HOW IS THEOSOPHY DIFFERENT?
In these latter days Theosophy as such, i.e. as given us by the Masters directly or through H.P. Blavatsky (H.P.B.), is seldom seriously studied. These original teachings have become ousted by or confused with later teachings, mostly personalised views but some claiming direct inspiration from a Master or Masters. Those who subscribe to these later teachings are content that they have authentic material. That there are radical differences between their views and Theosophy proper could for them be somewhat disquieting but for the most part they are ignorant of the differences.
So what does Theosophy have that the others have not? First, we must understand it as a great outpouring at the end of the nineteenth century of some knowledge of true Occultism or aspects of the Wisdom Religion, of which some parts had never before in the history of the worlds been made public. The release of information was against the tenets and beliefs of established religious teachings, philosophies, and even scientific writings at that time. The religious systems then existing contained, amongst the teachings of the world religions the great scriptures of India. There had been centuries of traditional teaching by gurus in the Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Zoroastrian and Jain modes for centuries if not millennia. In one way or another scripture and those of some other religions included ideas of a transcendental Deity, reincarnation, and Karma, particularly as it related to individual men. The Great World Teachers were true mystics and in their schools and ashrams brought many hundreds of aspirants to various degrees of enlightenment - even up to the highest.
Many members of the Theosophical Society would argue that surely these teachings are sufficient, and that they are the be-all and end-all of Theosophy, but are they?
Against this historical background let us see what happened at the end of the nineteenth century. We all know that at that time there was a considerable and widespread interest in spiritualism, of which there were various branches. Some were concerned only with the phenomena, others attempted to establish some kind of religious system which, at any rate superficially, demonstrated survival after death. These ideas were merged with those of the then traditional ideas of anthropomorphic Deity, particularly prominent in the current ideas on heaven. There were also some ‘occult’ or secret societies, all operating independently of one another and each with its characteristic literature, teachings and practices.
Amongst all this came the founding of the Theosophical Society and slowly the introduction of the idea of the Masters of the Wisdom, by way of letters and articles by H.P.B. In 1877 came the publication of Isis Unveiled, an enormous work of two volumes of over 600 pages each. These volumes comprised a whole series of articles of esoteric flavour introducing ideas which had never so far been publicly discussed. Against a background of enormous knowledge these articles introduced the reader to aspects of Occultism with its application to the then extant philosophies, science and religion, but they added a new dimension to all these.
After 1877 H.P.B. wrote further articles and letters. The articles have been collected together and published in the Collected Writings series edited by Boris de Zirkoff. There are fourteen volumes and an index. The content of these voluminous writings ranges over the whole variety of subjects in which there was general enquiry from many people in the literary, religious and scientific fields. In particular there was much that was specific about Theosophy as such and its newly formed Society. Some of the latter material is couched in very inspirational terms, as anyone familiar with the content of these writings will know.
Amongst other things H.P.B. gave out for the first time a proper explanation of spiritualistic phenomena based on the esoteric structure of the cosmic scene, information about which had never before been made public. This was supplemented by information on the hierarchies of beings and planes of Nature. The writings also contain much guidance on the moral path. Some of the ‘dark’ sayings of Jesus including his parables are explained in the light of Esotericism which sheds a completely new light on them. The writings discussed in detail not only the obvious but the obscure aspects of Christianity and other religions; there were articles on the Kabala, Rosicrucianism, Masonry and other such topics, all against a background of an emerging occult view not included in traditional writings.
Whilst H.P.B. was engaged on this work Mr A.P. Sinnett was receiving from the Master K.H. a series of over 100 letters (with a few from the Master M.) setting out the framework of a whole new philosophy which the profane world had so far never had. These letters included not only specific information about Rounds and Races and the great cycles of existence which set the stage for our present cosmic scene including the coming into being of our earth but they gave a detailed description which had never been made public before of the after-death states and processes.
The Letters include the sevenfold classification of man’s principles later used by H.P.B. in The Key to Theosophy (published 1889). These not only lay down and described the elements of man’s inner being but established a nomenclature, and an enumeration of the principles which is used throughout the vast theosophical literature. These Letters finished in about 1885 and thereafter, apart from H.P.B.’s articles, no major outpouring of theosophical knowledge direct from the Masters was made. [Editor: The letters were not publically published until the 1924 edition of The Mahatma Letters to A.P.Sinnett. (It is a matter of conjecture what an earlier publication date may have had on the post-Blavatsky Theosophical Society, which adopted numerous teachings at stark variance to the letters). The included letters were received mainly from H. P. Blavatsky’s two Adept Teachers in answer to questions put to them mainly by A. P. Sinnett with some by A. O. Hume. It is the source of the essential principles of the subjects elaborated and disseminated in all Blavatsky’s writings. The letters include commentaries on science and provide a wealth of philosophical and metaphysical instruction in the esoteric tradition – such as the unfolding of cosmos, planetary schemes, evolution of man, constitution of man, after-death states, levels of consciousness, electricity and magnetism, and the nature of matter.]
[Geoffrey in The Vision, link an article first published in 'The Theosophist' magazine, August 2004), wrote that “these Mahatma letters repeatedly stated that the whole purpose of the newly formed Society was to form a universal Brotherhood of Humanity. An oft quoted passage, among many others, from those letters reads as follows:
The objects of the Theosophical Society were first to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood. This was a significant statement. The Masters obviously saw that the setting up of a world-wide brotherhood under the conditions then ruling was perhaps not possible but it was perfectly feasible to create a Society of well-meaning persons who would get together and form a nucleus of such a brotherhood.
Further, in the letters there is reference to the fact that the Brotherhood of which the two Masters who founded the Society were members was already operating with ramifications world-wide. The members of that Brotherhood were Adept Initiates, with remarkable knowledge and powers, which however, for the safety of humanity at large, they kept to themselves. Such knowledge and powers could only be acquired by much effort and sacrifice over many lives.
There was no reason, however, why the idea of a Universal Brotherhood should not be widely promulgated to engender feelings of friendliness and cooperation between peoples in place of all too common competition and strife.” Editor: It can easily be argued that the emphasis on Brotherhood - without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour - as stated in the Theosophical Society first object, was - coming, as it did, at the end of the nineteenth century - , a significant contribution to human thought. Although ‘brotherhoods’ had previously existed, they were of a fraternal nature, and not universal.]
The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, a book originally published as two volumes in 1888, is H.P. Blavatsky's magnum opus. The first volume is named Cosmogenesis, the second Anthropogenesis. The first volume significantly expanded what was then extant by way of the exoteric Eastern religious literature. The ‘creation’ theme, the nature of the Absolute was dealt with in a way that had not been done before: the idea of there being two Unities, one the unmanifest (the Absolute) and the other the periodically manifest one (the ONE ALL) which forms the basis of all existence; as some would have it, the total cosmic Maya. The Secret Doctrine goes on to explain how everything thereafter comes to be and to be as it is. This account has regard to the Eastern teaching but expands it by explaining the nature and function of the Elementals.
All this becoming of the One Life by way of infinity of forms of life is all according to the directions of the One Universal Divine Law, eternally operative. This Law includes all that has been said about the law of Karma in other religious works but it clarifies many of its aspects and exposes much erroneous thinking. Closely coupled with the workings of the Law in its many aspects is reincarnation; a proper understanding of which involves knowledge of the sevenfold constitution of man.
In Anthropogenesis the whole evolutionary process of life on our earth is unfolded with particular reference to man. This information is much misunderstood by those students who try to regard all that is said in The Secret Doctrine as applicable only to the physical plane. It is this which science is specifically investigating, whereas The Secret Doctrine deals with life on the inner planes of existence and these planes correspond exactly to the ‘principles’ of man’s constitution. The cosmic process of Life ever-becoming is unimaginably long, in terms of earth time many millions of years. It is the story of the evolution of its various forms on various globes in subjective as well as objective realms, and over periods of time never dreamt of by orthodox science. All this information was absolutely new when it was divulged on the world scene.
Towards the end of her life H.P.B. wrote The Key to Theosophy, a summary in brief question and answer form of an outline of Theosophy, stressing its practical applications. She followed this quickly with The Voice of the Silence, a unique book of instruction for the serious aspirant.
What has been said above is merely to whet the appetites of students who would explore the depths of our theosophical teachings. It must be remembered that the advent of Theosophy in these terms was a world event. Never before in the world’s history had such information been made available generally to the public. Another unique feature about this outpouring was that it was given out by the Masters concerned either by themselves or produced under their direction by H.P.B. who from about the age of 40 until she died, devoted her whole life to the task. This involved an enormous sacrifice of health and for various reasons, happiness. The story of her writing these enormous works is an epic well worth studying.
A major point to be borne in mind is that never before had the inner hierarchy ever themselves made so much information directly available. No other teacher had ever written anything, and what we have of their teachings was taken down by their followers and published later. In the case of Theosophy we have the literature produced actually by them and that in itself makes it unique.
From the start some Indian pundits opposed the writing of The Secret Doctrine (see Volume I, Introduction, by Boris de Zirkoff, pp 45-96). This may have had Karmic results; for example, The Secret Doctrine has not been translated into an Indian language and so is not studied there. They have their initiated Brahmins but they are under a vow of secrecy so The Secret Doctrine is little known in the East.