These three terms, Religion, Philosophy and Science, represent three distinct and supplementary aspects of man's search for a proper relation to the universe of which he is a part. Religion is an expression of the yearning of the finite for the infinite.
The desire of the moth for the star
Of the night for the morrow
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.
It is expressed largely in emotional terms, in feelings, aspirations, longings and deals not merely with worship and devotion to an idea of perfection, but with the problem of good and evil, the formulation of standards of right action and the motives of such action. In brief its concern is the ethical and devotional life of mankind.
But just as religion deals mainly with the heart, so philosophy is concerned with the intellect. It deals with many of the same problems as religion, such as the origin and destiny of the universe, the foundations of knowledge, the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, and the source of the Intelligence manifested in the Cosmos, but its approach is entirely different. It uses reason, it thinks about these things; it seeks to analyze, to define, to describe and to classify all the factors of human experience.
The methods of Science are by observation and experiment. It seeks to ascertain what nature is by studying how nature works and in particular to learn the laws controlling all phenomena so that these phenomena may be subjected to man's voluntary control.
Now these three approaches to reality so supplement each other that in the wiser ages of the past no one would ever have dreamed of separating them. The great temples of religion in the ancient world were at once the shrines of devotion, the academies of philosophy, and the laboratories of science, and the great priest initiates who were their guardians exemplified in themselves the highest attainments in all three fields of learning. The literatures of the ancient world such as those of India, Egypt and Persia, embody the three blended together in a way almost disconcerting to the shallower scholarship of a later age. It was so obvious to these men that man was an ethical-devotional being, an intellectual being and a practical being at one and the same time, that they could hardly have conceived the possibility of anyone attempting to split his many-sided nature into separate and distinct unrelated departments and categories. Holding as the cardinal tenet of their philosophy the indissoluble unity of nature and of man as a part of nature, they exemplified in all their works the statement of G. de Purucker: "Light for the mind, love for the heart, understanding for the intellect, all three must be satisfied before man can have real peace."
But with the progression of the cycles and the accumulation of Karmic tendencies, the splendid unity striven after in the archaic ages was lost and periods succeeded in which one or the other of these attitudes assumed dominance to the detriment not only of the others but of the well-being of mankind as a whole.
History provides examples: the period in Greece around the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries b.c. represents one in which the philosophic approach was uppermost. Such names as Pythagoras, Thales, Heraclitus, Democritus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are too well known to require more than enumeration. They created the very word Philosophy out of two Greek roots which stand for love and wisdom, and interpreted the term in the two senses of the love of wisdom and the wisdom that springs from love. Their magnificent achievements in philosophy are a shining light to all succeeding ages, yet the decline of religious faith among their contemporaries and the neglect of the physical sciences permitted civilization to lapse into a declining cycle from which it can hardly be said to have emerged even today.
Europe of the Middle Ages, say from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries, furnishes an example of the dominance of religion to the detriment of other phases of human activity. While many apologists for this period have demurred at the expression "The Dark Ages" commonly applied to it, the term is accurate enough if we recall the widespread ignorance, the degrading superstition, the repulsive squalor, the appalling cruelty and brutality, and the insane fanaticism which characterized the life of this age, bearing in mind also, of course, a few noble exceptions which shine like lone beacon lights amid the surrounding darkness.
The modern world furnishes an example of a civilization dominated by the physical sciences to the neglect and detriment of both religion and philosophy. The consequences of this are so obvious in all the conditions around us as to call for no comment on my part. The use of natural forces for destructive rather than constructive ends, the failure to apply existing knowledge to advance the general well-being, and the absence of any generally recognized ethical standards as dominant factors in molding human relations must be obvious to all. Science has created a monster which threatens to destroy its creator, religion turns feeble and sadly longing eyes to the outworn superstitions of the past, while philosophy contents itself with merely describing and rationalizing what has transpired without any serious effort at assuming leadership or seeking to discover the clues which would lead out of this dismal labyrinth in which mankind wanders, as The Voice of the Silence puts it, "in wretched desolation, starving for the bread of Wisdom, and the bread which feeds the shadow, without a Teacher, hope or consolation."
In this dark picture of despair what hope or encouragement can be found? Only that which Theosophy has to offer. I do firmly believe that the great Masters of Wisdom and Compassion had this mainly in mind, when they permitted treasures of wisdom kept secret since the foundation of the modern world to be given out by H. P. Blavatsky and the other Leaders of the Theosophical Society. Alone amid the discordant voices of the distracted world, Theosophy repeats the grand old watchwords of harmony and unity. In her monumental work, The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky takes for her sub-title, "The synthesis of Religion, Science and Philosophy." But how does Theosophy hope to effect such a synthesis?
In the first place by demonstrating that the Universe, the Cosmos, in all its seeming multiplicity and diversity, is a manifestation of The One Life; that what we call matter and what we call spirit are but illusory aspects of one reality; and second, that the various departments of man's own nature, such as the ethical, the aesthetic the intellectual and the practical are but aspects, phases or facets of the same being, and that man is in no sense a complete being if any of these is neglected or given disproportionate prominence.
We see then that Theosophy propounds a philosophy in which man and the universe are essentially one, and in which the material and spiritual aspects of both are essentially one. Thus, there can be no true science which neglects religion, and no true religion which neglects science, while philosophy stands as the organizing and harmonizing mediator between the two. In such a picture, the Universe is not viewed as a vast, lifeless machine, governed by chance, accident and purely mechanical laws, nor is Divinity something external and apart from the Universe. As a poet has said
"All are but parts of one stupendous whole
Whose body Nature is, and God the Soul."
Only nature as viewed by the Theosophist includes spiritual as well as material nature, expressed in worlds visible and invisible, and the "God" of the Theosophist is an aspect of the Causeless Cause expressed in the tiniest atoms as well as in worlds and systems of worlds. Man in this scheme stands as an inseparable part of the Cosmos, partaking alike of its spiritual and material aspects, having as the heart of the heart of his being the same Divinity which is at the heart of the universe, and expressing through vehicles of his many-sided constitution the same phases of that Divinity as find expression in universal nature.
How then can there be any separation between religion, science and philosophy? How can one know god except through nature, outer and inner, and how can one know nature except through science physical and divine? How can man know what to do with his knowledge and powers except through religion, and how, except by philosophy, can the relations between spirit and matter in nature, and spirit and matter in man and all these to each other ever be revealed?
So out of the tumults and confusions sprung from ignorance Theosophy raises the grand old Rallying Cry: Fideles, Sursum Corda! Lift up your hearts, ye faithful ones. Lift up your eyes unto the hills whence cometh your strength, the hills of the Ancient Wisdom of Mankind, which through its revelation of the essential oneness in both man and nature shows how all paths may lead to the same goal and how all are equally indispensable and all equally profitable to pursue, providing we do not lose touch with that thread of light which, running through all, makes the Cosmos and all its component entities one living Being, the embodiment of a Divinity.
The Theosophical ForumTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE