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THEOSOPHY AND THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
THE MEANING OF THE NAME
ENQUIRER. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a newfangled religion. Is it a religion?
THEOSOPHIST. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.
ENQ. What is the real meaning of the term?
THEO. "Divine Wisdom," [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (theogonia), genealogy of the gods. The word means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not "God" in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not "Wisdom of God," as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods.
ENQ. What is the origin of the name?
THEO. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (phil) "loving," and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (aletheia) "truth." The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples," who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.
ENQ. What was the object of this system?
THEO. First of all to inculcate certain great moral truths upon its disciples, and all those who were "lovers of the truth." Hence the motto adopted by the Theosophical Society: "There is no religion higher than truth." The chief aim of the Founders of the Eclectic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely, to reconcile all religions, sects and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.
ENQ. What have you to show that this is not an impossible dream; and that all the world's religions are based on the one and the same truth?
THEO. Their comparative study and analysis. "All the old worships indicate the existence of a single theosophy anterior to them. 'The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise it cannot be the right key.'"
THE POLICY OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
ENQ. In the days of Ammonius there were several ancient great religions, and numerous were the sects in Egypt and Palestine alone. How could he reconcile them?
THEO. By doing that which we again try to do now. The Neo-Platonists were a large body, and belonged to various religious philosophies; so do our Theosophists. In those days, the Jew Aristobulus affirmed that the ethics of Aristotle represented the esoteric teachings of the Law of Moses; Philo Judaeus endeavoured to reconcile the Pentateuch with the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy; and Josephus proved that the Essenes of Carmel were simply the copyists and followers of the Egyptian Therapeutae (the healers). So it is in our day. We can show the line of descent of every Christian religion, as of every, even the smallest, sect. The latter are the minor twigs or shoots grown on the larger branches; but shoots and branches spring from the same trunk — the WISDOM-RELIGION. To prove this was the aim of Ammonius, who endeavoured to induce Gentiles and Christians, Jews and Idolaters, to lay aside their contentions and strifes, remembering only that they were all in possession of the same truth under various vestments, and were all the children of a common mother. This is the aim of Theosophy likewise.
ENQ. What are your authorities for saying this of the ancient Theosophists of Alexandria?
THEO. An almost countless number of well-known writers. Mosheim, one of them, says that:
Ammonius taught that the religion of the multitude went hand-in-hand with philosophy, and with her had shared the fate of being by degrees corrupted and obscured with mere human conceits, superstition, and lies; that it ought, therefore, to be brought back to its original purity by purging it of this dross and expounding it upon philosophical principles; and that the whole which Christ had in view was to reinstate and restore to its primitive integrity the Wisdom of the ancients — to reduce within bounds the universally-prevailing dominion of superstition — and in part to correct, and in part to exterminate the various errors that had found their way into the different popular religions.
This, again, is precisely what the modern Theosophists say. Only while the great Philaletheian was supported and helped in the policy he pursued by two Church Fathers, Clement and Athenagoras, by all the learned Rabbis of the Synagogue, the Academy and the Groves, and while he taught a common doctrine for all, we, his followers on the same line, receive no recognition, but, on the contrary, are abused and persecuted. People 1,500 years ago are thus shown to have been more tolerant than they are in this enlightened century.
ENQ. Was he encouraged and supported by the Church because, notwithstanding his heresies, Ammonius taught Christianity and was a Christian?
THEO. Not at all. He was born a Christian, but never accepted Church Christianity. As said of him by the same writer:
He had but to propound his instructions "according to the ancient pillars of Hermes, which Plato and Pythagoras knew before, and from them constituted their philosophy." Finding the same sentiments in the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, he very properly supposed that the purpose of Jesus was to restore the great doctrine of Wisdom in its primitive integrity. The narratives of the Bible and the stories of the gods, he considered to be allegories illustrative of the truth, or else fables to be rejected."
THE WISDOM-RELIGION ESOTERIC IN ALL AGES
ENQ. Since Ammonius never commited anything to writing, how can one feel sure that such were his teachings?
THEO. Neither did Buddha, Pythagoras, Confucius, Orpheus, Socrates, or even Jesus, leave behind them any writings. Yet most of these are historical personages, and their teachings have all survived. The disciples of Ammonius (among whom Origen and Herennios) wrote treatises and explained his ethics. Moreover, his pupils — Origen, Plotinus, and Longinus (counsellor of the famous Queen Zenobia) — have all left voluminous records of the Philaletheian System — so far, at all events, as their public profession of faith was known, for the school was divided into exoteric and esoteric teachings.
ENQ. How have the latter tenets reached our day, since you hold that what is properly called the WISDOM-RELIGION was esoteric?
THEO. The WISDOM-RELIGION was ever one, and being the last word of possible human knowledge, was, therefore, carefully preserved. It preceded by long ages the Alexandrian Theosophists, reached the modern, and will survive every other religion and philosophy.
ENQ. Where and by whom was it so preserved?
THEO. Among Initiates of every country; among profound seekers after truth — their disciples; and in those parts of the world where such topics have always been most valued and pursued: in India, Central Asia, and Persia.
ENQ. Can you give me some proofs of its esotericism?
THEO. The best proof you can have of the fact is that every ancient religious, or rather philosophical, cult consisted of an esoteric or secret teaching, and an exoteric (outward public) worship. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that the MYSTERIES of the ancients comprised with every nation the "greater" (secret) and "Lesser" (public) MYSTERIES — e.g., in the celebrated solemnities called the Eleusinia, in Greece. From the Hierophants of Samothrace, Egypt, and the initiated Brahmins of the India of old, down to the later Hebrew Rabbis, all preserved, for fear of profanation, their real bona fide beliefs secret. The Jewish Rabbis called their secular religious series the Merkabah (the exterior body), "the vehicle," or, the covering which contains the hidden soul — i.e., their highest secret knowledge. Not one of the ancient nations ever imparted through its priests its real philosophical secrets to the masses, but allotted to the latter only the husks. Northern Buddhism has its "greater" and its "lesser" vehicle, known as the Mahayana and the Hinayana Schools. Pythagoras called his Gnosis "the knowledge of things that are," and preserved that knowledge for his pledged disciples only: for those who could digest such mental food and feel satisfied; and he pledged them to silence and secrecy. Occult alphabets and secret ciphers are the development of the old Egyptian hieratic writings, the secret of which was, in the days of old, in the possession only of the Hierogrammatists, or initiated Egyptian priests. Ammonius Saccas, as his biographers tell us, bound his pupils by oath not to divulge his higher doctrines except to those who had already been instructed in preliminary knowledge, and who were also bound by a pledge. Finally, do we not find the same even in early Christianity, among the Gnostics, and even in the teachings of Christ? Did he not speak to the multitudes in parables which had a twofold meaning, and explain his reasons only to his disciples? "Unto you," he says, "it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables" (Mark, iv, n). "The Essenes of Judea and Carmel made similar distinctions, dividing their adherents into neophytes, brethren and the perfect" or those initiated. Examples might be brought from every country to this effect.
ENQ. Can you attain the "Secret Wisdom" simply by study?
THEO. I think not. Ancient Theosophists claimed, and so do the modern, that the infinite cannot be known by the finite — i.e., sensed by the finite Self — but that the divine essence could be communicated to the higher spiritual Self in a state of ecstasy.
ENQ. What is your explanation of it?
THEO. Real ecstasy was defined by Plotinus as "the liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness, becoming one and identified with the infinite." It is identical with that state which is known in India as Samadhi. The latter is practised by the Yogis, who facilitate it physically by the greatest abstinence in food and drink, and mentally by an incessant endeavour to purify and elevate the mind. Meditation is silent and unuttered prayer, or, as Plato expressed it, "the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask any particular good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself — for the universal Supreme Good" of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have all emerged. Therefore, adds Plato, "remain silent in the presence of the divine ones, till they remove the clouds from thy eyes and enable thee to see by the light which issues from themselves, not what appears as good to thee, but what is intrinsically good."
ENQ. Theosophy, then, is not, as held by some, a newly devised scheme?
THEO. Only ignorant people can thus refer to it. It is as old as the world, in its teachings and ethics, if not in name, as it is also the broadest and most catholic system among all.
ENQ. How comes it, then, that Theosophy has remained so unknown to the nations of the Western Hemisphere? Why should it have been a sealed book to races confessedly the most cultured and advanced?
THEO. We believe there were nations as cultured in days of old and certainly more spiritually "advanced" than we are. But there are several reasons for this willing ignorance. One of them was given by St. Paul to the cultured Athenians — a loss, for long centuries, of real spiritual insight, and even interest, owing to their too great devotion to things of sense and their long slavery to the dead letter of dogma and ritualism. But the strongest reason for it lies in the fact that real Theosophy has ever been kept secret.
ENQ. You have brought forward proofs that such secrecy has existed; but what was the real cause for it?
THEO. The causes for it were: First, the perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly, their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration. It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery — in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.
THEOSOPHY IS NOT BUDDHISM
ENQ. You are often spoken of as "Esoteric Buddhists." Are you then all followers of Gautama Buddha?
THEO. No more than musicians are all followers of Wagner. Some of us are Buddhists by religion; yet there are far more Hindus and Brahmins than Buddhists among us, and more Christian-born Europeans and Americans than converted Buddhists. The mistake has arisen from a misunderstanding of the real meaning of the title of Mr. Sinnett's excellent work, Esoteric Buddhism, which last word ought to have been spelt with one, instead of two, d's, as then Budhism would have meant what it was intended for, merely "Wisdom ism" (Bodha, bodhi, "intelligence," "wisdom") instead of Buddhism, Gautama's religious philosophy. Theosophy, as already said, is the WISDOM-RELIGION.
ENQ. What is the difference between Buddhism, the religion founded by the Prince of Kapilavastu, and Budhism, the "Wisdomism" which you say is synonymous with Theosophy?
THEO. Just the same difference as there is between the secret teachings of Christ, which are called "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven," and the later ritualism and dogmatic theology of the Churches and Sects. Buddha means the "Enlightened" by Bodha, or understanding, Wisdom. This has passed root and branch into the esoteric teachings that Gautama imparted to his chosen Arhats only.
ENQ. But some Orientalists deny that Buddha ever taught any esoteric doctrine at all?
THEO. They may as well deny that Nature has any hidden secrets for the men of science. Farther on I will prove it by Buddha's conversation with his disciple Ananda. His esoteric teachings were simply the Gupta-Vidya (secret knowledge) of the ancient Brahmins, the key to which their modern successors have, with few exceptions, completely lost. And this Vidya has passed into what is now known as the inner teachings of the Mahayana school of Northern Buddhism. Those who deny it are simply ignorant pretenders to Orientalism.
ENQ. But are not the ethics of Theosophy identical with those taught by Buddha?
THEO. Certainly, because these ethics are the soul of the Wisdom-Religion, and were once the common property of the initiates of all nations. But Buddha was the first to embody these lofty ethics in his public teachings, and to make them the foundation and the very essence of his public system. It is herein that lies the immense difference between exoteric Buddhism and every other religion. For while in other religions ritualism and dogma hold the first and most important place, in Buddhism it is the ethics which have always been the most insisted upon. This accounts for the resemblance, amounting almost to identity, between the ethics of Theosophy and those of the religion of Buddha.
ENQ. Are there any great points of difference?
THEO. One great distinction between Theosophy and exoteric Buddhism is that the latter entirely denies (a) the existence of any Deity, and (b) any conscious postmortem life, or even any self-conscious surviving individuality in man. And it is so, if we refer only to Buddha's public teachings; the reason for such reticence on his part I will give farther on. But the schools of the Northern Buddhist Church, established in those countries to which his initiated Arhats retired after the Master's death, teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because they form part of the knowledge of the initiates. Yet Theosophy is not Buddhism.CHAPTER 2
EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC THEOSOPHY
WHAT THE MODERN THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IS NOT
ENQ. Your doctrines, then, are not a revival of Buddhism, nor are they entirely copied from the Neo-Platonic Theosophy?
THEO. They are not. But to these questions I cannot give you a better answer than by quoting from a paper read on "Theosophy" by Dr. J. D. Buck, F.T.S., before the Theosophical Convention, at Chicago, America (April, 1889).
The Theosophical Society was organized for the purpose of promulgating the Theosophical doctrines, and for the promotion of the Theosophic life. The present Theosophical Society is not the first of its kind. I have a volume entitled: "Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society," published in London in 1697; and another with the following title: "Introduction to Theosophy, or the Science of the Mystery of Christ; that is, of Deity, Nature, and Creature, embracing the philosophy of all the working powers of life, magical and spiritual, and forming a practical guide to the sublimest purity, sanctity, and evangelical perfection; also the attainment of divine vision, and the holy angelic arts, potencies, and other prerogatives of the regeneration," published in London in 1855.
Excerpted from The Key to Theosophy by H.P Blavatsky, Joy Mills. Copyright © 1972 Theosophical Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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