Theosophy – October 1897

THE THREE OBJECTS OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IN AMERICA: II — Franz Hartmann

II. THE THEOSOPHICAL TEACHINGS.

The "Theosophical Society" as such has no doctrines or dogmas to which anybody is asked to subscribe, it asks for no belief in any authority except in the self-recognition of truth, and it leaves it free to every member to believe what he pleases and to grasp as much truth as he can without pinning his faith to anybody's credibility or respectability. Those who can read the mysteries of nature in the light of divine wisdom require no other teacher; wisdom itself is the teacher who teaches those who are wise. Wisdom is the true understanding arising from self-thought in the minds of those whose souls have risen above the narrow horizon created by selfishness and become lighted up by the power of unselfish love to the region of true spirituality, where is to be found the direct perception of absolute truth. The "Theosophical Society" has no Holy Ghost in its possession to distribute or deal out to the curious; no man can impart to another the true understanding; he can only aid others in overcoming their errors which stand in the way of perceiving the truth. Only when the light of truth becomes manifest in the soul, will the true understanding arise which illuminates the mind with real self-knowledge. Thus after Gautama Siddhartha had become a "Buddha," which means an "enlightened one," he said: "This knowledge of truth was not among the doctrines handed down to me, nor was it told to me by another; but within myself arose the light; within myself the eye of the understanding was opened; within myself the truth revealed itself."

A person in whom, through the recognition of principle, the true understanding has arisen, is, according to the degree of his enlightenment, called an Initiate, an Illuminate, a Theosopher, an Adept, or even a Buddha. An Adept is merely a person whose terrestrial nature has become adapted to serve as an instrument for the manifestation of the light of wisdom that comes to him directly from his Higher Self through the power of intuition, and which is a reflection of the light of the sun of divine wisdom itself. Thus the Christian mystic, Thomas a Kempis, says: "Blessed is he whom wisdom teaches, not by means of perishing forms and symbols, but by the light of wisdom itself."

There are perhaps only few people known in this present age of Kali Yuga, in whom the light of Theosophy has become manifested to such a degree that they are no longer in need of books or instruction for overcoming their errors; but there have been at all times persons in possession of a high degree of real self-knowledge, and such have been the great souls or "mahatmas" (from maha-great and atman-soul, the great reformers and especially the founders of the great religious systems of the world. They have all perceived the one absolute and eternal truth; for absolute truth is one, and not composed of opinions; and they have described it under certain forms, symbols and allegories; differing from each other not in essence, but in modes of expression. They differ in the use of symbols, because a language and symbol has to be adapted to the understanding of those who are to be taught. Thus, for instance, in certain tropical countries in which apples do not grow, the fruit which Eve is said to have taken from the forbidden tree and presented to Adam, is taught to have been not an apple, but a banana. In reality it was no such fruit at all, but the fruit of Karma; that is to say, the knowledge which they had to gain by the experience of good and evil that arose from their actions.

The doctrines which have thus been taught by some of the world's greatest sages, seers, and prophets, such as Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Plato, Pythagoras and many other greater or lesser lights, are not the "accepted doctrines" of the "Theosophical Society"; for that society has no dogmas; but there are some members of the Theosophical Society in America and in other countries, who make it their business to study these teachings in the sacred books and religious systems of the East and West, and they give the outcome of their researches to the world, not as a matter to be blindly accepted and believed in by their followers, but as food for thought and as a guide for the direction of those who wish to follow the true path that leads to self-knowledge.

I am asked: "what is Self-knowledge? what is Wisdom?" To those who do not possess it it cannot be explained, and those who are in possession of it will need no explanation. Those who cannot feel the principle of truth cannot grasp it; a principle must become manifested within our own self before we can realize its true nature. Those who are blind to principles cannot see it and they clamor for proofs; those who see the principle of Truth require no other proof than its presence. When Christ stood before Pilate and was asked to show the truth, he was silent; for what other answer could the truth give to the intellect, if it stands before our eyes and we cannot perceive it? Those who cannot see principle cannot know the truth; their knowledge is not their own, but that of another, they must stick to blind belief in authorities and need the crutches of dogmatism. They are insatiable in their demands for information for the purpose of having their scientific curiosity gratified; but that information does them no good, for it only increases their inability to think for themselves.

It is said that a certain gentleman living on an island known by its being shrouded in fogs for the greater part of the year was once visited by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost found the walls of the chamber in which that man lived papered with notes of the Bank of England, and the man himself wore a moneybag in place of a heart, and upon the sanctuary there was an idol called Tweedledee, which that man worshipped and in which he placed his faith. Thereupon the Holy Ghost tried to persuade that man, that he should not be satisfied with a blind belief in Tweedledee, but that he should try to awaken his own understanding. But the man could not see the point. "Is not Mr. Tweedledee a reliable person, well known for his veracity?" he asked. "Undoubtedly he is," answered the Holy Ghost; "but his knowledge is his own and your faith in what he says is merely a second-hand opinion. You ought to learn to rely upon your own perception of truth." "O, I see!" exclaimed the man, "I am not going to believe in Tweedledee any more." And calling for his servant, he said: "John! take away Tweedledee and bring in Tweedledum."

Thus no change of belief or opinion constitutes real knowledge, which can only be obtained by the self-recognition of truth. Self-knowledge can only be obtained by the finding of one's own real Self, the Self of all beings, God in the soul, the Christ or the truth. The finding of one's own soul and not the worship of authorities or of persons apart from the principle which they are to represent, constitutes theosophy or the true understanding.

The symbols and parables in which religious truths are represented are called "secret," not because they ought not to be told to any ignoramus except to a few favored ones, but because their meaning ought to be found out by every student by means of his own intuition; for it is only in this way that the power of intuition or spiritual understanding becomes strong by practice.

But it is not in this way that self-knowlege is attained. There is a spiritual realm higher than the merely intellectual realm; there is a knowledge resulting from the direct perception of truth which is far superior to the knowledge gained from drawing inferences and logical deductions from certain premises. In Sanscrit this kind of spiritual knowledge is called "jnana" the ancient Greeks called it "gnosis" or "theosophia," or "the hidden wisdom of God," and as such it is used by the apostle Paul in the Greek version of the "New Testament" (1); the English language has no other word for it except "Self-knowledge," and of that only very few people know the meaning. As the physical senses are needed for the purpose of perceiving physical things, and as the intellectual faculties are required for the purpose of collecting and combining ideas, so the powers of the spirit are needed for the perception of spiritual things, such as the principles of truth, justice, goodness, beauty, etc.; and as the intellect is sharpened by practice, so the spiritual perception becomes awakened and strengthened by the use of the power of intuition, which is the action of the higher mind upon the lower principles in the constitution of man; for we ought to remember that even if the brain evolves thoughts, it does not manufacture ideas. Ideas exist in the mind or are reflected therein, and the mind uses the brain as its instrument for the purpose of forming these ideas into thoughts. Our mind is far greater than our body; it is not enclosed in it, nor in its totality incarnated therein; it overshadows the body. The greater the mind the more it will be capable of grasping a grand idea, while narrow minds hold only small thoughts; but when it comes to grasping universal principles, that cannot be brought down into the realm of a superficial and narrow science, the mind must expand and grow up to that realm of spiritual truth, and the higher the soul rises to eternal truth, the nearer does it come to the eternal Reality, the nearer to God. Intuition is the light that shines from above into the darkness of the mortal personality and "the darkness comprehendeth it not." It is the path of light which we should travel, guided by the light of divine wisdom or "Theosophy."

When a child is born in this world it attains consciousness; it opens its eyes and perceives the objects by which it is surrounded, and as it grows up, it begins to understand what they are. Thus it is with the process of spiritual regeneration. First comes spiritual consciousness, next the perception of spiritual truths, and, finally, the full realization of them by means of the spiritual understanding. Thus is attained that self-knowledge or Theosophy, which cannot be obtained by mere book learning or by the gratification of an idle curiosity, but by the growth, expansion and unfoldment of the soul through the power of unselfish love and the illumination of the mind by the light of divine wisdom itself. Each thing can have real self-knowledge only of that which belongs to itself. If we wish to obtain divine knowledge, we must let the spark of divinity that lies dormant within our soul become awakened in our own consciousness; if we wish to know divine wisdom, that wisdom must become a living power in our soul and be our guide in all our thoughts and actions; for only that which we realize by our works can become a reality to us. Without will and action even the most desired ideal remains forever a mere fancy or a product of our imagination.

This whole visible world is merely a collection of symbols, representing relative truths. We shall see the truths in them, when the recognition of principles has become a power within ourselves. Those who do not perceive principles see only the external forms in which these principles manifest themselves; they see in a man only the body, which is the house inhabited by the real man, and they see in a religious parable only the apparently historical part. The majority of the pious do not even know, and sometimes refuse to believe, that these allegories have an internal meaning. To them all these nuts are hollow and they do not attempt to crack them.

Now if we are to know the truth within a symbol, it is first of all necessary that we should know that the symbol has a meaning, and the next thing is that we should desire to know it. If we have not sufficient intuition to know what is inside of an orange, we will have to make a cut into the peel to find out the contents. There are many people so much in love with the external teachings of their religious books, which they take in an entirely materialistic sense, that if anyone makes a hole into the shell so that they may see the contents, they become very angry and their anger makes them blind. Nevertheless it may be well to examine a few such allegories and expose their inner meaning, only to show that there is an inner meaning to them, so that an inducement may arise for the application of self-thought.

The history of the world shows that the greatest misfortunes have arisen from a merely external and superficial interpretation of sacred texts. It is not the truth, but the misunderstanding of it, that causes misery in this world. If the Hindus had correctly interpreted their religious books, there would have been no widows burned alive with the bodies of their dead husbands and no crushing of men and women under the wheels of the cars of the Juggernath. If there had been a true understanding, the Indians would have sacrificed their own evil desires to their God, instead of tearing the palpitating hearts out of the breasts of captured enemies; the Crusaders of the Middle Ages would have sought the "holy land" within their own souls, instead of carrying murder and rapine into Palestine; there would have been no religious wars, no torture of heretics, no inquisition and burning of human beings at a stake. The idea of a hell with burning sulphur and pitch would not have driven people to insanity and suicide, if they had known that Sulphur is the symbol for energy, in the same sense as Salt is the symbol for substance and Mercury for consciousness; so that a person full of burning desires is in a state of hell of his own creation; while pitch is an appropriate symbol for all of our material tendencies, that stick to the soul and drag it down into matter.

Ignorance is the most expensive thing in the world; it costs a great deal of experience to overcome it, and this is only gained by suffering. It cannot be conquered by ignoring it, if it is not already conquered by the perception of truth. We ourselves have to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and to descend into hell, so that we may ascend to heaven. We have to become incarnated in matter, so that we may become victorious over our own material self and arise as self-conscious spiritual beings to the kingdom of wisdom. This is represented in the symbol of the Christian Cross; for the perpendicular bar represents the descent of spirit into matter and the ascent of man (Manas) into the spiritual kingdom; while the horizontal bar represents the kingdom of matter and material desire. The figure on the cross represents man being nailed to this material world of suffering; his body is immersed in matter, his head, that is to say his understanding, rises up into the kingdom of light.

The Lotus flower represents nearly the same thing. It is a water-plant. Its roots are clinging to the dirt, its stem floats in the water, representing the Astral plane; its flower swims on the top and unfolds itself under the influence of sunlight and air. Thus the soul of man is to unfold itself under the sunlight of divine wisdom, if it is to attain theosophia; all the study of religions and symbols is only a means to that end.

(To be continued.)

FOOTNOTE:

1. See Bible, I. Cor., ii. 7. (return to text)


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