The Theosophical Forum – September 1944

A SHIELD AGAINST DOGMATISM — Helen Savage

Those who have at heart the interests of the organization in which they work are alert to dangers which may beset that body; and they are fortunate indeed if they have been given certain guide-posts, and have been warned against certain pitfalls, by those whose breadth of vision and large wisdom entitles them to be heeded.

Theosophists who are familiar with the literature of the Society are aware that there is much in the writings of the Founders which bears on this subject of warnings. One of the dangers they consistently warn against is the possibility of dogmatism gradually vitiating the life of the work. H. P. Blavatsky's words in the concluding remarks of The Key to Theosophy are an instance in point. Again, there is W. Q. Judge's answer to a question in The Theosophical Forum for December, 1895, where he insists that to promulgate a dogmatic statement of Theosophy is "to go completely back on the genius of the Theosophical movement."

Such Teachers as these write as they do because they know what the history of religions has to show as the result of misguided loyalty and enthusiasm. They know the tendency of the human mind to "fix" ideas and then cling to them even when the ideas have fled and nothing but words remain. They know too well also the unholy "itch" some people have to impose their beliefs, views and opinions on others, and with what zeal such imposition can be made "in the name of the Cause." It is no wonder that H. P. Blavatsky says in the passage mentioned above from the Key, that every former attempt such as the present Theosophical Society has sooner or later "ended in failure because sooner or later it has degenerated into a sect, set up hard-and-fast dogmas of its own, and so lost by imperceptible degrees that vitality which living truth alone can impart."

What can the individual member do to keep ever on the alert against this danger? We do not want to lessen our enthusiasm in study, nor our zeal in passing on the teaching to those who ask for help. It is equally deteriorating to swing to the extreme of opening our arms to every belief that happens to be floating about and to fail to use our discriminating faculty in determining what is false and what is true.

What then can we do to guard against dogmatism? Perhaps one key to the problem can be found in a passage in G. de Purucker's Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, page 202. He is speaking of The Secret Doctrine and how we can never say that we really have grasped all that is in that marvelous book. He writes:

I have found the value of the following rule: never take a single statement in it and allow your mind to mold itself around it, never let a single idea crystallize; break the molds, let in the light. It is an excellent rule. . . .

I have learned these lessons, and I speak as a witness. Every evening before I go to sleep, I go over the events of the day, and I try to find one or more things in which I have allowed my mind to crystallize around a thought or a fact; and I am merciless to myself if I catch it or them. Not a minute do I temporize. When I find molds of mind, I break them, for I know too well what they mean.

This whole matter thus becomes an individual problem. Dogmatism starts within the mind of the student. If it is not allowed to flourish there then it will not have a chance to spread and show its

ugly nature in our spoken and written word, in our association with our fellow-students, in our attitude to other organizations.

We have to recognise that truth does not dwell in the mind. The mind is the channel, clear or muddy, through which truth may come. A well-stocked mind, full of facts, paradigms, correspondences, and the like, does not constitute an understanding of the teachings. The approach to truth is an ever-living process. Goethe's famous words about life and liberty might well be applied here, substituting for these the word "truth': "Only he merits liberty and life who conquers them daily." What we acquired last year in the way of an understanding will not suffice now. Our conquest of yesterday becomes stale. We must conquer again today — and every day. This is to say that with every attempt at formulation of the teachings, we go not to the mind, but through the mind to that Source which is above. Each time truth must be recaptured.

Study in this way becomes a real devotion, the primal factor in which is a purification and preparation of the mind that it may receive "from above." I believe that this practice if carried out faithfully would absolutely safeguard each one of us from the fault of crystallization of ideas. And there can be no dogmatism where there is a fluidity of the mind, together with a generous sympathy towards the viewpoint of another. This practice, be it noted, would at the same time prevent a wandering away into unessential or even fantastic sidelines — another danger which we are warned against by the Teachers.


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