Theosophy's Role Today

By Grace F. Knoche and Kirby Van Mater

Question — What is the difference between the theosophic purpose and that of the great religions? Doesn't every religious philosophy enjoin brotherhood? Don't they record the same noble ethics and urge the living of them?

GFK — They do indeed. What, then, does theosophy offer? In the first place, we have to think of theosophy as reaching back many millions of years to that momentous epoch in human history when our mind-heart was awakened. That epoch was recorded in Genesis and in many other religious scriptures and myths. But by the nineteenth century these ancient truths, taught again and again to mankind, had long been forgotten, or at least their luster had been dimmed through priestcraft and the ravages of time.

When the "sons of mind" — manasaputras, Lucifer, Prometheus, or whatever name we give these lightbringers — found the karmic moment to quicken the fires of our mental, emotional, and heart nature, this opened up a marvelous opportunity for the human race. At that period certain primal truths were given to early mankind, and it is these truths that every people has reexpressed after its own manner. Sometimes the forms are so difficult to comprehend that they have been grossly misrepresented. H. P. Blavatsky opened wide the gates of our understanding and re-illumined these sacred truths in such a stimulating way that every religious philosophy and traditional presentation could be recognized as another expression of the same wondrous wisdom.

Theosophy's aims are not new. The idea of brotherhood as a living, workable philosophy has surfaced time and again. All illuminati of the spirit emphasize it as their chief objective. The lives of the great teachers are an exemplification of this ideal. Way back in time Prince Siddhartha broke through the bigotry of the Brahmans and talked openly of these truths with the people. To him there was no greater rule than to love and to understand the brethren, and to him the whole of humanity was the brethren.

Every effort of a world teacher is toward fostering the ideal way of living that would loosen and eventually destroy the fetters binding human souls. In the Renaissance several labored to show that the microcosm, the little world of man, is a smaller part and a reflection of the macrocosm. Elaborate schemes were worked out by Qabbalists, Hermetists, and Rosicrucians, their objective being to reveal a universal order of harmony throughout. These outstanding geniuses in various countries of Europe were relatively few in number but they knew and communicated with one another in secret — a quiet network uniting enlightened minds in England, Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. It was a network spiritually inspired, but unfortunately its influence did not filter through to the world at large. It did not sweep into the life of the common people because, toward the end of the sixteenth century in particular, a powerful counter effort, the Counter-Reformation, was launched in order to bring back into the fold all who had dared to stray from orthodoxy.

No effort toward onehood, however, is ever lost. That network was not new then; it has always existed. In fact, the theosophical effort today is an indivisible part of that ancient association of the dedicated. There are many efforts today that are outwardly unconnected with the theosophical movement but which are impulsed by the same altruistic purpose. Yet in and through the webwork of light exist influences of an opposing character which seek to cast a shadow on the purity of the endeavor. We should be able to discern the gold beneath the dross.

Question — Aren't practical efforts to help the millions of suffering and needy people around the world of primary importance?

GFK — Theosophists are the friends of all movements that work toward the amelioration of the human condition, and therefore are supportive of every enlightened effort. However, we must be realistic. Much as we would like to, it is impossible for us to send people into different countries to do this type of saving work. Some theosophists are involved in one or another benevolent activity, but as a Society, as H. P. Blavatsky well said, ours is a more difficult — even a more important — task: to work to uproot the causes of the difficulties (H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions: 1888-1891, p. 8). It is to the causes of human misery and illness and poverty that we would address ourselves most earnestly. It is on just this point where we have to question and reexamine ourselves, because quite unconsciously one could hide behind that fa\ccade and become selfish and even hardhearted, feeling "our work is not among the people, but simply in the realm of ideas."

Our work is among ideas, but our work, to remain alive, has to be a continuous dedication of ourselves to seeing that only positive and constructive energies go into the thought world, into the sharing of these ideas. If this is truly an all-absorbing quality of the nature, we will find ourselves actually helping to relieve those very conditions in an inner way and, possibly without our knowledge, inspire others to work in an outward way.

Kirby Van Mater — How can we help people in thought? We speak of universal brotherhood and the brotherhood of mankind. We are truly a human brotherhood, not only in the physical world in which we live and the spiritual world which we share, but also in the thought world and in the emotional world. In all these worlds we are more interlinked than we have any idea of. Every thought we have we share with others. When I first joined the Theosophical Society many years ago, someone said to me that theosophists lead the thought life of the world. As I had just been studying the thoughts and ideas of the great thinkers, I wondered to myself, how can this be? Certainly we are not as influential as they. But I have found out since then that great ideas can be entertained by anyone, and in this world where so many are working toward divisiveness, the noble concepts of brotherhood and the oneness of all things are sadly needed.

After more than a hundred years of endeavor theosophists can say truly that their ideas have spread around the world. The few individuals who started the Theosophical Society have become countless thousands, and the primal endeavor of the Society has taken many forms and names, showing that ideas do rule the world. By holding these thoughts and in the contemplation of them we do indeed influence the leading modern thinkers.

GFK — This makes me think of HPB's second letter to the American Conventions, where she quotes these lines from her teachers:

Let not the fruit of good Karma be your motive; for your Karma, good or bad, being one and the common property of all mankind, nothing good or bad can happen to you that is not shared by many others. Hence your motive, being selfish, can only generate a double effect, good and bad, and will either nullify your good action, or turn it to another man's profit . . . There is no happiness for one who is ever thinking of Self and forgetting all other Selves. — p. 22

And then the Master has this telling sentence: "The Universe groans under the weight of such action (Karma), and none other than self-sacrificial Karma relieves it."

We have a tremendously potent key here. If in truth the universe groans under the burden of selfish acts and thoughts, we are responsible insofar as we have individually contributed to that weight. Every one of us is human, every one of us has mixed motives to a degree, but we have a grand ideal of constantly endeavoring to make our lives truly altruistic. This is a goal that cannot be attained in a single lifetime, but it is a goal that we must never give up. It must be the predominating and overruling influence in our lives and, if we can aspire toward this, then we can have confidence that at least a larger expression of unselfishness than of its opposite will flow forth from us.

Selfishness is hostile to the growth of the soul. It is inimical to the growth of mankind, because it is a turning in upon oneself. Conversely, not thinking ourselves to be of first importance releases the light from within, and the light which flows into our souls does not stay within our own radius. It bursts the barriers of our personalities and sends a radiance into the lives of many, many others. Every altruistic thought and aspiration sends its influence into the thought atmosphere of our world, and every individual — whether known to us or not — who is in sympathetic vibration with that quality of aspiration responds in kind, and his life is ennobled and his surroundings irradiated. In like manner the opposite is true, and for this also we are responsible.

Many today have a deep pessimism concerning our world; they see so many expressions of unbrotherliness, cruelty, and dishonesty being almost accepted as the norm. In fact, pessimism has eroded much of the confidence of our civilization. Part of our task is to replace that pessimistic outlook with its opposite — not a Pollyanna type of optimism, but with a confidence in the capacity of the human soul to open itself to the influx of its innate strength and light and purity.


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We ask for enlightenment and receive from life exactly what we have asked for: that is, if our wishing is personal, perhaps the higher self will bring some pressure to bear so that we may crack open the shell of personality and step out into a grander life. Almost always the qualities we need to unfold our highest hopes are to be found in what life brings us from day to day — only we seldom see them in this light because we are not given the things we long for: we are presented with the opportunities to earn them. We are thus literally surrounded by the answers to our deepest longings! — John P. Van Mater