The Theosophical Forum – February 1941

THREE GREAT IDEAS — Iverson L. Harris

Under this title, Three Great Ideas, William Q. Judge wrote in The Irish Theosophist for February, 1895, as follows:

Among many ideas brought forward through the theosophical movement there are three which should never be lost sight of. Not speech, but thought, really rules the world; so, if these three ideas are good let them be rescued again and again from oblivion.

The first idea is, that there is a great Cause — in the sense of an enterprise — called the Cause of Sublime Perfection and Human Brotherhood. This rests upon the essential unity of the whole human family, and is a possibility because sublimity in perfectness and actual realization of brotherhood on every plane of being are one and the same thing. . . .

The second idea is, that man is a being who may be raised up to perfection, to the stature of the Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate. This noble doctrine was in the mind of Jesus, no doubt, when he said that we must be perfect even as is the father in heaven. This is the idea of human perfectibility. . . .

The third idea is the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is, that the Masters — those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow — are living, veritable facts, and not abstractions cold and distant. They are, as our old H. P. B. so often said, living men. . . . The Masters as living facts and high ideals will fill the soul with hope, will themselves help all who wish to raise the human race.

Let us not forget these three great ideas.


The core of the first of these Three Great Ideas is that of universal brotherhood based upon the essential spiritual unity of the whole human family. Never was it more necessary than now to remind ourselves of this fundamental, basic fact in nature; for "truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again." This idea of inescapable human brotherhood I firmly believe expresses a truth without whose recognition a lasting cure of the world's scourges is impossible. And never doubt that man's highest aspirations and yearnings will eventually triumph over their temporary negation. Yadyad devata kamayate, tattad devata bhavati, taught the ancient Vedic Sages: "Whatever a divine being longs for, that very thing the divine being becomes." And the Lord Buddha proclaimed twenty-four hundred years ago: "Hatred ceaseth never by hatred; hatred ceaseth only by love." Each one of us can prove this in his own individual life; and be it remembered that communities, states, nations, and races, are aggregates of individuals — individuals with conflicting wills and desires, to be sure, which fact is the basic cause of the world's ills; but even conflicting wills in their deepest reaches hunger for harmony and peace and enlightenment; and hunger of any kind must eventually be satisfied, even if, alas! the hunger must first be aroused by labor, suffering, or starvation.

Endeavoring to see somewhat beyond present world-outlooks I am convinced that the time is coming when it will dawn on the consciousness of men at the helm of affairs in all countries that persistent individual or national self-aggrandisement, which fails to recognise the fundamental fact of human brotherhood, of the essential unity of all men, is self-doomed to ultimate failure. Since divine justice, law, and order exist in the Universe — and they surely do, because the hunger for them exists in the souls of men, children of the Universe — then justice, law, and order must ultimately triumph over everything which works against the universal harmony. As Dr. G. de Purucker writes in Golden Precepts of Esotericism:

Nature will not tolerate for long persistent self-preferment to the detriment of others: for the very heart of Nature is harmony, the very fabric and structure of the Universe is co-ordination and cooperation, spiritual union; and the human being who seeks self-preferment unremittingly, without surcease, ends in that far-distant country of the "Mystic West," the Land of Forgotten Hopes, the land of spiritual decay; for Nature will have none of him for long. He has set his puny, undeveloped will against the mighty currents of the Cosmos, and sooner or later he is washed on to some sand-bank of the River of Life, where he decays. Nature will not tolerate persistent and inveterate selfishness.

The only prerequisite to fellowship in the Theosophical Society is a sincere acceptance of this first great idea — this principle of Universal Brotherhood; and the only heresy that I have ever seen referred to in Theosophical literature is "the heresy of separateness" — the denial of one's spiritual unity with his fellow-men. Let any serious and thoughtful man ask himself: Is not this heresy of separateness at the root of all the dire calamities which beset a world turned into an international bedlam? And the remedy? It is as simple as this — so simple that few will see it: A universal recognition of human solidarity, a sincere acknowledgment by each man to himself that when he injures his brother he actually injures himself — not merely from a sentimental viewpoint, not alone even because he will reap the consequences of his wrong-doing by at least marring his own character — but also from the standpoint of absolute law and fact, because in our higher parts, I and my brother are actually one, just as in our highest parts, as Jesus told us, "I and my Father are one."

The clashes of men and of aggregates of men never come when they are functioning on the higher planes of thought and feeling. These clashes come solely when men's center of consciousness is focused in the lower reaches of the stream of consciousness which is man. Men do not fight when they are occupied with the grand, universal, impersonal problems or achievements of life, or even when occupied with the humbler harmonious things that preserve our conviction of Universal Brotherhood. For example, one could hardly imagine a serious altercation, on the one hand, over the composing of a Beethoven symphony, the painting of a Chinese landscape, the writing of a Shakespearean drama, the building of the Taj Mahal, the discovery of radium, the enunciation of the Theory of Relativity; no, nor on the other hand, are world-conflicts started over a mother tenderly caring for her child, a father conscientiously providing for his family, a physician ministering to his patient, an artisan diligently practising his skill, or a laborer proving himself worthy of his hire. These are the things that attest the truth of this first great idea, that of universal brotherhood based upon the essential unity of the whole human family. As the Master Koot Hoomi Lal Singh writes in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (page 17):

The term "Universal Brotherhood" is no idle phrase. Humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us. . . . It is the only secure foundation for universal morality. If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind: and it is the aspiration of the true adept.


This brings us to a consideration of the second great idea, that of human perfectibility. If we would understand the truth of this second great idea we shall have to share in the aspiration of the true Adept towards realization of Universal Brotherhood. We can grasp the idea of human perfectibility by opening our eyes to the relative perfection of the great spiritual Sages and Seers, the Buddhas and the Christs, who have trodden the path ahead of us, and by comparing our own past and present imperfection with, hopefully, our yearnings and aspirations towards ever greater perfection in the endless journey before us. Such aspirations lie at the heart of every right-thinking man and woman.

The proof of the verity of this second great idea, i. e., that man is a being who may raise himself towards perfection, to the stature of Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate, is found in the response of every normal human being to the innate godlike qualities made manifest in individual lives. We all admire the man of courage; we reverence the woman of compassion; we seek help from the learned and guidance from the wise; we rejoice in generosity and we are in love with love. Our higher self triumphantly responds to the call of duty even when the performance of that duty may involve the destruction of the outer man. That within us which is less than Godhead, alas, often veils the shining splendor which is our real self marching on towards perfection. But it is this real self which forever assures us in our moments of aspiration of the truth of this second great idea, which the Master Jesus reminded us of when he said that we must be perfect even as the Father in Heaven is perfect.

The greatest and most enduring thoughts in our literary heritage are those which proclaim in some form the perfectibility of man. "Come up higher" is the essence of every truly inspired message appealing to the god within us. This Inner Buddha, this Christ Immanent, is the source of the grand manner in poetry and in prose, in epic and in saga, in psalm and in sastra. The hunger of our inmost being for perfection will not permit us to be satisfied with the husks of merely limited, selfish, personal, animal existence. This spiritual hunger is the cause of our divine discontent. It is the origin of every sincere effort to make the world a better world to live in.

The innate hunger in the soul of man for perfection is nourished and satisfied by the enduring truths of religion and philosophy and science, and by the creative labors of mind and hand. Said a wise man: "Perfection is the standard of Heaven; the desire for perfection is the standard of men."

Many have been the sign-posts which the spiritual Teachers of all ages have left us, by following which we may tread the path towards perfection. The scriptures of ancient China, India, Persia, Palestine, Greece, Rome, the Moslem Empire, and old Scandinavia, as well as the most enduring literature of the modern world, are full of spiritual food to satisfy man's hunger for ever-increasing perfection.

The Voice of the Silence, translated by H. P. Blavatsky from an ancient Eastern scripture called "The Book of the Golden Precepts," is a veritable treasure-chest of priceless jewels of thought set in exquisite words, all evidencing the truth of this second great idea of human perfectibility and pointing to the path of its realization.

Have patience, Candidate, as one who fears no failure, courts no success. Fix thy Soul's gaze upon the star whose ray thou art, the flaming star that shines within the lightless depths of ever-being, the boundless fields of the Unknown.

Have perseverance as one who doth for evermore endure. Thy shadows live and vanish; that which in thee shall live forever, that which in thee knows, for it is knowledge, is not of fleeting life: it is the man that was, that is, and will be, for whom the hour shall never strike.

Do these directions of the Exalted Ones bearing witness to their realization of the perfectibility of man seem too transcendental for us ordinary mortals? To be sure, they are beacon-lights from the mountain-tops beckoning us to come up higher, ever higher; but the mountain-tops must be scaled step by step. I know of nothing more helpful and reassuring to the humble traveler along the path of human perfectibility than the following inspiring passage from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (page 372):

Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your "family duties?" Nay, but what better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me my "pupil," the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and loving-kindnesses, will through those faithfully fulfilled rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity — what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage — since good and evil are not to be measured by events on the lower or physical plane.


The third great idea proclaimed by William Q. Judge is, as he tells us, "the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is that the Masters — those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow — are living veritable facts."

Perhaps no idea with which H. P. Blavatsky and the early Fellows of the Theosophical Society made the Western world familiar caused so much controversy as did this one about living Adepts, Masters of Wisdom, Elder Brothers, Mahatmans, Initiates, as they are variously called. It was at once the most startling, the most inspiring, the most intriguing, the most controversial, and the most abused of all the doctrines introduced into occidental thought by the Theosophical Society.

The whole question of the actual existence of the Theosophical Mahatmans and of the abuse of sacred names and terms is admirably summarized by H. P. Blavatsky in Section XIV of The Key to Theosophy. The gist of her argument is that if these Adepts and Masters from whom she stated she received her teachings are mere figments of her own fertile imagination, as alleged by her enemies, then she must be credited with being herself three times over a Mahatman by virtue of the magnificent system of science, philosophy, and religion which she promulgated but which she never for one moment claimed to have originated out of her own mind or studies. In her greatest work, The Secret Doctrine, she says, in substance, that the teachings therein contained are not hers, but Theirs who sent her.

Now, some intuitive, spiritually-minded people of my acquaintance, whose good faith I would no more question than I would doubt that the sun shines, actually know of the existence of the Masters in ways that to them are conclusive. Others have had to arrive at a conviction of the existence of living Masters by a process of hard thinking. For the benefit of those who may be of this latter type of mind, I will briefly rehearse the logical processes of thought through which one such, whom I shall call Mr. X, became satisfied as to the existence of living Masters of Wisdom.

1. This individual was startled into thinking along this line by reading that Thomas Henry Huxley, the great English biologist, had come to the conclusion that there must be beings as far more
evolved than we ourselves are, as we are above the black beetle.

2. X began by saying to himself: "My father and my mother, my teachers and my friends, grand and lovable people as they are, surely cannot be the last word in evolution, even on this globe of ours."

3. X read Carlyle's lectures on Heroes and Hero-Worship and began to acquire a philosophical understanding of the basis of man's innate admiration and love for the great qualities of genius
in men more highly evolved than ourselves.

4. X began to study and to familiarize himself in some measure with the lives and teachings of the spiritually Enlightened Ones — the founders of the great religions and philosophies; and X
soon recognised that here, at least, were historical characters who were obviously far more evolved than any of the good people whom it had been his privilege to know personally.

5. X attended meetings in the Theosophical Temple at Point Loma, and heard Dr. de Purucker say over and over again, in substance: "What nature has produced once, nature can produce again."
(X was getting "hot on the trail" of a deep-seated conviction as to the actual existence of living Adepts and Masters.)

6. X read The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, and he knew that those letters could not possibly have been written by men less evolved than members of the Brotherhood of Mahatmans or "Great Souls."

7. In those Mahatma Letters X came across two passages among many others, which he thought might have been directed to him — generically speaking, in other words, to men of his type of mind. Here they are. On page 246, X read:

It is not physical phenomena that will ever bring conviction to the hearts of the unbelievers in the "Brotherhood" but rather phenomena of intellectuality, philosophy and logic, if I may so express it.

The other passage had to do with the founding of The Theosophical Society and occurs on page 263. The letter from which it is quoted, was received in February, 1882, by Mr. A. P. Sinnett, a distinguished Anglo-Indian journalist at Allahabad. It was written by the Master Morya and reads in part as follows:

On the 17th of November next the Septenary term of trial given the Society at its foundation in which to discreetly "preach us" will expire. One or two of us hoped that the world had so far advanced intellectually, if not intuitionally, that the Occult doctrine might gain an intellectual acceptance, and the impulse given for a new cycle of occult research. Others — wiser as it would now seem — held differently, but consent was given for the trial. . .

In a few more months the term of probation will end. If by that time the status of the Society as regards ourselves — the question of the "Brothers" be not definitely settled (either dropped out of the Society's programme or accepted on our own terms) that will be the last of the "Brothers" of all shapes and colours, sizes or degrees. We will subside out of public view like a vapour into the ocean. Only those who have proved faithful to themselves and to Truth through everything, will be allowed further intercourse with us.

That last sentence also contains the implied promise that those who do prove faithful to themselves and to truth through everything shall be allowed further intercourse with the Masters. In any case they have left us abundant teaching and guidance.

Having become convinced in his own mind of the actual existence of this Brotherhood of the Masters, X was amazed to find in his serious reading, even outside of specifically Theosophical literature, many hints hitherto hidden from him of the existence of the Adepts throughout the ages, also valuable directions as to how to become like unto them. In the November, 1940, issue of THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM there is an article by Elsie V. Savage on this very subject: "How to Become an Adept." I commend it to everyone who is interested. The November issue of The Reader's Digest has a fine article by Walter B. Pitkin, author of Life Begins at Forty. He tells about the most unforgettable character he ever knew, Henry Sherrard, who taught Greek at the Detroit High School in the 1890's. Mr. Pitkin describes his hero in these words: ". . . Sherrard was that rarest of humans, a perfectionist whose devotion to perfection was itself perfection," and he quotes Sherrard as saying to his pupils on the first day in class: "I don't like good students. I like only the best. I don't like a good translation. I like only the right translation."

The goal of adeptship is not to be reached without toil and strict adherence to the ideal of doing every single task as perfectly as possible. If we do this, we shall be able to appreciate the following passage from Emerson's Essay on Nature:

Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the Creator in the finite. This view, which admonishes me where the sources of wisdom and power lie, and points to virtue as to

          "The golden key
     Which opes the palace of Eternity,"

carries upon its face the highest certificate of truth, because it animates me to create my own world through the purification of my soul.

The Noblest Thing

The noblest thing that we can do is so to change the thought of the world that men will realize their Oneness with the inner beings on the various planes of Life Universal, and govern themselves accordingly, not merely in the legislatures, but in their teachings and in their personal conduct of life, and in their care for their brothers, and in their sense of loyalty and fidelity to their teachers, those whom they know and believe to have that truth. — G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p. 318

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