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'Theosophy - What's it all about?' - Chapter 11, Theosophy and Religion
by Geoffrey Farthing
'A brief summary of a wonderfully exciting and vitally important subject.'
Religion is a word with many meanings but essentially it has to do with Deity, and our relationship with Deity, with real mysticism and spiritual development, and with all that may mean to us by way of discipline, worship and prayer. It has to do with the founders of the individual religions. The great religions, that is those with the most adherents, are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. The word religion for most people, however, also includes the forms and practices of ceremonial used and it includes priestcraft, buildings, paraphernalia, traditional customs, authentic scriptures with their secondary literature of commentaries, theologies, history, symbolism, music, great personages and ordinary adherents.
We should notice particularly about the great religions that the original teachers, Shri Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus and others very seldom wrote down their teaching; one notable exception is Mohammed. They taught ab initio, from first principles, and used scripture and background traditions as then existing only by way of allusion or illustration. They may have used existing temples or other established religious meeting places, but they were independent of them and taught anywhere that circumstance required. They were generally without possessions. They themselves established little or no ceremonial forms or orders of service. They had followers who spread and carried on the teachings, and they too were unpaid.
From a study of the teachings, as and when expressed in the teachers' own words as reported, it is clear that they all taught essentially the same things. The ethical principles they put forth for men to follow are identical and they all taught that men could only arrive at Truth from within themselves, but each of them laid stress on different aspects
of their teachings. Shri Krishna dwelt on devotion and sacrifice. The Buddha taught in terms of enlightenment by self effort and of the cause of suffering and its eradication. Jesus laid stress on love, humility and self-sacrifice.
There seems no doubt that all these great teachers, had they ever come together, would have been in perfect accord, each appreciating to the full what the others were trying to do. Whence then the disastrous, controversial carping and sometimes bitter differences that have arisen between the adherents not only of the religions themselves but even between those of the numerous sects within most of them? The short answer is ignorance, and opinions or beliefs based on that ignorance, held too strongly. For this ignorance those in authority, the teachers and leaders in the movements must be held responsible.
Any new religion seems to be superimposed on and to incorporate eventually much of the religious usage and tradition pre-existing in its country of origin. This usage and tradition vests primarily in the established professional priesthood, which usually bitterly resents the new teacher and his followers.
In order to free our minds from some possibly deep-seated preconceptions, it may be worth while to have a look at the possible origins of priesthood and priestcraft. This is meant as a purely objective look and not in any way to be offensive and certainly not to decry the service rendered to humanity by many generations of devoted men and women who have given their lives in the utmost sincerity, within their lights, to furthering the cause they have had and have so dearly at heart and to serving their fellowmen. It must not be overlooked, however, that sincerity can be consistent with ignorance and that they are but human with all the limitations and weaknesses of human beings.
There is the simple theory of the more knowledgeable and powerful members of a community banding together to lead and guide the less favoured members and to minister to them or exploit them, probably a bit of both, according to the character of those concerned. This theory could of course apply to the purely temporal operations like secular
government and not apply to anything to do with religion. It is worth noting, however, that whereas the office of priest has usually been distinct from that of the temporal ruler, the clergy have often exerted considerable influence over the lay leaders. So this theory, while not complete, may be at any rate partly true. Another theory is that the Gods (in the past) have needed to be propitiated and supplicated and this could only be done effectively by the specially qualified, that is by those who professed knowledge of the ways and means of so doing. All other priestly practices of soul-saving and service to their flock have grown out of the idea of priests' special relationship to their God. Some priests have been and are good, altruistic and kind men, others lamentably just the reverse. This latter theory seems to be the more likely one. Let us look at it further and expand on it in the light of some of the things we have said in earlier chapters.
We said that the process of involution of Spirit into Matter applied to humanity. We said that in the fourth Root Race that process for humanity in general was completed but that there were many individuals in whom it was not. Psychic powers would then have been more common. It is said that this was, in fact, the case and that these powers latterly became much abused. The forms of religion then centred round psychic phenomena, the evocation of spirits for proclamation and prophecy. As genuine psychic power declined, aids were introduced. Blood sacrifices were made; the emanations from newly-shed blood greatly facilitate the ectoplasmic materialization of forms. So degeneration and cruelty entered into religion and among many primitive peoples have persisted almost to the present day. The ability to evoke god-forms eventually disappeared, but the sacrifice still persisted as propitiation or to meet the so-called demands of the gods. All this is on the dark, degenerate side.
On the other side, there is a long tradition of mystery schools where secret training in the development of man's inner faculties was given. Some of these, especially in countries to the east of the Mediterranean and in Egypt, were associated with the religion of the country, and the priests
were initiates in the mysteries. Itseems that these religions did not degenerate to the degrading, bestial levels of the more primitive religions, but that changing world conditions, politics and wars weakened them as institutions. Itseems that the real power of knowledge of the priesthood disappeared too. Human weakness intervened. The priests remained and the temples remained but the real power and life departed leaving the shell and form only. Inthe absence of the giving light of Truth, the symbols and the rituals lost their inner meaning and superstition and materialism took its place. The letter of the law became the dead letter, for example, as with the Scribes and Pharisees of early Christian time, so we are told.
With ignorance fear is born. Inan established priesthood this fear shows in a number of ways. There is the fear of the new, the unaccustomed, there is fear of the other religions or sects ("They ought to be put down!"). There is the fear of the real knower, the real man of God, the mystic, the true occultist. Out of these fears has arisen fanatical persecution, heresy hunting, the Inquisition, and something of these still exists. Itis said that for a few centuries after the passing of Jesus there were some Gnostics (Knowers) and something of their literature remains. Itis said that in the vast libraries of ancient Alexandria was stored a wealth of knowledge of the Ancient Wisdom but this was all destroyed. This ruthless suppression of enlightened societies, like the Essenes possibly, and enlightened men who could have threatened the power of thrones and certainly that of formalized religion, has been a feature of written history. No wonder we went through what are called the Dark Ages. The Renaissance and the advent of science generally did much to remove the shadow of superstition and fear, and with it the power of religions declined and is still declining, and nothing is now taking their place.
The Law of Karma applies universally, not only to individual men but to nations, organizations and societies. As they sow, so they reap. Each gets its deserts. Ifa religion ceases to serve its real function it is removed.
Today we have a world in which large sections of the population of many countries are mostly free from religious
superstitions. This is so particularly in the West and is becoming more and more so in the East. Formal religions persist but they make comparatively little impact and their leaders are worried and perplexed. Not that there is anything wrong with their original basic teachings, but there is much wrong with their theologies and dogmas, and the life has gone out of them. We are left with the forms of practice and service, crystallized, set, unchangeable. What is written here will be unacceptable to many religious people, leaders and adherents alike, but in the main the truth of it is inescapable. Within every religion are the devoted, faithful and unquestioning few. They are completely sincere workers and missionaries. To these few who have got all they want these remarks are not addressed. They are asked, however, not to be unreasoningly vehement in defence of their faiths. It only leads to quarrelling and converts no one. We desperately need a religious renaissance. In any case most people and society need some discipline for their full happiness. This was, and to some extent still is, provided or inspired by every religion, mostly in its best form, self-discipline. We need an influx of new life into religion so that the world's populations can have something they sense is true and can respect, to help them in their living, or in the light of which they can be guided to a full and mature responsibility for themselves and their own spiritual progress. Belief in an outside saving agency will not do this and it tends to be weakening. Most people urgently need something to which they can wholeheartedly subscribe and by which they can confidently and with purpose order their lives.
What has been outlined in these chapters is Religion its very self. It is not a religion but it is that eternal Wisdom which is the origin and basis of all the true religions that have ever been or ever will be. It all centres round the one basic truth, the Unity of the Universe, the One Life manifesting in Diversity. This is where Theosophy comes in. There is nothing fundamentally new that any world teacher who may come could say. The thesis outlined here embraces all knowledge, religious, scientific and philosophical. It gives a sound basis for such new sciences as
psychology to proceed on. It does not gainsay and is not at enmity with any of the fundamentally essential principles of any existing religion. Rather does it amplify and explain them and make them sensible. It reconciles them to all recently discovered knowledge and above all, to each other. In its light the true dicta of science and the true dicta of religion become the same thing but with one, in the main, dealing with the form side of things and the other with the life side. It is free, open, fearless and will stand any questioning, challenge and research. All the phenomena of the spiritualists and of spiritual healing, all the experiences of the mystics are embraced in it. All the facts and laws of Nature on all planes of being are encompassed in it. The destiny and purpose, at least in general outline, of every race and sub-race that has been or will be on our globe are discovered and included in it. This is big talk, but any man may study it for himself and see its truth. It is not provable by any other means but surely that is as it should be.
Before we close we should refer again to certain things hinted at but not said clearly. They concern the individual man's progress, the way ahead for the aspirant. We have said if he would become even a modest benefactor of humanity, let him study this philosophy, the "science of the soul". We have also said that there is no such thing as empty space in a manifested Universe. This may seem a very unrelated fact, but it means that every minute particle of matter or energy is a manifestation of the One Life, with (at any level below that of the Absolute which is quite unknowable) its two aspects of Spirit and Matter. Every form is imbued with a focused ray of that One Life. Man's conscious being stems from it and he has all the qualities, vehicles, faculties and powers necessary for him to climb by his own efforts only, in consciousness to the very Highest. To a large extent these attributes of his are dormant, unused and unorganised, particularly the higher ones. But as he uses his mind and develops his inner feelings by earnest aspiration and with the slow unfolding of his capacity for love by devotion, the aspirant will feel, in the course of time, the slow expansion of his consciousness. His almost exclusive interest in his personality and all that is
related to it will fade gradually in intensity His ordinary self will become increasingly objective to him and he will feel that quite apart from it he has a permanent being He will be able increasingly to use his personality instead of having his actions dictated by it. He will not be so prone to the ups and downs of its moods He moves by glimpses and for short periods only at first into a new state of self possession and control, with a new confidence. His mind becomes clearer, less restless, and to his surprise at times it seems to operate from within itself with confidence and good judgment. The desire and certainly the need for stimulants, excitement and sensation will gradually fall away. His life will be fulfilling enough without them The processes of his mind will deepen and he will be conscious of his growing understanding. Occasionally there will come other experiences as his perceptions awaken and these will fill him with joy and wonder. He will have flashes of insight into the very nature of Being. As step by step, by this self-initiating process, he bursts the bounds which previously hemmed in his consciousness he will know, by feeling, more and more the meaning of freedom and of life
Awareness can then soar into these regions where the sensc of "I-ncss" and separation are forgotten The aspirant and his higher Self are becoming One. He is beginning to meet his "Master", his real Self, in the sanctuary of his soul. He feels himself to be the prodigal son returning to the love of his Father after his long, long sojourn in the lands of earthly life and sensation, far away from the very centre of his being whence springs all Life, Light, Consciousness and Love
For the majority of us this great journey of return cannot be accomplished in one earthly life or even in many, but we can always start by turning our faces homeward. None can earnestly set out on this road without becoming aware of thc rightness of it. Little by little, faith and understanding grow. In the light of these the aspirant begins to know for himself, from the depths of his being, what he must do. In this way every man becomes his own teacher. Others can only interest and stimulate and, in so far as they themselves have attained, lend a helping hand They can be to us as
examples; they can outline the philosophy and the broad principles, but each man by his own life must turn these principles into experience. Every man within himself is the Way ... Let him therefore be true to his own Self. While we are caught in the toils of personality, with the difficulties and doubts that our emotions and minds create for us, the meaning of this advice will be obscure and might even lead us into trouble because our minds can justify almost anything that we, at personality level, may want to do, but this is obviously not what is meant. Deep inside us is a Wisdom of Simplicity which, if we will give it room, will come in silence into our lives. Only a little time each day devoted to it will guide us through the dense woods of ignorance and complexity in which we are lost, out into the joyous light and freedom of SELF-realization.
There is no religion higher than Truth. Let us seek it with all our might!
Although some beliefs may have been put in jeopardy by this book, nothing in it gainsays anything of real significance in any true religion. This being so, a wonderful contribution to world unity, peace and understanding could be made if the leaders of our great religions would spread their respective messages against a background of the knowledge touched on in these pages.