An Overview of Theosophy

By Kirby Van Mater
Presented at the Parliament of the World's Religions, August 31, 1993.

The field of theosophical knowledge is vast, encompassing creation, death, and the evolution of universes, human beings, and atoms. To summarize in a few minutes is like trying to bring home the ocean in a teacup. We have all beheld the night sky and felt the mystery of that great expanse. It is more than just a void, a vast container of substance. As a friend of mine once said: "There is something out there." How true, and we feel its presence. Those twinkling stars and galaxies speak to us of some existence beyond words to express — we are drawn to them as though we belonged. And, of course, we do belong. Somewhere deep inside our consciousness, at the very roots of our being, that which is out there is within us also. Indeed there is a universal relationship, a universal brotherhood.

Theosophy is probably viewed a little differently by each person. I have with me three definitions. The first was written a month or so ago:

The theosophical movement is an enterprise as old as thinking humanity, encompassing as it does the world's spiritual heritage. Theosophy (from the Greek theos "god" and sophia "wisdom") is here synonymous with the perennial philosophy or wisdom-religion, and includes the universal core of the world's mystic, religious, philosophic, and scientific systems. It can be found in myths and traditional knowledge, as well as in systems of thought and belief, of peoples all over the world because all express in different ways the realities underlying the cosmos.

The second was written about a hundred years ago:

Theosophy is that ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings; unfathomable in its deepest parts, it gives the greatest minds their fullest scope, yet, shallow enough at its shores, it will not overwhelm the understanding of a child.

The last is yet different:

Theosophy is the inner life in every religion. It is no new religion, but is as old as Truth itself. . . .
Theosophy will bring something to you that can never pass away: the consciousness of your Divine, your Inner Self; a conviction of your inherent power to conserve your energy along the highest spiritual lines. For man cannot find his true place in the great scheme of human life until he has ennobled and enriched his nature, with the consciousness of his Divinity. . . .
Think of Theosophy, not so much as a body of philosophic or other teaching, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion, . . .

A concept of universal brotherhood is fundamental to understanding theosophy. A full explanation of this concept eventually encompasses the whole philosophy. There is no ultimate separateness; rather, there is a consciousness that reflects itself everywhere, and this consciousness is as fundamental to our universe as is the substance which composes it. Perhaps a better word for substance might be consciousness-substance, because life or consciousness is common to all forms and fundamental to matter itself. Theosophically speaking, there is no material expression from atoms to cosmos that is not conscious also; all are expressions of beings — reimbodying, evolving consciousnesses as we are. Our urge to grow, to evolve, to become, is fundamental to us because it is fundamental to the greater beings in which we exist.

Along these lines, H. P. Blavatsky, the principal founder of the modern theosophical movement, proposed three fundamental or axiomatic ideas. First, that there is an eternal, unknowable cause or principle, beyond the grasp of the human mind, which underlies all existence. Second, the eternity of boundless space as the ground for the emergence and disappearance of numberless universes and their inhabitants in accordance with cyclic law. And third, that all beings are fundamentally identical with the universal spirit and must reimbody repeatedly in all types of forms in order to evolve forth their full potentials.

Each being, then, is in essence an egoic or monadic center destined to pass through all kingdoms of nature from the most elemental to the gods. There are many ranges of intelligences both below and beyond the human kingdom in spiritual development, and the interrelationship among all kingdoms increasingly demands our attention as human beings. All life is becoming ever more consciously awakened, more spiritually aware. Evolution is the unfolding of consciousness which in turn brings about its expression through different outer forms. The consummation for mankind is self-conscious identification with the spiritual self within.

As human beings we evolve our latent capacities through cycles of reimbodiment or reincarnation. In this light death is not an ending, but a different state of existence, as natural a part of the rhythm of human life as is birth. A human being is much more than a body, or emotions, or mind. Our inner core is an indestructible atom of the spiritual heart of the universe. Through our myriad transformations of consciousness and form we always remain expressions of this essential selfhood, creating our character and destiny by our action or karma. Action and reaction function on all planes — spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical — and today we are the summation of everything we have been and done throughout an eons-long past. It is our responsibility and opportunity to meet positively the results of our past and so continue to grow, expanding our consciousness and sympathies.

Compassion and universality of feeling and outlook are the hallmarks of the truly human. We have not as yet achieved the status of full humanity, but are still struggling to discipline our animal consciousness and to master the constructive use of self-awareness and increased intellectual capacities. Yet the human being is inherently a religious, a spiritual, animal. That which is most dear to us is our search for the divine, for a relationship with something that transcends the human. Whence this urge from so deep inside us? It is rooted in our own divine heritage, and finds its expression in love, self- forgetfulness, service, and in the strength and determination to be an ever-truer expression of the spiritual within and outside us.

Theosophy is not a science, religion, or philosophy, but rather expresses all three. The Theosophical Society has no wish to establish another religion. It is an association of men and women dedicated to making these eternal, universal ideas available to those who seek them — not as iconoclasts, but rather so that any searcher for truth might better behold the depths of his own beliefs. Thus it is that members of all faiths are welcome into The Theosophical Society.

We have touched upon a few areas of theosophic thought. No doubt all of us have given consideration to the critical issues facing humanity. I feel that without exception they stem from a feeling of separateness among individuals within the human race, and of humanity itself from the rest of the cosmos. The only solution, as I see it, lies in reaching for a larger view of life in which all existence plays an equal part with humankind as living, evolving spiritual beings. Neither fear nor civil law will bring a lasting solution — only understanding based on love.

(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 1993; copyright © 1993 Theosophical University Press)


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Real Theosophy is Altruism, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth. If once men do but realize that in these alone can true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possessions, or any selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new humanity will be born upon earth. Then, the Golden Age will be there, indeed. — H. P. Blavatsky