Back to the beginning

The aim of the Theosophy Restoration Project was to take a stand, in a small way, against the ongoing dilution of Theosophy in the Theosophical Society. Of course it is not Theosophy that is diluted but rather the amount of it on our programmes.  The aim was to join forces with others keen to take back the platform, show the world that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and provide a venue in which we may be inspired to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities. Not only is this aim not prioritized in many Lodges/Branches around the world, in some cases it would struggle to find a place at all. There is however no way of restoring Theosophy to our Lodge or Branch other than we do it ourselves. We can’t leave it to that mythical beast, the Someone.

So the TRP blog, and now perhaps the Facebook group, is meant to gather together a group of people interested in exploring different ways of bringing this about. One of the issues previously raised is that on the whole the TS has had no handover to ensure that the link is kept unbroken, no plan for actually encouraging the study and assimilation of the teachings, no plan for realising the aims of the Society. Sections have expected their component Lodges/Branches to come up with ways of attending to the core business; and the General Council has expected the component Sections to come up with ways of achieving the Society’s aims.  I think it is fair to say that this model has not worked. There needs to be some kind of a handover from one generation to the next.

Most likely every other organization and association teaches its officers and key personnel the basic message, aims and methods. Why do we not do the same? My wish for the Theosophy Restoration Project would be that together we formulate something of a handover package, including suggested content (with actual programmes included), suggested methods of study, suggested definitions and insights, and perhaps much more. Our method in the TS involves a process of learning and teaching whereby we do not proceed by dogmatic assertions, but this does not mean that we have no content to bring to public attention. Whether or not this model is taken up by any Section or the TS internationally we would each of us have something substantial to run with at our own Lodge or Branch, so our work would not be wasted. We could make it freely available throughout the TS, for any individual or Section to run with; the TS equivalent of freeware.

I do not underestimate the difficulty of a group of people around the world coming to the necessary sufficient agreement on key terms and teachings. Unless we or Someone Else can do so however the TS could not have anything to hand on from one generation to the next. Pointing to an entire library, or the collected writings of H.P. Blavatsky does not constitute a handover. Were it sufficient to point to a library we would have no problem at all. But there is much more to it than that.  Without a proper reading books are a dead letter. The words in the books are nothing but a door. The key is in the soul, or the mind, or the heart, or the seeing, which may in fact be synonymous terms. So we also need to give due emphasis to the art of study.

In order to come to a shared understanding we may need to pare things back to abstract principles on which we can each agree. But that, I believe, is the only way in which it could be said that Theosophy is the essence of all Religion. Regardless of the outcome, there is much to be said for  the journey itself: a serious international enquiry into the heart of Theosophy and the work of the Theosophical Society. I look forward to hearing your views.

Theosophy; some synonymous terms, comparable traditions

An indicative rather than exhaustive list for consideration, with the words in bold amenable to forming a meaningful sentence on their own:

Platonic doctrines summarized in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Loemker 1973 p, 458/9:

  1. The existence of a Unity underlying the world of appearances.
  2. The view that the aim of philosophy is the contemplation or knowledge of the world of universals, forms, or ideas.
  3. The notion that philosophy is the “handmaiden of religion”.
  4. The general orientation towards the eternal.

Ammonius Saccas, teacher to Plotinus, and founder of the Eclectic Theosophical System in third century Greece, taught that his system was based on three main principles:

  1. Belief in one absolute, incomprehensible and supreme Deity, or infinite essence, which is the root of all nature, and of all that is visible and invisible.
  2. Belief in the human being’s immortal nature, identical in essence with the Universal Soul.
  3. Theurgy or divine work, which entails making oneself as pure as the incorporeal beings so that “the gods” might impart the Divine mysteries.

Aldous Huxley’s evidently apt summation of the perennial philosophy (1947):

  1. A metaphysic that recognises a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds.
  2. A psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality.
  3. And an ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being.

H.P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, the three fundamental propositions:

  1. An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude.
  2. The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane, periodically the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing.
  3. The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul.

This idea of the identity of all Souls with a Universal Over-Soul (Brahman) goes back to the Rig Veda. The Vedānta then summarized the teaching thus: aham Brahman.

HPB’s third sūtra-like proposition states both a present fact, attested to by generations of seers, and the end result of a long journey of Self Realisation that is as Platonic as it is Vedantic.

Summing up and moving on

I could talk to the ether like this forever, and it certainly hasn’t complained. But perhaps now is the time to sum up and move on.

There is a body of teachings that we may justifiably call Theosophy. By justifiably I mean that it is not just my opinion that “this is Theosophy” but the opinion of the Founders of the Theosophical Society; of most if not all of its Presidents and leading authors; and perhaps even more significantly, it is the opinion of a host of sages and seers from the authors of the Rig Veda and Upanishads, through to Plato and the theosophists of ancient Greece, with exact equivalents in ancient China, the middle East and Aboriginal Australia. Sorry if I have left anyone out.

Theosophy did not spring out of a clear sky in 1875, but as HPB asserted, justifiably, Theosophy is the ancient wisdom tradition: ancient not just poetically but literally, the first exposition of which in any Indo-European language being in the Vedas. Anyone can find out for themselves what Theosophy is from the ancient writings on the subject, from the works of HPB and others in the modern theosophical movement, and from their own ‘earnest meditations and enquiry’ (N. Sri Ram). The best method of all, from what I can tell, is a combination of these three. I put it to you, dear ether, that we would do Theosophy a disservice by concentrating only on the writings of HPB and others in the modern theosophical movement. I believe it is necessary also to educate ourselves in the actual ancient wisdom tradition, but let’s not digress. We were summing up.

Anyone can find out for themselves what Theosophy is, and anyone can study by themselves. But if we leave it at that then is there any purpose at all to the Theosophical Society today? It seems to me so obvious that the work of the Theosophical Society, first and foremost, is to present Theosophy and inspire us to ascend towards it. It is not possible to ascend to any great height (metaphorically speaking) without the proper training and equipment. Surely it is also the work of the Theosophical Society to provide some of that training and equipment. Otherwise, what else should we be doing? The ancient wisdom tradition is the mother lode of training and equipment when it comes to spiritual ascent or human regeneration or the transformation of man; however you like to put it.

Once the subject matter of Theosophy is delineated, along with its inherent methods of study and practice – tried and tested for millenia – the vexing issues of dogma and Lodge autonomy might resolve themselves. At present we have complete Lodge autonomy with no generational handover of teachings. Lodge autonomy plus a handover from one generation to the next would be a great model. The handover could cover the purpose of the Society and its work, an idea of the subject matter Theosophy, how to study Theosophy, and an idea of what is meant by divine wisdom, backed up by the tradition, and not just optional. A handover package, including some basic training, could be given to every office-bearer in the TS.

Past Presidents and leading authors in the TS have pointed much of this out in various ways (no doubt the present President will do likewise). Yet, to date, none appears to have had a plan as to how to do this work, how to keep the TS on message and on track. Beyond presenting the teachings in their own editorials and lectures there seems to have been no attempt to ensure that Lodge/Branch programming enhances the work of the TS instead of perhaps obscuring or even obstructing it.

Again, coming back to the commencement of the Theosophy Restoration Project, I believe that we have to take back the platform, and I am not alone. Beliefs however will not cut it: what it will take is a lot of hard work. I wish I had a dollar, as they say, for every person who has said to me that they are “this close” to leaving the TS. Each one of them a committed member with much to give. My advice to them is this: save your dollar and consider investing in our long term intellectual and spiritual capital by donating time and content now.

Let us plan for the success of this noble enterprise and devise a long term programme of study, covering what we believe to be the essentials. As I see it, very urgently, we need some good introduction to Theosophy courses, which could be presented by any one of us locally; and an introduction to the ancient wisdom tradition (I am working on this but others could too). We also need some not so introductory versions of the same. These could each present the whole framework of Theosophy, but from a particular angle, drawing on the strenghts and backgrounds of each one of us.

I am sure that you would have other suggestions, better ideas (it’s not a competition). But please don’t donate any ideas without man-power behind them. If you think it’s a good idea then start work on it. We can all chip in and work on some projects together as well. Pablo has suggested a Facebook page for the working bee to communicate on. The Theosophy Restoration Project blog can remain open to all, but it’s time for the workers to get together and plan the way ahead. Are you in? 

 

 

The Wealth of Knowledge

It cannot be stolen by thieves. Nor can it be taken away by kings. It cannot be divided among brothers. It does not cause a load on your shoulders. If spent it indeed keeps growing. The wealth of knowledge is the most superior wealth of all.

Sanskrit proverb

 

It is the job of The Theosophical Society to inspire those who come through its doors to move past mere thought in their study of the ancient wisdom teachings, but to study nonetheless.  Until we learn the basics and can therefore distinguish true Theosophy from mere impostors, we would do well to rely on tradition.  Put very simply by N. Sri Ram: ‘A person can find out what Theosophy is partly from the thoughts and writings which have come down from ancient times, partly by studying the modern theosophical works of H.P Blavatsky, Annie Besant and others, and partly by his own earnest meditations and enquiry’.

It is this same fifth President of the Theosophical Society who is often quoted as saying that Theosophy is not defined in the Constitution of the Theosophical Society. And in a similar sentiment: ‘In the Theosophical Society we do not formulate the wisdom, because we are essentially a body of seekers. All that we understand and realise is but a very small portion of what is there to know’.  Shortly thereafter, however, Sri Ram goes on to say: ‘Now that does not mean that we cannot have any understanding at present. We have a certain understanding of what is life, what is man, his relationship to the universe, and all the other things we consider in Theosophy. But that understanding should be such that we can improve on it continually. So while we use our present understanding, build on its basis, and share it with other people, there should always be this inward attitude of being willing to weigh and learn even from ideas different from our own’ (Theosophy The Divine Wisdom TPH 1986).

It seems that Sri Ram was able to hold in perfect balance two otherwise competing notions: that Theosophy cannot be confined to any definition because all expressions of it are imperfect and limited; and on the other hand, that Theosophy has come down to us in a body of sacred teachings from ancient times, there for us to study and assimilate. Taken in isolation, not specifying what we mean by Theosophy seems to have resulted in a squandering of knowledge, and with it, a certain decline in the Theosophical Society through lack of purpose and definition. In combination with an open mind, and the practice of meditative enquiry, an earnest study of validated teachings makes for a tradition that each of us may be proud to uphold.

 

How to Keep a Link Unbroken: Lessons from Vedic Linguistics

Or, an attempt to put the matter of dogma to rest for a while.

Dogma is teaching based on an assertion of beliefs. We learn from classical India and ancient Greece that knowledge has nothing to do with belief (doxa) and everything to do with seeing (paśyanti). Opinions, mere appearances and beliefs are not knowledge. They are antithetical to reality. If we allow the process involved in knowledge to bear fruit, we start with an object to be known (such as Theosophy, or a set of teachings) and we eventually reach Knowledge/Knowing itself, the witnessing state of consciousness that is veiled by all objects and by all words. We might call the deeper experience Wisdom, which is part of the spectrum of knowledge.

However, without distinguishing a particular object of knowledge from the background noise we cannot even begin: ‘In this world there can be no knowledge without an object to be known’ (Vākyapadīya comment on 1:86). Hence the need to show the world that Theosophy exists; that is step one.

The meaning of the word show, in the sentence ‘to show the world that such a thing as Theosophy exists’, includes first of all delineating the subject matter, and then unveiling or uncovering it. Showing also what is behind the word. Ultimately, what is behind all words is the Self, synonymous with Divine Wisdom or Theosophy. Knowledge, if you go all the way with it, will get you there. Dogma will not.

First we point to the door marked X behind which you will find Theosophy; and then we open it. Opening it entails contemplating the subject, meditating ‘upon it’, removing all doubts, questioning and learning. However, only when we have divested ourselves of thoughts can we enter there. All this is involved in ‘showing’ Theosophy.

The words attempting to convey Theosophy to us are not seeking to conceal, but they do conceal, for hearing and seeing requires effort on our part. This effort is not an intellectual or academic exercise. Knowing in this sense is not a function of manas, which is an opinion generator; it is not a mental activity: rather, is it more a mental inactivity. It is when the waves of thought subside that the object of knowledge shines forth. Knowledge is not possible without freedom from thought.

Like the Vedas, Theosophy could be described as beginningless, authorless and endless (Vākyapadīya 1:145). Those who have studied it well are able to distinguish it from other objects of knowledge. There is no short-cut to this. The teaching may be kept alive only in an unbroken continuity of learning by those who have made themselves capable of studying it (Vākyapadīya 1:17).

We in the TS have been sitting on a goldmine of meaning with which we could feed the world. Let us learn how to study that, and to teach it, so that we really do keep the link unbroken.

The would-be disciple is always tested

Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, W.B. Yeats, Alexander Scriabin, T.S. Eliot, Claude Bragdon, and so many others. I bet not a single one of them had been inspired by the laudable absence of dogma in the Theosophical Society. What the modernists saw in the theosophical movement was a possibility to be lived out, of a new world and a new mind, richly infused with the ancient wisdom-religion once more brought into view, deeply nourishing dis-entrenching ideas which they expressed in new forms of colour, sound and poetry.

In her 1889 essay The Tidal Wave HPB referred to: ‘the great psychic and spiritual change now taking place in the realm of the human Soul … the Spirit in man, so long hidden out of public sight, so carefully concealed and so far exiled from the arena of modern learning, has at last awakened’. It was this recognition that attracted great thinkers and artists worldwide. Not the absence of any dogma, but the huge outpouring, in Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, of Platonic philosophy, the Oriental Kabbalah, ancient science, the works of Paracelsus, the religio-philosophy of ancient India, and Egyptian wisdom; all in contrast with what HPB referred to as ‘the deliberate misrepresentations’ of modern science and sectarian religions.

Now that the Indo-Pacific Federation is gearing up for its triennial conference, on the timely theme, The Why of the Theosophical Society, we could consider a return to this initial impulse, to ‘show to the world’ the ancient wisdom religion, once practiced by the initiates of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and revealed anew through the Theosophical Society in the late nineteenth century.

HPB stated in her first instructions to members of the ES: ‘There is a strange law in Occultism which has been ascertained and proven by thousands of years of experience; nor has it failed to demonstrate itself, almost in every case, during the fifteen years that the T.S. has been in existence. As soon as anyone pledges himself as a “Probationer,” certain occult effects ensue. Of these the first is the throwing outward of everything latent in the nature of the man; his faults, habits, qualities, or subdued desires, whether good, bad, or indifferent’.

The Theosophical Society  has been tested in precisely such a manner in its 140 years or so of existence. Whether or not it ultimately succeeds is now, as it has ever been, dependent upon the knowledge and the wisdom and the enthusiasm of its members.  The experiment is far from over. Let us remember that this is the Theosophical Society, not the Freedom of Thought Society, and retrieve that baby from the bathwater.

Why politely request when you can just as politely insist?

On 17 November 1990, Radha Burnier, then President of the Theosophical Society, thanked the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden for hosting a series of talks and discussions investigating  the subject of human regeneration, thereby beginning ‘a new career of service to the world’ by focusing attention on a matter that goes to the very heart of Theosophy. As the CEO of some other organisation, I suppose that she could have insisted upon a Theosophical Centre focusing on Theosophy, but not in the TS. In her talks Radhaji politely reminded the gathering that the aims and objectives of the Theosophical Society are all to do with the presentation and realisation of Theosophy, broadly and deeply defined. She presented many compelling arguments for her case; she encouraged the members of the Society to come on board; but nowhere did she insist on it.

This is a lesson in the fact that TS Presidents cannot decide what the Theosophical Society is going to do, what programmes it will offer, what direction it will take. No matter how forceful or talented they may be, TS Presidents can set a keynote in their own talks and editorials, but (strangely enough) cannot determine the direction that the TS takes. There must be a PhD waiting for someone willing to study the TS as an organisation with absolutely no means of ensuring the fulfillment of its aims. It is as though a soup kitchen had been set up by a well-meaning committee, which then hoped that its  volunteers would choose to provide soup to the hungry, instead of going off on some tangent contrary to its purpose.

I have no doubt that there is a profound truth behind this problem; possibly concerning the unavoidable necessity of self-directed effort towards Self-realisation. You cannot legislate or organise for liberation or Moksha. But you can, I believe, programme for it, like a ship setting its sails in that direction. You can make sure that the signs advertise soup kitchen, or in the case of the Theosophical Society Atma Vidya,  Self-realisation, human regeneration, Theosophy.

Our signs are our lectures, our events, our publications and our behaviours (most important). Each writer, each speaker, each member of the Theosophical Society has the power to steer the TS towards its goal, in every lecture, article, discussion in which he or she is engaged. Let us not waste our breath, our time, and our efforts on other things.

Cards on the table

Perhaps it’s time to put the cards on the table. What is the agenda here? Well that is very simple, it is a dream of restoring the Theosophical Society to a school for souls to learn about Theosophy; turning it into the membership association that it once was, of those desiring  to ascend towards the state of consciousness implied in the word Theosophy. It seems to me that we could do this now by restating the fundamental teachings, incorporating lessons learned  from the mistakes of our past and moving on. This would involve some serious study, and a considerable degree of wisdom. It needs strength in numbers. But whether it be 5 or 500, we could work together on taking the TS much closer to the noble ideal to which so many of us were initially attracted. It is time to take back the platform and get back to the original agenda: to show the world that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and help each other to ascend towards it.

In not defining Theosophy, one of our great strengths, we made a mistake, leaving it at that. Not defining that which is beyond thought is a good idea, when speaking with someone in possession of the slightest idea what you are referring to. But as an explanation for what do you do in the TS,  or what is Theosophy, or what should we do now, it hasn’t been working so well. Another card for the table. Complete Lodge/Branch autonomy is a model that isn’t working. Giving people autonomy in working out their own way of studying, practicing and “teaching” Theosophy is fine, if you first tell them something about what they are to be studying, practicing and presenting. In the absence of any kind of intergenerational handover, however, what happens when there is complete autonomy with absoloutely nothing on the table (or everything on the table, which amounts to  the same thing)? What happens is that other agendas come to fill our  programmes and occupy our real estate. This is literally and actually what has happened in many Lodges and Branches.

Shamelessly piggy-backing on the Adyar Building Restoration drive, the Theosophy Restoration Project is likewise a call to arms. Only in this case, arms, minds, hearts and pens. Good ideas are already coming in, mostly via email. Please feel free to leave a reply below, or write via the Contact form if you want to keep things more private.

 

So why born-again?

As mentioned in my first post, attending the School of Theosophy in Auckland had quite an effect on me. Having arrived with misgivings about possibly getting into a fight with Pablo on the subject of discipleship and initiation which were on the programme, or having to restrain myself from doing so (which I’m not very good at), I soon found myself deeply appreciating his presentation of the whole framework of Theosophy as given by the founders and leading members of the Theosophical Society. He drew almost exclusively from texts published by the TS, though with added commentary based on his other studies, Vedanta, for example; and his sources encompassed every era from H.P Blavatsky through to Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater, to J. Krishnamurti, N. Sri Ram and Radha Burnier. I soon even got over my desire to try to fine him every time I heard the phrase ‘in Theosophy we …’. This was short-hand for ‘in the exposition of Theosophy as found in TS literature’,  on the understanding that this literature was “about” Theosophy, and that it is not the only literature about Theosophy, which in the final analysis is the state of undivided consciousness that is pure intelligence. The revelation for me was how much value there is in that traditional TS fare, even for those devoted to the teaching of the Upanishads that the Self that you are is already liberated and all you need do is realize that fact.

It was the Theosophical Society that in the late 1970s gave me Advaita Vedanta, Ramana and Krishnaji, along with HPB, Annie Besant and all the rest. It was the Theosophical Society which showed me the purpose and meaning of life, including of my own life. That is why, hearing it all again for the first time in a long time, I feel as though born-again, and like every born-again whatever it may be, I am determined to convert others to the  value of what I have recalled, and try to return Theosophy to my local Lodge. where in every possible meaning of the word (other than complete meaninglessness)  it has been sorely neglected these past few years, so that the gift I received can be given to others.