This series originally appeared in the French magazine La Revue Theosophique, May 1889, under the title "Le Phare de L'Inconnu." One of H. P. Blavatsky's most brilliant articles, it presents a clear statement of the meaning of true Theosophy in theory and in practice. It shows the striking contrast between the aims and methods of those who retire to the jungle or to the desert with the sole idea of saving their own souls, indifferent to the woes of humanity, and the true disciple who is trained to give up thought of self and "live to benefit mankind." It first appeared in translation from the original French in The Theosophist, Volume X.
After all, critics who judge only by appearances are not altogether wrong. There is Theosophy and Theosophy: the true Theosophy of the Theosophist, and the Theosophy of a Fellow of the Society of that name. What does the world know of true Theosophy? How can it distinguish between that of a Plotinus, and that of the false brothers? And of the latter the Society possesses more than its share. The egoism, vanity and self-sufficiency of the majority of mortals is incredible. There are some for whom their little personality constitutes the whole universe, beyond which there is no salvation. Suggest to one of these that the alpha and omega of wisdom are not limited by the circumference of his or her head, that his or her judgment could not be considered quite equal to that of Solomon, and straight away he or she accuses you of anti-theosophy. You have been guilty of blasphemy against the spirit, which will not be pardoned in this century, nor in the next. These people say, "I am Theosophy," as Louis XIV said "I am the State." They speak of fraternity and of altruism and care in reality only for that for which no one else cares — themselves — in other words their little "me." Their egoism makes them fancy that it is they only who represent the temple of Theosophy, and that in proclaiming themselves to the world they are proclaiming Theosophy. Alas! the doors and windows of that "temple" are no better than so many channels through which enter, but very seldom depart, the vices and illusions characteristic of egoistical mediocrities.
These people are the white ants of the Theosophical Society, which eat away its foundations, and are a perpetual menace to it. It is only when they leave it that it is possible to breathe freely.
It is not such as these that can ever give a correct idea of practical Theosophy, still less of the transcendental Theosophy which occupies the minds of a little group of the elect. Every one of us possesses the faculty, the interior sense, that is known by the name of intuition, but how rare are those who know how to develop it! It is, however, only by the aid of this faculty that men can ever see things in their true colors. It is an instinct of the soul, which grows in us in proportion to the employment we give it, and which helps us to perceive and understand the realities of things with far more certainty than can the simple use of our senses and the exercise of our reason. What are called good sense and logic enable us to see only the appearance of things, that which is evident to everyone. The instinct of which I speak, being a projection of our perceptive consciousness, a projection which acts from the subjective to the objective, and not vice versa, awakens in us the spiritual senses and power to act; these senses assimilate to themselves the essence of the object or of the action under examination, and represent it to us as it really is, not as it appears to our physical senses and to our cold reason. "We begin with instinct, we end with omniscience," says Professor A. Wilder, our oldest colleague. Iamblichus has described this faculty, and certain Theosophists have been able to appreciate the truth of his description.
"There exists," he says, "a faculty in the human mind which is immeasurably superior to all those which are grafted or engendered in us. By it we can attain to union with superior intelligences, finding ourselves raised above the scenes of this earthly life, and partaking of the higher existence and superhuman powers of the inhabitants of the celestial spheres. By this faculty we find ourselves liberated finally from the dominion of destiny (Karma), and we become, as it were, the arbiters of our own fates. For when the most excellent parts in us find themselves filled with energy; and when our soul is lifted up towards essences higher than science, it can separate itself from the conditions which hold it in the bondage of every-day life; it exchanges its ordinary existence for another one, it renounces the conventional habits which belong to the external order of things, to give itself up to and mix itself with another order of things which reigns in that most elevated state of existence."
Plato expressed the same idea in these lines: "The light and spirit of the Divinity are the wings of the soul. They raise it to communion with the gods, above this earth, with which the spirit of man is too ready to soil itself. . . To become like the gods is to become holy, just and wise. That is the end for which man was created, and that ought to be his aim in the acquisition of knowledge."
This is true Theosophy, inner Theosophy, that of the soul. But followed with a selfish aim Theosophy changes its nature and becomes demonosophy. That is why Oriental wisdom teaches us that the Hindu Yogi who isolates himself in an impenetrable forest, like the Christian hermit who, as was common in former times, retires to the desert, are both of them nothing but accomplished egoists. The one acts with the sole idea of finding a nirvanic refuge against reincarnation; the other acts with the unique idea of saving his soul — both of them think only of themselves. Their motive is altogether personal; for, even supposing they attain their end, are they not like cowardly soldiers, who desert their regiment when it is going into action, in order to keep out of the way of the bullets?
In isolating themselves as they do, neither the Yogi nor the "Saint" helps anyone but himself; on the contrary, both show themselves profoundly indifferent to the fate of mankind, whom they fly from and desert. Mount Athos (1) contains, perhaps, a few sincere fanatics; nevertheless, even these have without knowing it got off the only track that leads to the truth — the path of Calvary, on which each one voluntarily bears the cross of humanity, and for humanity. In reality it is a nest of the coarsest kind of selfishness; and it is to such places that Adam's remark on monasteries applies: "There are solitary creatures there who seem to have fled from the rest of mankind for the sole pleasure of communing with the Devil tete-a-tete."
Gautama, the Buddha, only remained in solitude long enough to enable him to arrive at the truth, which he devoted himself from that time on to promulgate, begging his bread, and living for humanity. Jesus retired to the desert for only forty days, and died for this same humanity. Apollonius of Tyana, Plotinus, Iamblichus, while leading lives of singular abstinence, almost of asceticism, lived in the world and for the world. The greatest ascetics and saints of our days are not those who retire into inaccessible places, but those who pass their lives in traveling from place to place, doing good and trying to raise mankind; although, indeed, they may avoid Europe, and those civilized countries where no one has any eyes or ears except for himself, countries divided into two camps — Cains and Abels.
Those who regard the human soul as an emanation of the Deity, as a particle or ray of the universal and Absolute soul, understand the parable of the Talents better than do the Christians. He who hides in the earth the talent which has been given him by his "Lord" will lose that talent, as the ascetic loses it, who takes it into his head to "save his soul" in egoistical solitude. The "good and faithful servant" who doubles his capital, by harvesting for him who has not sown because he had not the means of doing so, and who reaps for the poor who have not scattered the grain, acts like a true altruist. He will receive his recompense, just because he has worked for another, without any idea of remuneration or reward. That man is the altruistic Theosophist, while the other is an egoist and a coward.
The Beacon-light upon which the eyes of all real Theosophists are fixed is the same towards which in all ages the imprisoned human soul has struggled. This Beacon, whose light shines upon no earthly seas, but which has mirrored itself in the sombre depths of the primordial waters of infinite space, is called by us, as by the earliest Theosophists, "Divine Wisdom." That is the last word of the esoteric doctrine; and in antiquity, where was the country, having the right to call itself civilized, that did not possess a double system of Wisdom, of which one part was for the masses, and the other for the few — the exoteric and the esoteric? This name, Wisdom, or as we say sometimes, the "Wisdom Religion" or Theosophy, is as old as the human mind. The title of Sages — the priests of this worship of truth — was its first derivative. These names were afterwards transformed into philosophy and philosophers — the "lovers of science" or of wisdom. It is to Pythagoras that we owe that name, as also that of Gnosis, the system of "the knowledge of things as they are," or of the essence that is hidden beneath the external appearance. Under that name, so noble and so correct in its definition, all the masters of antiquity designated the aggregate of our knowledge of things human and divine. The sages and Brahmanas of India, the magi of Chaldea and Persia, the hierophants of Egypt and Arabia, the prophets of Nabi of Judea and of Israel, as well as the philosophers of Greece and Rome, have always classified that science in two divisions — the esoteric, or the true, and the exoteric, disguised in symbols. To this day the Jewish Rabbis give the name of Mercabah to the body or vehicle of their religious system, that which contains within it the higher knowledge, accessible only to the Initiates, and of which higher knowledge it is only the husk.
We are accused of mystery, and we are reproached with making a secret of the higher Theosophy. We confess that the doctrine which we call gupta vidya (secret science) is only for the few. But where were the masters in ancient times who did not keep their teachings secret, for fear they would be profaned? From Orpheus and Zoroaster, Pythagoras and Plato, down to the Rosicrucians and to the more modern Freemasons, it has been the invariable rule that the disciple must gain the confidence of the master before receiving from him the supreme and final word. The most ancient religions have always had their greater and lesser mysteries. The neophytes and catechumens took an inviolable oath before they were accepted. The Essenes of Judea and Mount Carmel required the same thing. The Nabi and the Nazars (the "separated ones" of Israel), like the lay Chelas and the Brahmacharins of India, differed greatly from each other. The former could, and can, be married and remain in the world, while they are studying the sacred writings up to a certain point; the latter, the Nazars and the Brahmacharins, have always been entirely vowed to the mysteries of initiation. The great schools of Esotericism were international, although exclusive, as is proved by the fact that Plato, Herodotus, and others, went to Egypt to be initiated; while Pythagoras, after visiting the Brahmins of India, stopped at an Egyptian sanctuary, and finally was received, according to Iamblichus, at Mount Carmel. Jesus followed the traditional custom, and justified his reticence by quoting the well known precept:
Give not the sacred things to the dogs,
Cast not your pearls before the swine,
Lest these tread them under their feet,
And lest the dogs turn and rend you.
Certain ancient writings — known, for that matter, to the bibliophiles — personify Wisdom; which they represent as emanating from Ain-Soph, the Parabrahm of the Jewish Kabbalists, and make it the associate and companion of the manifested Deity. Thence its sacred character with every people. Wisdom is inseparable from divinity. Thus we have the Vedas coming from the mouth of the Hindu "Brahma" (the logos); the name Buddha comes from Budha, "Wisdom," divine intelligence; the Babylonian Nebo, Thoth of Memphis, Hermes of the Greeks, were all gods of esoteric wisdom.
The Greek Athena, Metis and Neith of the Egyptians, are the prototypes of Sophia-Achamoth, the feminine wisdom of the Gnostics. The Samaritan Pentateuch calls the book of Genesis Akamauth, or "Wisdom," as also two fragments of very ancient manuscripts, "the Wisdom of Solomon," and "the Wisdom of Iasous (Jesus)." The book called Mashalim or "Sayings and Proverbs of Solomon," personifies Wisdom by calling it "the helper of the (Logos) creator," in the following terms, (literally translated):
I (a) H V (e) H possessed me from the beginning.
But the first emanation in the eternities,
I appeared from all antiquity, the primordial. —
From the first day of the earth;
I was born before the great abyss.
And when there were neither springs nor waters,
When he traced the circle on the face of the deep,
I was with him Amun.
I was his delight, day by day.
This is exoteric, like all that has reference to the personal gods of the nations. The Infinite cannot be known to our reason, which can only distinguish and define; but we can always conceive the abstract idea thereof, thanks to that faculty higher than our reason — intuition, or the spiritual instinct of which I have spoken. Only the great Initiates, who have the rare power of throwing themselves into the state of Samadhi — which can be but imperfectly translated by the word ecstasy, a state in which one ceases to be the conditioned and personal "I," and becomes one with the All — only these can boast of having been in contact with the infinite: but no more than other mortals can they describe that state in words.
These few characteristics of true theosophy and its practice have been sketched for the small number of our readers who are gifted with the desired intuition.
1. A celebrated Grecian monastery. (return to text)
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