Can Theosophy be defined? For answer, let us hear the words of H.P. Blavatsky, the chosen instrument of Adept Instructors for the restoration of the Wisdom tradition to the western world.
Impressions from Tekels Park
At the formation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, no mention was made of Theosophy in its Constitution, and the aim of the Society was expressed simply as ‘to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe’. In 1878 a fuller statement of the Society’s Objects included the first mention of a Brotherhood of Humanity, the establishment of which was clearly the intention of the Mahatmas, according to their repeated statements in the Letters. However, no official document from the Society’s founders or later administrators has yet attempted to define Theosophy.
The first exposition of theosophical ideas came with the publication in 1877 of the two volumes of Isis Unveiled. This vast compilation, whose production engaged the assistance of six or more of H.P.B.’s Teachers, includes references to some thirteen hundred other works. It explores the esoteric or occult side of the world’s religions, philosophies and fields of scientific knowledge. Indeed, according to its Dedication, such exploration was the purpose of the Society’s formation two years earlier. As yet, however, the name of Theosophy had not been applied to ‘the fundamental principles of a the oriental philosophy’ summarised in the final chapter of the work.
Since the middle years of the nineteenth century, interest in spiritualism had spread rapidly, and now H.P.B. was presenting explanations of phenomena from the occult point of view which were quite at variance with the then accepted ideas. By the time the founders arrived in India, misconceptions about the nature of Theosophy were already so prevalent that ‘a journal devoted to an exposition of the world’s Theosophy’ had become a necessity (C.W.II, pp 87 et seq.) The Theosophist was launched in October 1879. In its first issue, H.P.B. expressly addresses the question ‘What is Theosophy?’ Here, after referring to various esoteric systems in which, before the Christian era, the theosophical principles were taught in Egypt, India and Greece, she introduces several definitions, elaborating them to show the doctrines they embraced:
Theosophy is, then the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization. (page 89)
[Theosophy] is belief in the Deity as the ALL, the source of all existence, the infinite that cannot be either comprehended or known, the universe alone revealing IT ... (page 91)
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 carries 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. (page 92)
Theosophy is the exact science of psychology, so to say; it stands in relation to natural, uncultivated mediumship as the knowledge of a Tyndall stands to that of a schoolboy in physics. (page 95)
And in a later article in The Theosophist, she insists:
The conditions under which ‘the great Knowledge’ - as the Mahatma K.H. calls it - was acquired and transmitted are clearly stated in a long article on ‘Theosophy and Spiritism’ published in the Société Scientifique d’Études Psychologiques in Paris. Referring to the difference between the knowledge of an Initiate or Adept and that obtained from ‘spirits’ at sГ©ances, H.P.B. asserts that the Initiates have the great advantage of not needing to avail themselves of ‘discarnate spirits or their “shells”’. For the Adepts, she says,
In 1880 there had begun the exchange of letters between the English journalist A.P. Sinnett and A.O. Hume, a senior government official, and the two Mahatmas known by the initials K.H. and M. The correspondence, which was to last for four years in the case of Sinnett but for only one year with his friend, developed from questions by the two Englishmen on different aspects of the occult philosophy. From the answers he received, sinnett put together, in The Occult World, an account of the phenomena that surrounded H.P.B. in the early years of the Society, together with an initial outline of the theosophical system. Then in Esoteric Buddhism he presented a fuller account of the teachings he had received in the letters of the Mahatmas.
Meanwhile, through articles in The Theosophist and other magazines, H.P.B. was continuing to elucidate the teachings embraced by the term Theosophy. She calls attention to the ethical preparation that alone can fit one to approach its eternal verities, for ‘purity of deed and thought can alone raise us to an intercourse “with the gods” and attain for us the goal we desire.’ (Collected Writings of H.P.Blavatsky, Volume II, page 96) The widespread confusion that associated Theosophy with sectarian religion aroused her vigorous protest and led her once more to attempt a definition. In a long article in Lucifer in 1888, under the title ‘Is Theosophy a Religion?’, she explores the meaning of both words:
When this article appeared, The Secret Doctrine had just been published. In its Introductory section, we find some twenty or so terms used as synonymous with Theosophy. These include the term used as the title of H.P.B.’s great work itself - the Secret Doctrine - and such others as the Wisdom-Religion, Archaic Science, Occult Philosophy and a dozen more. The sub-title of the work, ‘The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy’, shows clearly how she identified Theosophy with the Secret Doctrine as doctrine, that is, as a distinctive body of teaching, as is further borne out in the text: ‘The Secret Doctrine teaches ...’, ‘Esoteric Philosophy teaches ...’, ‘The Doctrine teaches ..’, ‘The Occultists assert that ...’
In the Summing Up at the end of the first part of The Secret Doctrine, she informs the reader that as a whole, neither the foregoing nor what follows can be found in full anywhere. It is not taught in any of the six Indian schools of philosophy, for it pertains to their synthesis - the seventh, which is the occult doctrine. (Secret Doctrine, Volume I, page 269) The grand definition that follows repeats with important additions the assertions made in the French article quoted above concerning the conditions under which the Adepts acquired their knowledge:
It was to study and disseminate these teachings that the Theosophical Society was founded. That is how H.P.B. saw its purpose when she dedicated the volumes of Isis Unveiled to the Theosophical Society to study the subjects on which they treat. A similar view is expressed in her last work, The Key to Theosophy, where she says that the Society was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities. (page 57)
Throughout this exploration of the question ‘Can Theosophy be defined?, the attentive reader will have noted not only H.P.B.’s several definitions but also her use of such words as knowledge, wisdom, science, doctrine, which must preclude as untenable the unfortunately widespread misconception, even within the Theosophical Society, that Theosophy cannot be defined or that it is more or less what one likes to think it is, a matter for speculation, belief or personal opinion. Our study shows that the eternal verities embraced in the word Theosophy relate to the origins of everything, including ourselves, the cyclic law observable in the operations of Nature, the occult constitution of man and the cosmos and consequently the facts concerning death and the future evolution of mankind. The student who discovers something of what Theosophy is may recognize that it must include all that is in the Society’s Objects. He may even see the desirability of adding a Fourth Object.,
To encourage the study of Theosophy and to disseminate a knowledge of it throughout the world.
After all, is not this implied in H.P.B.’s Dedication to The Key to Theosophy?