The Theosophical Forum – October 1950

WHAT IS TRUE PHILOSOPHY? — C. Woodhead

"Philosophy," says George T. Ladd, one-time professor of philosophy at Yale University, "is a critical and rational system of man's judgments and beliefs, that have reference to reality." If, however, we consult other standard authorities we shall find that philosophy covers a great deal more ground than that. One man sums it all up by calling it "reasoned science." Another says that it is "the equable temper that results from the study and understanding of the principles that govern things," in which he agrees with Bulwer Lytton who says, "Philosophy has become another name for mental quietude." Etymologically, as it is generally understood today, philosophy is said to mean the love of wisdom. But there is an older and deeper meaning hidden within its derivation, which will be referred to presently.

No man can live without philosophizing, and every man has a philosophy of his own. To each man it represents his comprehension of those laws of being which define his position in life, and the motives which govern his deeds, thoughts and aspirations. Such has been the case ever since man, in the course of his long dual evolution, united a self-conscious mind to the other principles of his nature. And so we may expect to find some evidences of a philosophy, wherever we find traces of the ideas and mental processes of long vanished races. In every part of the world where archeologists are now busy in upturning these buried memorials, we find allegorical symbols and carvings, many of them still unread, which unmistakably convey across the ages, in veiled language, the concepts of the earlier races of mankind. Of the meaning of some of these concepts we are already fairly well informed. Others remain undiscovered. And so the history of philosophy is as old as the human race.

In recognizing the existence of this archaic philosophy, we may note that in the days of ancient India, Egypt and Chaldea, the intelligent and conscious beings and forces which rule the destinies of the world through the agency of man, were represented by poetic symbols in the forms of men, animals or geometrical figures. It is only within the last century that modern research has begun to understand this. The ignorance which attributed these symbols to a superstitious worship of gods or idols, is well nigh exploded. We might as well believe that the people of the United States worship the goddess of Liberty erected on a lofty pedestal in New York Bay, or the eagle upon the American flag.

Better known but still wofully misunderstood, is the symbolic cosmogony of ancient Greece. The mythological gods and goddesses of the Greeks were regarded by them as typifying the forces of divine and material nature, the aspirations and passions of man, the action of the Great Law of the Universe in its various harmonious manifestations. Shall we still unwisely persist in calling these heroic and cultured people superstitious pagans, because we fail to understand the beautiful allegories which underlie their poetic myths, and which are as true today as they were in the times of their inspired authors?

All these archaic philosophies are as yet comparatively unexplored. They afford a wealth of knowledge, and a depth of wisdom, which are not generally understood. They represent the highest ideals of learned and heroic civilizations. And those ideals have yet to become recognized once more, and incorporated in the philosophy of our modern every day life. When properly studied they will raise us far above that which has been sarcastically called "the philosophy of the steam-engine."

Before proceeding further, reference must be made to the Ancient Mysteries which have been so much misunderstood by some modern uninformed writers. In these representations the archaic philosophy of the early sages was dramatically presented and explained. So many centuries have elapsed since the Mysteries were obliged to give place to the prevalent degradation of ancient wisdom, that modern students have almost lost sight of these sacred symbolic ceremonies. They served to keep alight for ages the most arcane knowledge of man's divine origin and destiny, and almost every great philosopher of old times was one of their Initiates. In Isis Unveiled, H. P. Blavatsky speaks of them as follows:

They were observances, generally kept secret from the profane and uninitiated, in which were taught by dramatic representation and other methods, the origin of things, the nature of the human spirit, its relations to the body, and the method of its purification and restoration to higher life. . . . As Plato and many other sages of antiquity affirm, the Mysteries were highly religious, moral and beneficent as a school of Ethics. . . .In short, the Mysteries were in every country a series of dramatic performances in which the mysteries of cosmogony and nature in general, were personified by the priests and neophytes, who enacted the parts of various gods and goddesses, repeating supposed scenes (allegories) from their respective lives. These were explained in their hidden meaning, to the candidate for initiation and incorporated into philosophical doctrines….When men like Pythagoras, Plato, and Iamblichus, renowned for their severe morality, took part in the Mysteries, and spoke of them with veneration, it ill behooves our modern critics to judge them rashly upon their merely external aspect.

"The wisest and best men in the Pagan world," says Dr. Warburton, "are unanimous in this, that the Mysteries were instituted pure, and proposed the noblest ends by the worthiest means."

More recent than this archaic philosophy, that which is generally called ancient philosophy is supposed to have taken its rise in Greece somewhere about the Sixth Century, b.c. It is almost entirely the product of Greek thought and it reached its culmination in Athens and in Alexandria.

Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are the four great teachers of the early Greek philosophy, and of these Plato and Aristotle are the two best known to us. The teaching of Plato was highly intuitional and shows clearly that he was an Initiate of the Mysteries, while that of Aristotle was coldly intellectual. "The philosophy of Plato," says Dr. Draper, "is a gorgeous castle in the air; that of Aristotle is a solid structure laboriously founded on a rock." However this may be, it would indeed have been well for humanity had succeeding generations pinned their faith to the teachings of Plato rather than to those of his great pupil Aristotle. For Aristotle was the founder of the modern science of intellect, the contriver of the syllogism, the inventor of that inductive philosophy which is little more than brain-mind argument. Could this great man only have foreseen how terribly his system of thought would be misused in future centuries, he would surely have adhered more closely to the teachings of his revered master.

For, fathered by ignorance and love of power and nourished by Aristotle's system of inductive logic, grew up that monstrous system of creed and dogma, which degraded the pure teachings of primitive Christianity and has held the world in ignorance of their true meaning for eighteen centuries. "Aristotelianism," said Professor W. A. Hammond of Cornell University, "became practically the official philosophy of the Catholic Church, which it still continues to be."

And so the ancient purity of the teachings of the Mysteries, of Pythagoras, of Plato and of Jesus became almost lost to humanity. The casuistry of Eusebius and Tertullian led the way to the mediaeval inquisition and to the teachings of the sons of Loyola. And even today, though the sun is plainly breaking through the clouds, and humanity is once more looking for the landmarks of ancient knowledge and true wisdom, yet the strife is by no means ended. Look for a moment at the signs of the times in both Europe and the United States.

With the exception of a brief revival at the great university of Alexandria in the Second and Third Centuries a.d., the archaic intuitional philosophy may be said to have died out with the school of Plato. The schools of the Sophists, the Cynics, the Stoics, the Epicureans, the Skeptics led the way to the work of the ecclesiasts of the early Christian centuries. St. Augustine devoted his great genius to explaining and justifying the theological dogma of his times by the aid of a purely intellectual philosophy, and ultimately a blight of darkness and ignorance fell over Europe and Western Asia. Of these dark ages Professor James E. Creighton of Cornell University wrote as follows:

Scholasticism was the form under which the thought of the Western nations was molded and schooled for long centuries. Ostensibly at least, philosophy during this period was entirely subordinated to the accepted theological doctrines. Credo ut untelligam — I believe that I may understand — was its professed motto.

Then came the Renaissance, the various reformations of ecclesiastical system, and the revival of learning. Since that time a slow awakening has come to the Western world. Men of vast genius and learning have brought forth systems of thought which have swayed the minds of men, and have gradually broken up those perverted ideals which had passed through torrents of human bloodshed and suffering, and been found wanting. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Francis Bacon, Locke, Hume, Priestley, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Fichte, Comte, Darwin, Spencer, Mill, have left noble records. Later days again have brought forth still more numerous speculations. Yet the intelligent yearnings of humanity are not satisfied. The Ancient Mysteries have passed away. The light of archaic philosophy has been nearly extinguished. And the world has discovered that there is something wanting. It is in danger of being overwhelmed in a chaos of self-seeking and of moral destruction. The signs of unrest are everywhere. Surely there is a remedy if it can be found. Let us try and find it.

In searching for a remedy for the existing troubles of the world a very little study will convince us that a merely speculative philosophy will be of small service. We need something lasting, true and eternal. Nothing less than this can do any good. For 2000 years and more, in fact since the times of Pythagoras and Plato, the world has been troubled with speculations. They have appealed very largely to the intellect, to selfishness and ambition. And now the time has come when a widespread opinion has gone abroad that (in the words of H. P. Blavatsky) "there must be somewhere a philosophical and religious system which shall be scientific and not merely speculative. And in one of his dialogues Plato says:

The philosophers are those who are able to grasp the eternal and immutable; they are those who set their affections on that which in each case really exists.

There is a tradition among the pupils of H. P. Blavatsky, that she solved the problem in a few pregnant words: "The ancient and real meaning of philosophy," she said, "is not the love of wisdom but the wisdom of love."

In endeavoring to fathom the depth of this profound truth, we have to recognize the eternal nature of the divine man himself; he who dwells within the mortal frame of the outer man, and for whom the philosophizing brain is but an instrument. If we regard reason as the eye of the mind, then intuition is the eye of the soul which is the real man. The more a man meditates and philosophizes, the more he becomes aware that there is a subjective self within him, which is not that of his ordinary waking consciousness. Says Prof. G. T. Ladd:

The mind of man continues to believe that the forms of man's own mental life and cognition, do somehow represent the beings and events of a world which lies outside that of mental life.

All this the wise archaic sages knew well, but it is not generally taken into account in the systems of modern philosophy. Yet it is the key to the whole question of real philosophy. For if the divine soul of man which is the real perceiver of the good, the beautiful, the true, is other than the thinking brain mind, it can only be that which is omniscient on its own plane, and every effort of philosophy is but an aid to its unveiling. The nature, validity and limits of human reason, as defined by reason itself, is therefore a hopeless task.

All the philosophers of ancient days, amongst whom some of the greatest were the founders of the world-religions, were agreed in teaching that the supreme motive in the Universe is that of boundless love and compassion. Tracing the evolution of existing things from this one unity, a wonderfully harmonious yet complex system was disclosed for man's intuitive recognition. This system included the totality of possible existences of men and things. The conviction that man, and all which he perceives, are thus but part of one great whole, is the first step to the unraveling of the great riddle of the universe.

What we need therefore in these days, is to cease the further comparative analysis of complexities, and seek the synthetic values and ideals which will lead us back to the heart of true being, on the road to which we are all fellow pilgrims. We should seek the similarity of religions rather than their divergences, and try to study the teachings of their divinely inspired founders themselves, rather than the theological dogmas of would-be interpreters which have grown around and obscured them. We should seek to do away with the differences of caste, creed, and color in our own minds and hearts. We should acknowledge the potential divinity of every human soul. These are the "counsels of perfection."

"Depth in philosophy," said Francis Bacon, "bringeth men's minds about to religion." For what is true religion but that tie which unites men in the common bond of their innate divinity, and what is the philosopher's stone of ancient allegory, but that wisdom of love which turns all the baser metals of our lower nature into the golden promise of a higher, truer and nobler life.

"Fear and hatred," said H. P. Blavatsky "are essentially the same. He who fears nothing will never hate, and he who hates nothing will never fear." This is but the analogue of the ancient maxim: "Perfect love casteth out fear." So the wisdom of love gives us boundless courage. It is well illustrated by the lives of those who have not feared either to die for humanity or to live a life of martyrdom in its service. It is a scientific fact on the plane of true being.

And this wisdom of love shows us also the wisdom of the forgiveness of injuries, the wisdom of toleration of each others' weaknesses, the wisdom of non-resentfulness, the wisdom of the divine law which without favor combines justice with mercy.

It is the basis of the teachings of those Masters of human life, such as Gautama the Buddha, and Jesus the Christ, who having solved the mysteries surrounding the relationships which really exist between man and man, between every human soul and every other, have left behind them precepts for our guidance, that we also may solve these problems for ourselves and walk in their footsteps.

Although millenniums have passed away since these precepts were uttered, yet they remain as landmarks for our help and direction, and they shine with a light which can never be effaced. No effort to explain them away, nor to involve them in a cloud of smoky dogma or soul-destroying creed, can diminish their luster. They explain themselves to every man who will consider them with an unbiassed and unclouded mind, for the divine soul of each of us can always be trusted to recognize its own.


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