a historical, a mythical, and a mystical “Jesus” from other writers; considers that the historical Jesus was born 105 B.C., became an Essene monk, studied Indian occultist books, travelled into Egypt and at 29, surrendered his body to a Buddha of Compassion, who entered it at the Baptism. The man Jesus in his human body suffered for the services rendered to its superhuman occupant. Gradually a “myth” crystallised around this, the husk of legend being identical all over the world.
The Mystical Christ is the Logos, crucified (i.e., extended throughout matter) and, equally, the divine spark in man. Mr. Kingsland, in his Esoteric Basis of Christianity, and Mr. Leadbeater, in his Christian Creed, respectively prepare the way for follies of this sort by declaring that science has destroyed the credibility of the historic Bible and that clairvoyance reveals the “inner meaning” of the Creed.
Others interpret the Catholic ritual “esoterically,” seldom, we may mention, describing it accurately.
The Catholic Church has never admitted that it has an esoteric and an exoteric doctrine, suitable to the few and the more crass of Christians. St. Paul’s doctrine of “mystery” has, of course, nothing to do with any such thing. The “disciplina arcani” is a special subject and has nothing to do with a special lore, and the term in fact appears to have been invented about 1750 by a Protestant.
In a word, Theosophic treatment of Christianity has nothing historical to recommend it: on the contrary, it is historically inexcusable, unless of course you resort to clairvoyant knowledge which cannot be tested by anyone. If it be said that those who claim to possess it “know” that they do so possess it, one can only say that the material they offer as the result of their knowledge, while containing elaborate descriptions of alleged mental and other conditions, explains none of them, and is exhibited with a vulgarity such that one hardly knows to whom these writers can be speaking, and, that there is nothing in the ethical character of Theosophist protagonists, as discernible in their writings or lives, that would tempt anyone for one moment to attach any significance to their assertions.
There are certain vast problems that have tormented mankind ever since it began to reflect. Such are the existence and nature of God and the extent to which man can know Him: the origin and destiny of human life: the relation of the “one” to the “many”: the extent to which man can term himself free, or again, immortal. Human intelligence cannot form complete ideas about all of this nor can it know all that has happened in the past, or will yet happen.
Human curiosity has, however, loved to speculate upon such matters; and we feel human vanity has recurrently wished to flatter itself and impress others by alleging that it possesses all such knowledge, or at least more of it than other people do. It is into this category of “knowers” that Theosophy enters.
Unfortunately H. P. B. and A. B. lived at a time when there was an outburst of new human knowledge, and an accumulation of intriguing books, especially about ancient religions, full of the most unsifted and now discarded information. Intoxicated by this, they made use of all of it, and bequeathed their damnosa haereditas to their successors.
However since all such things are, or should be, logically held by them to be illusory and as false as they are true, and anyhow conveyed to the world by a method of knowing that the world cannot share, yet without any guarantee for the method, we are justified in regarding them, as a rule, as an amateurish and indeed disgusting mismanagement of ancient philosophies and myth, a realm into which quite untrained minds like those of H. P. B. and A. B. and their subordinates e.asperatingly intruded themselves. Yet the will to seek and the effort to know are to be respected: we can but regret the addition of so much confusion into English and American minds, themselves as a rule so untrained.
1 Theosophy, Religion, and Occult Science, 1885, p. 246.
2 Key to Theosophy, 1890, pp. 215,288-303.
3 Introd. a La Theosophie, tr., Paris, 1903, p. 20.
4 T.P.S., 1907; it is based on Mrs. Besant’s Ancient Wisdom, reprinted in 1922, and a handy textbook for reference. It is increasingly the fashion to suggest that the existence of “Masters” is but one theory to account for the underlying “unity” of religions, etc.
5 Arnould, pp. 17-19. But H. P. B. calls Alexander (Key, p. 289) “a drunken soldier.”
6 So “Hera,” in Le Lotus Bleu for Sept., 1904,pp.193-199.
7 pp. 10-20. “If human evidence can ever substantiate a fact, the appearance (and therefore existence) of the Masters is placed beyond the possibility of a doubt.”
8 P.S.P.R., 1891, ix. p. 312.
9 Month, 1892, lxxiv, p. 180.
10 H. P. B., in the Glossary to Key, says Brahma’s day consists of 4,320,000,000 years. Brahma’s Age = 100 years of 3,110,400,000,000 solar years each.
11 See an account of her triumphal progress in Etudes, cxxiv., pp. 261-265, 1901: H. S. O.’s methods in Ceylon are criticised in C. F. Gordon Cumming’s Two Happy Years in Ceylon, ii., pp. 413-419.