Modern Theosophy - Origins and Intentions
THE ORIGINS OF MODERN THEOSOPHICAL LITERATURE AND THE INTENTIONS BEHIND THE FOUNDING OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
THE CORNER STONE
But you must know and remember one thing; we but follow and servilely copy nature in her works ... [K.H. in M.L.12]
In a number of places in the original classical theosophical literature the intentions for the Theosophical Society are set forth by either H.P.B. or the Masters themselves. In a communication received by Mr Sinnett through the Master K.H. there is a message from the Maha Chohan, his Chief, which came at the beginning of the lengthy correspondence that the Masters K.H. and M. had with him. The date of it is 1881. This significant communication contains the following sentence:
The Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner-stone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity.
And in a letter generally acknowledged as the last to come from the Master K.H. received in 1900 by Annie Besant there are the following words:
The T.S. was meant to be the corner stone of the future religions of
Importantly also, in several other places, e.g., The Key to Theosophy, not only the intentions for the Theosophical Society but its relationship to Theosophy are very clearly stated. So far in the history of the Society very little attention has been paid to its role as corner stone in the sense used by the Masters. It is, however, obviously of the utmost importance. As to future religions, let us consider ...
WHAT IS RELIGION?
Religion may be considered under two aspects: the first is that which relates to the divine spiritual nature of man which is inseparable from that of Nature herself or of the Cosmos; the second is the means by which the teachings and practices of religion are made available to mankind generally. Theosophy corresponds to the first of these and the Theosophical Society to the second.
The Masters reiterate again and again that they want a universal brotherhood of humanity founded. They see in this the prime means of alleviating the sufferings of the millions of people on the earth. They are equally clear as to how much of this suffering arises. It is through man's institutional religions and what they called 'the sacerdotal caste', priests etc.
Most people have been brought up in a religion. This they regard as sacred; its principal beliefs and tenets they regard as unalterable and their idea of God is the most sacred of their beliefs. They have been taught from childhood that faith in God and their religious usages, both unchallengeable, are the backbone not only of their religion but of their lives.
As a result a mind-set has grown up world-wide based on the idea that
there is a Deity in some form or another amenable or susceptible to supplication
and with various other attributes. These attributes are modelled on those
of ordinary human beings, but much enhanced, and by way of them Deity
is put into an understandable relationship with men.
Once unfettered and delivered from their dead weight, dogmatic interpretations, personal names, anthropomorphic conceptions and salaried priests, the fundamental doctrines of all religions will be proved identical in their esoteric meaning.
The gist of what the Masters are here pointing out is that the Gods of religious institutions are man-made and have no existence apart from the ideas that men hold about them.
Nothing here said, however, questions the validity of genuine mystical experience. What it does call into question are superstitious beliefs based on dogma, again all man-made, and the religious institutions, together with many of their rituals, ceremonies and even scriptures. Scriptures are obviously also man-made, even though some of them may have been inspired by genuine religious sages. Nevertheless, they are written words which in many cases in religious books have been much translated and corrupted by alteration. Many of their passages are also subject to interpretation and it is the priests who take it upon themselves to do this interpreting. They have to do this according to the dogma and doctrines of their particular religion.
The general religious scene, therefore, is one of diversity not only as between the major religions but even the sects within them. It is these differences that cause so much strife and misery to humankind, large sections of which are imprisoned in beliefs which conflict with those of others. Much worse is that their adherents are prepared to hurt, maim or even kill those who disagree with them. This can even reflect into national attitudes. A Master writes:
They [examples of real phenomena] have to prove both destructive and constructive - destructive in the pernicious errors of the past, in the old creeds and superstitions which suffocate in their poisonous embrace like the Mexican weed nigh all mankind; but constructive of new institutions of a genuine, practical Brotherhood of Humanity where all will become co-workers of nature, will work for the good of mankind with and through the higher planetary Spirits - the only "Spirits" we believe in. [M.L., 12]
THE CORNER STONE AND THEOSOPHY
It is very clear from the above statements that the 'corner stone' as represented either by the Theosophical Society or its teachings was not meant to be a restatement or a reshaping of the old religions. Whatever was to be put forward as religious teachings was to be radically different from what had gone before. It was not to be a continuation of the old institutions nor of the 'sacerdotal caste' by way of any hierarchical structure of a professional priesthood.
We have an idea of the form things were to take from what we were told
of the nature of the Theosophical Society and the teaching it was to promulgate.
For example, there is a very fine description of this in The Key to Theosophy
(Orig. Ed., 57):
In The Key to Theosophy (Orig. Ed., 58/9) there is the statement 'that all the great religions are derived from Theosophy'. And, it is added,
... our Theosophical Society is the humble seed which, if watered and left to live, will finally produce the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which is grafted on the Tree of Life Eternal. For it is only by studying the various great religions and philosophies of humanity, by comparing them dispassionately and with an unbiased mind, that men can hope to arrive at truth.... For no sooner do we arrive - either by study, or by being taught by someone who knows - at their inner meaning, than we find, almost in every case, that it expresses some great truth in Nature.
THE CORNER STONE AND NATURE
Whereas obviously the Society was intended to be the vehicle by which
Theosophy would be made known to the world, the epithets used to describe
Theosophy give us a clue as to its nature, and the expression 'eternal
verities' indicates that it pertains to Nature and her laws, unalterable
during a manvantara, or period of manifest existence.
Not in the sense of Natus "born" but Nature as the sum total of everything visible and invisible, of forms and minds, the aggregate of the known (and unknown) causes and effects, the universe, in short, infinite and uncreated and endless, as it is without a beginning. [M.L.65]
These are big concepts and their meaning is not immediately obvious. However, we get a clue as to what is intended from what Theosophy teaches us of the vast cyclic journey of Life through the kingdoms of Nature not only on our objective physical world but on its six inner subjective planes. This is the totality of the natural process from which nothing can possibly be excluded. Mankind collectively and each individual person at all levels of being is necessarily included.
It is this vast scheme of manifest existence which is the subject of the extensive and profound writings of H.P.B. and the Masters. It is these to which the Society is heir. It is also the Society's duty to let the existence of the teaching be known. The whole trend of the teaching is that of progressive evolutionary development, or as the teaching has it, life ever-becoming. This is the grand process of Nature wherein everything is moving on by stages to a state of perfection. The perfectibility of man is a prime tenet of the teaching.
In the Preface to The Secret Doctrine it says:
The aim of this work may be thus stated: to show that Nature is not "a fortuitous concurrence of atoms", and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe; to rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions; and to uncover, to some extent, the fundamental unity from which they all spring; finally, to show that the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the Science of modern civilization.
These statements put man inextricably in close relationship to Nature, of which he is himself not only a derivative but a reflection of the whole, regarded, however, as a separate unit. His whole nature derives from Nature and the very essence of his being is the same as that of Nature herself. This essence of course is the Divine Universal Spirit; as a principle, not as an entity.
Nature as the vehicle for the process of the progressive development of spiritual potentiality, not only in man but eventually in all things and creatures, is fundamental to future religions. Whatever form religions take must ultimately be referred back to Nature as the only bedrock foundation. This is the fundamental thesis of the 'Corner Stone' idea, however many variations of it that may have to be made to accommodate differences of culture, race and language.
Nature is the sum of things as they are, as they have become as a result of the processes of evolution, of the law in operation, up to now and as they will be by those same processes in the future. The inner constituent elements of anything in existence have their being in the invisible realms of Nature, in the causative regions which correspond to man's subjective being. The underlying structure of Cosmos with its several planes of being and consciousness, and its functioning through a whole series of lives in an infinite variety of forms in a hierarchical order, is explained.
Writing about the content of The Secret Doctrine, H.P.B. says:
... it was necessary to show that no religion, since the very earliest, has ever been based on fiction, as none was the object of special revelation; and that it is dogma alone which has ever been killing primeval truth. Finally, that no human-born doctrine, no creed, however sanctified by custom and antiquity, can compare in sacredness with the religion of Nature. The Key of Wisdom that unlocks the massive gates leading to the arcana of the innermost sanctuaries can be found hidden in her bosom only;... [S.D.II, 797]
Humanity is the child of cyclic Destiny, and not one of its Units can escape its unconscious mission, or get rid of the burden of its co-operative work with nature. Thus will mankind, race after race, perform its appointed cycle-pilgrimage. Climates will, and have already begun, to change, each tropical year after the other dropping one sub-race, but only beget another higher race on the ascending cycle;... [S.D.II, 446]
Whereas in written scriptures, into the words of which we have to put the meaning ourselves (words as symbols or just spoken sounds have no meaning in themselves), Nature speaks to us directly. But we have to learn to listen. Further, she needs no interpreters. Her scripts and texts cannot be altered by translation, mistake or design, nor go out of date in style or language. She is always essentially the same even if continually changing in the large or small cycle of time.
There is one eternal Law in nature, one that always tends to adjust contraries and to produce final harmony. It is owing to this law of spiritual development superseding the physical and purely intellectual, that mankind will become freed from its false gods, and find itself finally - SELF-REDEEMED. [S.D.II, 420]
There have been nature religions in the past, perhaps some persist up to now, as for example that of the North American Indians, but these, while being of a mystical order, are primitive. Men living with Nature come to know and respect her: they realize their intimate affinity with her. The Nature religion of Theosophy, however, while leading to the same mystical experience, is underpinned by the great complex knowledge of the theosophical teachings concerning the nature of Nature given us by the Masters.
The truth of our doctrines rests on their philosophy and on facts of nature. [C.W.VIII, 73]
THE NATURE OF NATURE
The radical unity of the ultimate essence of each constituent part of compounds in Nature - from Star to mineral Atom, from the highest Dhyani-Chohan to the smallest infusoria, in the fullest acceptation of the term, and whether applied to the spiritual, intellectual, or physical worlds - this is the one fundamental law in Occult Science. [S.D.I, 120]
How are those millions of us now normally almost completely divorced from Nature to remake her acquaintance? Firstly by having her existence brought to mind. The plain statement that we are natural beings can start a process. We can also realize that our children, our parents, our loved ones, are natural beings; they are products of the natural process. We can have our attention directed again to the great outdoors, the infinitely rich natural scene. We can come to realize the nature of Nature herself by direct observation. We can learn to understand Nature by the law of analogy, as is the small, so is the great. What applies on the grand, the world scale applies also at human and even lower levels.
We can come to feel, from our own heartbeats and in-breathing and out-breathing, something of the rhythms of Nature which in one way or another apply to everything. All things come and go according to their season. They all enjoy periods of rest and activity, sleeping and waking, and ultimately of life and death.
By observing Nature in its various modes and moods we can see that everything, of whatever form or magnitude, quality or characteristic, is manifestating an aspect of Life, the One Life. Nature is a totality with an all-inclusive self-sustaining economy wherein everything sustains everything else. Man, deriving ever aspect of his being from her, is inescapably immersed in Nature. There is no other source of being for him or anything else.
The really concerned student will somehow find the genuine literature descriptive of what goes on behind the scenes of objective existence and be able to relate it to what he can see or deduce. We have also to realize that, however processed, formed or modified it may be in its manufacture, everything we have or use ultimately comes from Nature as raw material.
Logical and scientific observation of the phenomena in Nature, which alone leads man to the knowledge of eternal truths - provided he approaches the threshold of observation unbiased by preconception and sees with his spiritual eye before he looks at things from their physical aspect - does not lie within the province of the masses. The marvels of the One Spirit of Truth, the ever-concealed and inaccessible Deity, can be unravelled and assimilated only through Its manifestations by the secondary "Gods", Its acting powers. While the One and Universal Cause has to remain forever in abscondito, Its manifold action may be traced through the effects in Nature, the latter alone being comprehensible and manifest to average mankind, the Powers causing those effects were allowed to grow in the imagination of the populace. Ages later in the Fifth, the Aryan Race, some unscrupulous priests began to take advantage of the too easy beliefs of the people in every country, and finally raised those secondary Powers to the rank of God and Gods, thus succeeding in isolating them altogether from the One Universal Cause of all causes. [C.W.XI, 249]
In all this we need no instruction which Theosophy cannot provide. Some information, of course, is not exclusive to what we come to regard as Theosophy but Theosophy embraces all that is fact or truth. Whereas all that is said above helps us to acknowledge not only the presence of Nature but to some extent our relationship to her, this can be greatly enhanced by our study of Theosophy. As we learn something of the nature of Nature and her processes in her various aspects, our observations of her are enriched.
To begin with it may seem that the Law in its mode of alternation is only an idea, but when we see it operating in the seasons of the year the words have a deeper significance. Our knowledge of Nature thereby expands and we realize that the teachings do relate to reality, they are not merely concepts, opinions or beliefs.
MAN AND NATURE
One of the key concepts in the teachings is that of man as a duality, a spiritual entity, an Egoic individuality, on the one hand, and as a personality on the other. The three human principles comprising this Individuality correspond to the trinity of spiritual planes of Nature while the lower quaternary of personal principles corresponds to the four lower planes of manifest existence.
An understanding of the relationship between these two aspects, when studied in depth and its ramifications seen in the context of the vast evolutionary scheme, justifies Nature as being the only true basis for real religion. Our personalities, i.e. human beings at the physical level on earth during their lifetimes, are expressions of life as an invisible dynamism operating through them. While this dynamism manifests in us as the energies of life empowering and enabling us to do things with our bodies, it is also the universal spiritual energy in us. It is our consciousness itself, the very sense or feeling of life.
The theosophical teaching is that it is that which gives us a sense of 'I-ness' and continuity in life. It is a reflection, at physical level, of that spiritual principle in man and the Cosmos which, so to speak, travels through time almost endlessly projecting every few millennia or so successive personalities, all mysteriously linked together as a causative chain. It is the spiritual content of each personal life experience that feeds and nourishes the immortal or Egoic man (the Individuality) who thereby grows and develops in time into something of almost unlimited stature as a denizen of the highest of the inner worlds.
Nature has her counterparts both at the physical level and at these higher levels. In the teachings the spiritual aspects of Nature are referred to as the formless. Because they are purely subjective, they are only knowable in innermost levels of spiritual awareness. These are the truly creative levels of being, causative of effects at lower levels, whether they be in subjective or objective realms. This is the 'within' where everything arises.
During the long evolutionary processes personalities not only become more refined, enabling them to become increasingly aware of the promptings of their inner divine Egoic selves. They are then able to express in ordinary life more of the innate qualities of these Selves. They become more truly human as they become increasingly aware of an ever closer association with their divine nature, and with that of all life; particularly in the case of their fellow human beings. Nature includes all flora and fauna and their environment.
As far as our Earth is concerned the great teachings tell us of its relationship not only to its own subjective, invisible realms of being, corresponding to the invisible principles in men, but to the other planets of our system. Every aspect of man's nature was bequeathed to him by entities who in the aeons of evolutionary time have developed these characteristics, qualities and faculties, in themselves. Man is now possessed of them. He owes everything he has to those who have gone before. Nature is a beginningless, continuous process with no end, always manifesting through individual lives, which in the human kingdom are our successive worldly personalities.
THE STUDY OF NATURE
Many of these great ideas come to our attention first through books. This is the function of study. As we study we can relate what we learn directly to Nature herself. We can perceive how Nature is. We can readily accept that, even though what we learn is beyond our immediate experience, it rings true; it is feasible; it is consistent. Nature is self-consistent throughout the whole gamut of her activities. For the student who would understand, the law of analogy applies.
We can come to realize the main attributes of Nature for ourselves. Her structure is hierarchical; the same as that of man's being. His physical body is made up of atoms and molecules comprising cells, the cells themselves aggregate to form the organs of his body and the organs themselves in total constitute the organism which we see as a man or a woman. Man has a specific constitution of seven principles grouped to form three main aspects: his spiritual nature, his mento-emotional nature and his energetic physical body.
The principle of aggregation, both objective and subjective (as expanding consciousness) is universal. Theosophy further adds that each living thing of whatever magnitude has, like man, its outer and its six inner principles, which reflect the sevenfold make-up of the Cosmos.
The grand process of Nature is by law with its aspects of alternation, balance, cause and effect, from 'seed to fruit' continually repeated endlessly by cycles and at all levels of being. For man the ultimate fruit is spiritual perfection, union, after aeons of time and hundreds of successive personal lives, strung at long intervals on a thread of ever-growing wisdom, knowledge and power, with the One whence he came.
True wisdom then is to discover the nature of Nature. In effect that is what all true sages have said throughout the ages: 'Man, know thyself'. In this context it could be said that Theosophy is the science of Nature, and the above paragraphs give an outline of the main principles of that science.
... the adept sees and feels and lives in the very source of all fundamental truths - the Universal Spiritual Essence of Nature,... [M.L., 17]
THE ESSENCE OF EXPERIENCE
At this stage the culminating experiences mentioned in most classical religious scriptures are relevant: 'the Presence in the hearts of all'; 'I in you and you in me'; 'That thou art'. Some of these phrases might imply duality, e.g. 'I' and 'you', but the grand Teaching, Theosophy, is one of Unity - 'All existence is ONE THING' (Bowen Notes, 8).
The statement about the Society letting it be known that such a thing as Theosophy exists finished, as indicated above, with the sentence, 'and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities'. These eternal verities must, as we have seen, relate to the nature of Nature herself.
Real religion then is that which not only lets it be known that such a thing as Theosophy exists but also can, if an aspirant will take the necessary action, bring about a realization of man's kinship with Nature. To put it in the words of St Paul, 'the kingdom of heaven is within', within his own consciousness, not as an idea but as a state of being. Until that statement becomes a reality in consciousness, man is enjoined to live the life necessary to bring it about. Each religion has its basic ethical codes, all more or less the same. The Maha Chohan stressed Buddhism, shorn of its superstitions, as a true guide.
In her Instructions to her Inner Group H.P.B. quotes Aryasangha:
That which is neither Spirit nor Matter, neither Light nor Darkness, but is verily the container and root of these, that thou art. The Root projects at every Dawn its shadow on ITSELF, and that shadow thou callest Light and Life, O poor dead Form. (This) Life-Light streameth downwards through the stair of the seven worlds, the stair, of which each step becomes denser and darker. It is of this seven-times-seven scale that thou art the faithful climber and mirror, O little man! Thou art this, but thou knowest it not. [C.W.XII, 625]
This not only relates sevenfold man to the sevenfold nature of Cosmos but infers his progress through all states until the final realization is attained. Help and encouragement on this stair is of the nature of true religion which is referred to in the Maha Chohan's message as follows:
To be true, religion and philosophy must offer the solution of every problem. That the world is in such a bad condition morally is a conclusive evidence that none of its religions and philosophies, those of the civilized races less than any other, have ever possessed the truth. The right and logical explanations on the subject of the problems of the great dual principles - right and wrong, good and evil, liberty and despotism, pain and pleasure, egotism and altruism - are as impossible to them now as they were 1881 years ago. They are as far from the solution as they ever were; but to these there must be somewhere a consistent solution, and if our doctrines prove their competence to offer it, then the world will be quick to confess that must be the true philosophy, the true religion, the true light, which gives truth and nothing but the truth.
MAN'S IDENTITY WITH NATURE
To realize his essential identity with Nature, man's consciousness must expand to embrace as much of the universe as he can become aware of by his state of development. This process of becoming aware is that whereby man is binding himself back to all-embracing Nature in all her aspects, inwardly and outwardly. All this involves the religious practice of purification and development of spiritual faculties. It is said that the only valid way to these ends is first unselfishness (altruism) and second the intelligent and loving service of others. In other words, religious training means two things: one, the development of faculties within ourselves to perceive and respond to Nature, and two, the refinement of our physical vehicle to enable these faculties to develop. This is the religious process as it applies to each of us and which eventually fits us to be of benefit to our community and ultimately to humanity at large.
As Nature is all-embracing there can be nothing outside of or other than Nature. Therefore, there are no super-natural Gods or other beings. There are beings at all levels of being but none of them is outside of Nature. Therefore man in Nature and in tune with her, is the basis for all real religion both now and in the future. As our souls attune themselves to Nature's very soul ... our motive for action is then pure compassion for all.
It [compassion] is the Law of laws - eternal Harmony Alaya's [the Soul of the World] SELF; a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal. [V.S., vs 300]
To discover himself man has to become attuned, in consciousness, to his own essential nature. This means the establishment of a point of awareness within himself from which he consciously operates, both perceptively, i.e. receiving impressions from without, or actively, enabling him to act as may be necessary even for his very existence. It is necessary, however, first to establish his centre of awareness. Having established such a centre within himself he can, by regarding Nature, come to sense that she herself in all her operations also operates from a centre. He may observe plants growing and see the expansive development of forms but, looking with his 'centre' eye, he sees that all Nature's forms also derive from inner invisible worlds to the outer objective ones.
... the daring explorer, who would probe the inmost secrets of Nature, must transcend the narrow limitations of sense, and transfer his consciousness into the region of noumena and the sphere of primal causes. To effect this, he must develop faculties which are absolutely dormant - save in a few rare and exceptional cases [at the present time] ... [S.D.I, 477]
Future religions must therefore relate directly to Nature, to 'what is', at any level of being from the lowest to the highest. 'What is' is true. We are enjoined by the teaching to work along with Nature as a co-worker:
Help Nature and work on with her and Nature will regard thee as one of her creators and make obeisance.
And she will open wide before thee the portals of her secret chambers, lay bare before thy gaze the treasures hidden in the very depths of her pure virgin bosom. Unsullied by the hand of matter she shows her treasures only to the eye of Spirit - the eye which never closes, the eye for which there is no veil in all her kingdoms.
Then will she show thee the means and way, the first gate and the second, the third, up to the very seventh. And then, the goal - beyond which lie, bathed in the sunlight of the Spirit, glories untold unseen by any save the eye of the Soul. [V.S., vs 66, 67, 68]
No human-born dogma, no institution, however sanctified by custom and antiquity can compare in sacredness with the dogma of Nature. The key of wisdom that unlocks the massive gates leading to the arcana of the innermost sanctuaries can be found hidden in her bosom only, ... There lies the heart of nature, that bosom whence issued primeval Humanity and which is the cradle of man. [C.W.XIV, 466]
The silent worship of abstract or noumenal Nature, the only divine manifestation, is the one ennobling religion of Humanity. [S.D.I, 381 fn]
C.W. The Collected Writings of H.P. Blavatsky, 14 volumes
The Blavatsky Trust 2003