Review Article

A Theosophic Vision

By Sarah Belle Dougherty
We are transcendent beings, cosmic in power, using human vehicles for growth and expansion of consciousness. Every man, woman, and child is here on earth as the result of aeons of experience, each of us entering life on earth as an ancient soul for a divine purpose. There isn't a single avenue of experience or duty that cannot be viewed through the eyes of our cosmic self. — p. 178

Grace F. Knoche's latest book, To Light a Thousand Lamps: A Theosophic Vision (Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 2001; 221 pages, ISBN 1-55700-170-7, cloth, $17.95; ISBN 1-55700-171-5, softcover, $11.95), is a fresh presentation of theosophy. Written with warmth and insight, it centers on the major concepts of theosophical philosophy and their application to daily living. Evolution, the awakening of mind, reincarnation, death and illness, karma, the hierarchy of compassion, and other subjects are treated with clarity, vigor, and emphasis on their practical significance. The background and purpose of the Theosophical Society are described, along with H. P. Blavatsky's life and work, including the fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine. The value and shortcomings of various religious, scientific, and self-development views and trends also receive attention.

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Ms. Knoche places her discussion firmly within the context of human life, and returns again and again to the core idea of universal brotherhood:

The theosophical philosophy is vast as the ocean. . . Even though its truths go deeply into cosmological intricacies, a beautiful simplicity runs through the whole: oneness is the golden key. We are our brothers, no matter what our racial, social, educational, or religious background. And this affinity is not limited to the human kingdom: it takes in every atomic life that is evolving as we are — all within the webwork of hierarchies that compose this pulsating organism we call our universe. Assuredly our great error has been to regard ourselves as discrete particles adrift in a hostile universe, rather than as god-sparks struck from the central hearth of Divinity — as intrinsically one in essence as the flame of the candle is one with the stellar fires in the core of our sun. — pp. 9-10

This oneness is the reality on which the modern theosophical movement is founded: not oneness as a sentimental, idealistic, or unrealistic goal, but as a fact in nature and the very ground of our being. And because humanity is a oneness, our acts, thoughts, and feelings do not affect merely ourselves, or even those we contact directly; rather, they affect the whole to greater or less degree. How can we make the reality of brotherhood more apparent in human life? The author provides many practical suggestions, saying, for example:

Every human being has full right to his own way of feeling and thinking, to his own idiosyncrasies. We need to respect each other's inner quality as much as we want ours to be respected. Assuredly, the most lasting contribution we can make toward bringing about a recognition of the dignity of every human being is to begin quietly within our own soul. Every person who really feels every other individual to be not only his brother, but his very self, is adding his quota of spiritual power to the moral force of the brotherhood ideal. We are not separate — we are one life-wave, one human family. — p. 181

The subject of evolution is discussed in terms quite different from those of both Creationists and current science and its popularizers: beginning as divine god-sparks, we have fashioned vehicles of spiritual, mental, emotional, ethereal, and physical substance on our eons-long quest to become self-conscious divinities. Rooted in the unfathomable divine principle which underlies every aspect of the cosmos, we each are a universe in miniature, with an innate urge to evolve. As human beings we have progressed from ethereal innocents to self-conscious moral agents, and our future development hinges on self-directed efforts to unfold ever more of the infinite potentials dormant within us. Pursuing this course,

It is indeed our duty to search for truth, wherever it may be; also, to use our keenest discrimination in every circumstance, appreciative of worth yet alert for falsity, knowing that every human being has the inalienable right to follow the path which seems best to him. In reality, the only pathway we can follow is the one we unfold from within ourself as we seek to evolve and self-become what we inwardly are.
Just as the spider spins from itself the silken threads that are to form its web, so do we unfold from the depths of our being the very path that is ours. Our challenge is to heed the mandates of our inner selfhood over and above the external pulls; if we don't, we hurt ourselves — and others too — until we learn. At times those mandates call for a quality of self-discipline and courage we are not accustomed to, and the sacrifice of things we hold dear. But all that is offered in sacrifice is as nothing compared to what we in our innermost self long for. — pp. 111-12

And what do we long for? To unfold ever more fully our spiritual possibilities, while harmonizing ourselves with the divine realities of universal being. We accomplish this through meeting the stream of circumstances flowing to us from the godlike aspect of ourself. We can approach this endless task with confidence, despite the human tendency to focus on the limitations and deficiencies of ourselves and others, because each of us is far greater than our everyday personality would indicate, and we are able to draw on the strength of our essential self, if only we will turn to it. Moreover, it is important to remember that

Our goal is not to attain self-perfection; rather is it to emulate the life of service of those who come forth time and again as light-bringers, bearers anew of the ancient wisdom teachings. Whatever our role — laborer, housewife, professional — when we give the best of ourselves to fulfilling our particular dharma in order to advance the whole, our weaknesses take second place. We still have to handle them, but there is no call to focus undue attention on them. — p. 179

We are always free to ally ourselves with the highest spiritual forces of the universe, forces made manifest in the lives of the great teachers. The author discusses at some length the symbolism and inner meaning of various episodes from the stories of Jesus and Buddha, and their message for us today. The two paths of selfless and self-centered spiritual attainment, the bodhisattva vow, the paramitas or transcendental virtues, and Buddha's search for enlightenment receive illuminating consideration, as do the inner meaning of Jesus' birth, betrayal, crucifixion, cry on the cross, and resurrection, and doctrines such as grace, vicarious atonement, predestination, the fall, and biblical and qabbalistic accounts of genesis.

But Jesus and Buddha lived long ago. What about us today? The present age of transition and ferment, which accentuates both positive and negative aspects of human life, is leading to the development of a "Western occultism" forged from Oriental, aboriginal, psychic, and scientific influences on Occidental thought. Current presentations of various spiritual and psychic practices, however, often seem geared to the desire of many in the West "not so much for a means of turning inward as for a type of religion that will improve the externals of living" in a convenient and rapid way (p. 103). By contrast, "True occultism — which is altruism lived, combined with knowledge of the inner structure of man and the universe — demands of its followers complete purity of thought and of deed, and the utmost in self- mastery" (p. 104). In this context Ms. Knoche discusses practices such as yoga, meditation, various means of self-transcendence, hypnotism, and development of psychic powers. She points to the dangers of accepting uncritically the authority of self-proclaimed teachers, ascended masters, or channeled information; and the pitfalls of looking for a messiah or messenger to solve current problems and set things right. At the same time, those dedicated to truth and compassion do exist, and the author suggests that individually and together we have the ability and responsibility to aid the constructive forces of our planet:

In placing trust and loyalty in one another as brother aspirants, we share in a companionship that links us magnetically with the spiritual heart of our planet, the Brotherhood of Adepts. Insofar as we give allegiance to their purposes, we are partners in this universal fraternity which is dedicated to lifting — as far as world karma will permit — the burden of sorrow and misery and ignorance that is the scourge of humanity. If enough men and women will not only believe in, but also follow their intuitions and consciously cast their lot with the cause of compassion, there is every reason to have confidence that our civilization will one day make the leap from self-centeredness to genuine brotherhood in every phase of the human enterprise. — p. 144

Grace F. Knoche was born at the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society when it was located at Point Loma, California. Educated at the Raja-Yoga School and Academy under Katherine Tingley, she attended Theosophical University, earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree, while working in the Press and in secretarial and editorial positions at the Headquarters under G. de Purucker and Colonel Arthur L. Conger (1929-1951). During these years she also taught art, violin, Sanskrit, and Hebrew, among other subjects, at the schools and university. From 1951 to 1971 she was secretary and assistant to James A. Long, founder of Sunrise and head of the Theosophical Society. Since 1971, she has been Leader of the Theosophical Society and principal editor of Sunrise.

To Light a Thousand Lamps represents the distillation of a lifetime involvement with theosophy, and this review touches on only a few facets. This book will be both an excellent introduction for those new to theosophical ideas and a helpful companion and guide for long-time students.

(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)


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