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'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 1, Introducing Theosophy
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
In these days of atom bombs, space rockets and nuclear energy, of ever-increasing material prosperity and of all the distractions of modern life, both entertaining and otherwise, it is hard even to stop and think where all this activity and wealth is leading us. The opportunities of having more and more of everything seem to increase daily with the flood of technical inventions that makes man's productivity greater and greater. Already in some Western countries not only are man's basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, light and heat amply met for the majority, but most people have many of the things such as radios, televisions, washing machines, automatic cookers, automobiles and so on, which are designed to make life easier and more pleasant. There is talk of an ever shorter working week. Ina generation or so, given peace, when the massive productive capacity of those now engaged on military enterprises could become available for civil purposes, there might be a 10-hour week; or a vast number of unemployed. What is happening in the West is only an indication of what can and surely will happen in time in the rest of the world. True, there are still millions of people without the bare necessities of life, but is it not only a matter of time before these deficiencies are made good?
What then of humanity? Will Utopia really have arrived? We can imagine otherwise surplus labour resources being employed on great civil engineering projects, on schools, universities, public buildings, dwelling accommodation and so on, but to what ultimate end? What shall we do with all these amenities and adjuncts to living and with our leisure? An easy answer is that we shall return to the arts, and no doubt leisure will increase our sensibilities and appreciation; but history relates that small sections of the
population have been in this fortunate position before, and although they have left us things of beauty and fine literature, legal systems and learning, how much more fundamentally happy or how much better morally have they left mankind?
This look into the future might appear cynical and depressing, but it does appear that up to now mankind, except in the short term of a lifetime and in the purely material sense, has had no truly satisfying and really fulfilling goal. It appears that liberation from the chores of life leads eventually to boredom, to mischief and to degeneration. This has undeniably happened in the past. After a period of peace and plenty, men simply have not known what to do with themselves. Can it be that there is not something more fundamentally purposive, more really significant, to which we can give our attention and bend our energies? Is there no long-term objective, no grand scheme being worked out in which each of us can play some worthwhile part?
What of the world religions, do they provide us with the answer? Christianity for example, has its Kingdom of Heaven to be established sometime here on earth and it offers us individual everlasting life in Heaven as a reward for righteous living now. Even if we believe this, what it means to us really is somewhat conjectural and nebulous. We have to face the fact that in modern society these consummations are not impelling factors in our lives. Eastern religions tell of a culminating state of liberation and eternal bliss to be aimed at through many lives of individual effort. What does such liberation and bliss mean to us? Are these inducements to the good life satisfactory long-term objectives either for us singly or for humanity as a whole?
Even if our religions do supply answers to this problem, how are they faring in the world today, particularly in the West? Is religion not becoming outmoded and making ever less and less of an appeal? Are not men growing intellectually to the point where what does not satisfy reason does not promote faith or inspire confidence? The simple ethics and codes of decent behaviour of our religions are, maybe
because the religious backing seems to ordinary thinking men to be incomprehensible mystery , taken for granted in part but also scorned and ignored in part.
Common sense demands that a code of ethics and morals should be observed for the continued existence of organized society and it must be admitted that our religions do provide us with these important basic restraints. They also remind us of the finer qualities in our natures and tell us how, if we gave expression to them, our lives would be the fuller and happier; but we do not respond. Our interest is not aroused. Our imaginations are not fired. The authoritarian nature of doctrine and dogma, based on established and conventional interpretations of much-translated scriptural writings, in many cases of obscure origin, is now unacceptable. Where faith does exist, is it not in spite of and not because of the dicta and practices of religions? The exponents of our religions have failed to hold our respect. Why do we feel this way? Is it not because we cannot follow their theological arguments and justifications? Maybe we form the opinion, secretly within ourselves, that our teachers do not really know what they are talking about. How much of Christianity's dogma is not founded on conjecture and superstition?
For information about such fundamental questions as, for example, what life is, what the origins of things, what the nature of consciousness and so on, we look to science and not to religion. We look to religion to tell us what spirit is, what God is, what happens after death, but do we get really satisfactory answers and why anyway is there this division in knowledge?
Why do we concede knowledge to science but not to religion, at least not in the same sense? In religion we seem to have to resort to and to accept, at any rate in large areas, the vagaries of belief. Does not religion deal with facts in nature too? If it does, why do so few of its exponents seem to know about them? Should there really be this distinction between so-called scientific facts and religious ones? Is this difference due only to our ignorance?
These questions are asked in order to stimulate questioning into matters that most of us have probably considered
too sacred to be subjected to bold and, if necessary, destructive inquiry. They are asked because before progress can be made at all, the ground has to be cleared and rubbish seen to be rubbish, however glamorised in our imaginations it has become. This process of questioning has already started within some of the branches of Western Christianity. The great fear that lurks in many a heart when this process of deep inquiry is begun, is, if we do remove the props of the faith we have been brought up in and are used to, what would there be left? At this point there is usually the vehement affirmation 'But there must be a GOD!" The question is of tremendous importance to those who have found satisfaction, help, comfort or other benefit, in considerable measure from their religion, or to those who by means of it have been able to help others. To the extent that this is their experience, they feel their religion is valid. Much however depends on what we regard as validity. Itseems that far too commonly it is not the truth that is sought or wanted but a confirmation of cherished beliefs. Is this not particularly and pathetically the case with many a professional exponent of religion to whom we ought to be able to look for guidance and enlightenment? Some inadequacy is now admitted by the braver and more honest clergy - witness the interrogatory and 'agnostic' books by churchmen.
It appears to many in the West, where we are concerned particularly with practical and not mystical or deep meta- physical thinking, that religious instruction is based on fundamental ignorance. We can, for example, make little or nothing of the doctrine of vicarious atonement. The mental gymnastics required to justify that very important part of Christian Church logic is altogether too much for us. Who can give us an explanation of the Book of Genesis that does not completely bewilder us? These two examples are from Christian sources, but others of like nature, either in doctrine or practice, can be found in most other religions as they now exist.
Even among the general laity this ignorance in their spiritual leaders is felt, if only subconsciously. The result is that religion, as taught, is discredited so that even what
is valuable in the teaching and disciplines is disregarded. May this not be the reason for the small and decreasing impact made by religion nowadays throughout the world?
Is there then nothing that can ever appeal to our increasing intellects? Is there, in fact, no substance of real truth behind the words of our religions? Is there nothing other than that which those who have a leaning that way, can make the words mean to them by way of their beliefs and feelings? If there is such a substance, how are we to come to know it? Did anyone ever know it? Does in fact anyone know it now? If there is such knowledge, how does it affect us and fit in with our institutions and relate to the facts of science? How would or does it tie in with our general health and well-being, with our personal, group and national relationships?
Does the scheme of things contain any comprehensive grand plan for the growth, development or even the future of this and possibly other worlds, in which we can be concerned? If there is a plan, this would provide us with our long-term aim but what can we do to further it? What powers and opportunities for doing so have we got?
These questions are all of vital importance. The very nature of the questions demands, however, a high degree of open-mindedness and a willingness on the part of the reader to look at them in a really unprejudiced way if we are to get any worthwhile answers. We must be prepared not to reject out of hand anything that conflicts, or even appears to conflict, with any preconceived ideas we may have even if those ideas seem at the outset to be sacred and inviolable.
An open examination of these things will surely give rise to much controversy and contention, but this is good. The exercise will test and challenge some maybe preciously held and strongly guarded views which nevertheless may not be so valuable or so tenable as we held them to be.
It might be asked why if it is possible to know the fundamental facts in and secrets of Nature as is here implied, they are not already generally known? The short answer is that many are known but they are ignored. Many others, though, relate essentially to realms of being not
accessible to our ordinary five senses and their existence cannot be deduced by the processes of ordinary reason. The higher faculty of intuition has to be cultivated so that a different form of 'seeing' and 'hearing' is available to us, but more of this later .
We can come at such knowledge for ourselves directly if, and only if, we want it sufficiently. Even if what follows does not inspire the reader to make the attempt for himself, it will at least, it is hoped, provide food for healthy thought. The ideas given, even though they remain hypothetical, provide a framework into which will fit all the facts of experience derived from ordinary living and observation. This in itself should give some validity to what is here set forth.
The foundation material for the general thesis is contained in the 'basic' literature of the original Theosophical Society, principally in The Key to Theosophy and The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky. These works were written towards the end of the nineteenth century and from what is contained in them many movements of 'theosophical' nature have sprung up. Their fundamental content was by no means new, as its author plainly states: there is a tradition of the knowledge of Nature's secrets, of 'Gnosis', coming down from time immemorial. There has also been a great wealth of literature treating of the nature of existence and man's relationship to the Universe, which was largely destroyed; what persists is mostly from the Middle Ages and in obscure symbolic terms. Without the oral keys possessed by the teachers in the various systems it is nearly meaningless to the ordinary man.
The literature of H. P. Blavatsky and her Initiate Teachers propounds these ancient teachings in a more-or- less modern idiom and adds much material, quite explicit, not till then available to the general public. Italso quotes the ancient and traditional systems and symbols for comparison and example, and relates the so-called secret doctrine to the findings and tenets of science as they were in the latter part of nineteenth century. Itis noteworthy that in spite of the tremendous expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, The Secret Doctrine, where it treats of the same
matters, is fully justified. Inmany cases much of what was then said appears now as fulfilled prophecy.
Much of the content of The Secret Doctrine is "strong meat", and not for "babes or sucklings". This is not to say that the basic teachings are not understandable, but that their broader and deeper ramifications are necessarily set out in a language and style demanding close concentration and perseverance and that to realize their meaning fully, our inner perceptive faculties must be quickened and developed. Beginners in the subject are advised, therefore, to start their studies with more elementary and summary type books of which The Key to Theosophy is probably the best, but even that will stand careful reading and prolonged study.
The rationale behind our ever being able to have any comprehension of the deep universal workings of Nature and the secrets of Being, is that man is in himself a reflection in miniature of the whole Universe. His essential nature and constitution is the same as that of the Cosmos. By acquiring knowledge of his essential Self, he thus knows of the SELF behind all being and manifestation. This knowledge is Theosophy.
Theosophy treats of the whole of Life, as a Whole. Goodness and Beauty are of its nature; Devotion and Mysticism are its ways. Contact with only the fringes of one's own essential inner being gives certain knowledge, as part of oneself, of something of the boundless, inexhaustible all-embracing Love of the One Life we share.
Theosophy has been described as the "science of sciences". As spiritual science it is religion of the highest order but is not expressed exclusively in the terms of any one religion. Itis not a religion, but is religion itself, from which all religions, in their pristine purity, have been, are, or will be derived.
It was said of The Secret Doctrine by its writer that "it contains just as much as can be received by the World during this coming (20th) century" ..."this "World" (i.e. man living in the personal nature) will find in the two volumes of the S.D. all that its utmost comprehension can grasp". What a challenge!
Theosophy - what's it all about? > Next Page Chapter 2 Fundamentals and Origins