Truth may be defined as that which is Reality; and present human intelligence can make but approximate approaches to this Cosmic Real which is measureless in its profundity and in reach, and therefore never fully comprehensible by any finite intellect. It was a wise declaration that Pontius Pilate is alleged to have made when Jesus was brought before him: "What is Truth!"; for a man who knows truth in fullness would have an active intelligence commensurate with the universe!
There is, however, relative truth, which the human mind can comprehend, and by this reflection we immediately cut away the ground from any assertion that the theosophical philosophy teaches dogmas, meaning by the term dogma an unreasoning, blind, and obedient assent to the mere voice of authority.
The word dogma comes from the Greek verb dokein, "to seem to be," "to appear to be." A dogma, therefore, was something which appeared to be a truth: an opinion about truth, and hence was frequently employed in certain Greek states as signifying the decision, the considered opinion, and therefore the final vote arrived at in a state council or assembly. It was only in later times that the word dogma acquired the meaning which it now has: a doctrine based upon the declaration of an ecumenical council, or perhaps of some other widely recognized churchly authority.
In this modern sense of the word, then, it is obvious that theosophy is wholly non-dogmatic: it has no teaching, no doctrine, imposed as divinely authoritative upon its adherents, or derivative from some individual, or body of individuals, claiming authority to declare that this or that teaching or doctrine is truth, and that it must be accepted and believed in by those who wish to be theosophists. The theosophist, however, claims that the teachings have been tested by adepts and great initiates through unnumbered centuries, this testing being a comparison with spiritual nature herself, which is the ultimate tribunal of proof. Each new generation of these seers tests the accumulated knowledge of its predecessors, and thus proves it anew; so that as time goes on, there is a continual perfecting of details.
Seers means those who see: who have so largely brought forth into activity the spiritual faculties and powers in themselves that their inner spiritual nature can at will penetrate deep into the arcana of the universe, go behind the veils of the outer seeming, and thus seeing, can interpret with accuracy and fidelity. Hence, their doctrines are consistent and coherent throughout. From time to time this Brotherhood of Mahatmas or evolved men gives forth to the world new-old vistas into nature's secrets, stimulating man's ethical instincts, arousing his latent intellectual powers, in short, bringing about the constant albeit silent evolutionary urge forward to greater and nobler heights of human achievement.
The theosophical student finds it within the compass of possibility to examine these archaic doctrines and in his turn to test them with his own capacities, however limited these may be; and thus it is that time, in its unfolding of things out of the womb of destiny, brings forth to the faithful inquirer abundant proofs, checked and examined at each step by himself, that these doctrines are truths based on universal nature — nature spiritual and material with all the countless hierarchical ranges between.
Probably not in historical times has there been such a widespread awakening in religious feeling and in general religious interests as exists today; but no longer do men quibble and fight as much over mere questions of form, theological or ecclesiastical, nor over hairsplitting definitions of words involving doctrines, as they did during the Middle Ages and after. Rather is the feeling today that there is a concealed but not unsolvable mystery behind the veil of the outward seeming of nature, and that the only way by which to acquire this reality is to penetrate into the temple of Truth oneself — into the very heart of the Invisible. All men are able to see if they will but fit themselves for the seeing, and no man with this conviction in his heart will ever declare dogmatically: "I am the prophet of truth!"
How about proof? The Pontius Pilates of modern life are almost as numerous as are educated men; and each one, in the self-sufficiency of his own belief in his own infallibility of judgment, listens to the recitation of any new natural fact or of any apparently incredible story with a final exclamation by which he thinks to prove his wisdom: "Where are your proofs?" It sounds so reasonable; but what is proof? Is it something that exists outside of one? If so, how could it be understood? No; all proof lies within one's own self. When the mind is so swayed by the preponderance of evidence and testimony that it automatically assents to a proposition, then the case for that mind is proved. A stronger mind may require stronger proof based on a larger field of evidence and testimony; yet in all cases, proof is the bringing of conviction to the mind. Hence a man who cannot see the force, both internal and external, of evidence or testimony, will say that the proposition is not proved. But this skeptical attitude does not disprove the proof, but merely shows that the mind is incapable of receiving what to another intellect is clear enough to establish the case.
Is proof therefore infallible? No. If it were, then both he who offers and he who accepts proof would be infallible. How many men have died innocent of the crime for which they were convicted in courts of law, because the evidence was apparently conclusive against them, "proved" to the minds of the judge and jurors who tried the cases. Let us then beware not merely of an uncharitable heart and of a biased mind, but likewise of mere "proof."
There is only one true guide in life, and that guide is the inner voice which grows stronger and ever more emphatic with cultivation and exercise. In the beginning we hear this silent voice and recognize its clear tones but faintly, and call it a hunch or an intuition. There is nothing except our own ignorance, and the overweening consciousness we have in the righteousness of our own set opinions, which prevents us from cultivating more perfectly this inner monitor — inner springs of the spirit-soul. This flow will appear to us at first like the intimations or intuitions of the coming of a messenger; and finally we see the presence and recognize the approaching truth which our inner nature gives forth to us in unceasing streams. This is what is meant by true faith. "Faith [or instinctive knowledge] is the reality of things hoped for [intuitively discerned], the evidence of things invisible" (Hebrews 11:1).
This is not blind faith. Blind faith is mere credulity. There is an example of the working of blind faith in the writings of the fiery Church Father Tertullian. Inveighing against Marcion, a Gnostic teacher, he speaks somewhat as follows:
The only possible means that I have to prove myself impudent successfully, and a fool happily, is by my contempt of shame. For instance, I maintain that the very Son of God died; now this is a thing to be accepted, because it is a monstrous absurdity; further, I maintain that after he was buried, he rose again; and this I believe to be absolutely true because it is absolutely impossible. — On the Flesh of Christ, ch. v
A man who will say that because a thing is absolutely impossible, which is the same as saying absolutely untrue, it is therefore absolutely true, is simply playing ducks and drakes with his own reason and with the springs of inner consciousness; the boldness of the absurd declaration is its only force. When an honest man will allow his judgment to be so biased that his mind thereby becomes a battlefield of conflicting theories and emotions, which he nevertheless manages to hold together by opinionative willpower, he is indeed, intellectually speaking, in a pitiful state; and this is the invariable result of mere blind faith. True faith, contrariwise, is the intuitive and clear discernment of reality, the inner recognition of things that are invisible to the physical eye.
This illustration of human credulity shows that mere belief or faith, whether honest or dishonest, is not enough as a sure guide in life, either in conduct or in knowing. A belief may be honest, held with sincerity and fervor, and yet be untrue. Of this stuff are fanatics partly made. Witness the beliefs and convictions which sent Mohammed's cavalry over the plains and deserts of the Hither East, with the Qur'an in the one hand and the sword in the other, giving to all whom they met the choice of three things: tribute, the Qur'an, or death! Such likewise was the nature of the blind convictions which sent so many men and women to an untimely death throughout the long centuries of medieval European religious history.
The entire course of modern education is against accepting the idea that man has within himself unawakened faculties by the training and employment of which he may know truths of nature, visible and invisible. Differing in this from ourselves, the ancient peoples without exception knew that all proof lies ultimately in the man himself, that judgment and cognition of truth lie within him and not without. It is with recognition of this inner power of understanding that the theosophical teachings should be approached: "Believe nothing that your conscience tells you is wrong, no matter whence it come. If the very divinities came to earth and taught in splendor on the mountain tops, believe naught that they tell you, if your own spirit-soul tells you that it is a lie."
While we teach this rule as an absolute necessity of prudence for inner growth and as an invaluable exercise of the spirit and of the intellect, nevertheless there is another injunction which should be followed: "Be of open mind. Be careful lest you reject a truth and turn away from something that would be of inestimable benefit not only to you but to your fellow men." For these two rules not only complement but balance each other, the one avoiding and preventing credulity, the other forestalling and uprooting intellectual egoisms.
With these inner faculties awakening within man, the ancient wisdom should be approached. That sublime system of thought is not based upon blind faith, nor on anyone's say-so, for it exists as a coherent body of teaching based on the structure and operations of nature, inner and outer. Behind the diversities in the various religions and philosophies there is a universal system, common to them all and veiled from superficial observation by the forms and methods of presentation. Take any truth, any fact of nature, and put ten men to giving an explanation of it: while they all will base their thoughts on the same background of substantiated facts, each one will give a different version of the truth that he observes; and thus it is that the format in which this ancient wisdom lies is expressed in the divergent manners that exist in the various world religions and world philosophies.
Scholars and researchers into the ancient religions and philosophies have not seen the wood on account of the trees; and of necessity they cannot see the undivided whole, of which these various portions or mere fragments are only parts. Yet once the student has the key to interpretation that the ancient wisdom gives, he will be able to prove for himself that there is existent in the world a systematic formulation of spiritual and natural law and verities which is called theosophy, the "wisdom of the gods" — the Esoteric Tradition.
In each age a new revelation of this deathless truth is given forth to the peoples of the earth by the guardians of this wisdom; and each such revelation contains the same old message, albeit the new installment may be couched in different expressions. Therefore, behind all the various religions and philosophies there is a secret or esoteric wisdom, common to all mankind, existent in all ages. This wisdom is Religion, Philosophy, and Science, per se. However, religion, philosophy, and science, in the common understanding of modern man are supposed to be intrinsically separate things, and to be often in irreconcilable natural conflict. They are considered as being more or less artificial systems outside of the intrinsic operations of human spiritual and psychological economy.
This popular conception of these three fundamental activities of the human soul is entirely false, for religion, philosophy, and science are fundamentally one thing, manifesting in three different manners. They are not three things outside of man, but, on the contrary, are themselves activities of the human psychological and spiritual natures. They are like the three sides of a triangle: if any one side is lacking, the figure would be imperfect. Religion, philosophy, and science, must unite and all at the same time, if we wish to attain to the actual truths of nature. They are but the three aspects of the human mind in its transmitting of the inspirations flowing into it from the spiritual inner sun which every man is in the arcanum of his being.
Today, despite the great achievements of physical science, we have no comprehensive and therefore satisfying system of intellectual and spiritual standards by which to test, with confidence of arriving at the truth, any new discovery that may be made. Now, the ancients had such a comprehensive system of standards, and it was composite of those three activities of the human soul, religious, philosophical, and scientific, and for that reason provided a satisfactory test and explanation of the discoveries made in the search for truth. Science is an operation of the human spirit-mind in its endeavor to understand the how of things — ordered and classified knowledge, based on research and experimentation. Philosophy is that same striving of the human spirit to understand not merely the how of things, but the why of things — why things are as they are; while religion is that same striving of the spirit toward union with the cosmic All. The scientist seeks truth; the philosopher searches for reality; the religionist yearns for union with the divine; but is there any essential difference as among truth, reality, and union with divine wisdom and love? It is only in the methods of attainment by which the three differ.
What is the origin of the word religion? — because the search for etymological roots often casts a brilliant light upon the functioning of human consciousness. It is usual to derive the word religion from the Latin verb meaning "to bind back," or "to fasten" — religare. But there is perhaps a better derivation which Cicero chose. A Roman himself and a scholar, he unquestionably had a deeper knowledge of his own native tongue and its subtleties than even the ablest scholar has today. This other derivation comes from a Latin root meaning "to select," "to choose," from which likewise comes the word lex — "law," that rule of action which is chosen as the best of its kind, as ascertained by selection, trial, and by proof. In his book On the Nature of the Gods, Cicero writes as follows:
Do you not see, therefore, how from the productions of Nature and the beneficial inventions of men, imaginary and false deities have come into view; and that those have become the basis of wrong opinions, pernicious errors, and miserable superstitions? We know, as regards the gods, how their different alleged forms, their ages, clothing, ornaments, families, marriages, connections, and all appertaining to them, follow examples of human weakness and are represented with human passions. According to the history of fables, the gods have had wars and fightings, governed by grief, lust, and anger, and this not only, as Homer says, when they interested themselves in different armies, but also when they battled in their own defense against the Titans and the Giants. Such tales, of the greatest folly and levity, are told and believed with implicit stupidity.
However, repudiating such fables with contempt, Divinity is diffused throughout all parts of Nature: in solids under the name of Ceres; in liquids under the name of Neptune; elsewhere under different names. But whatever the gods may be, whatever characters and dispositions they may have, and whatever the names given to them by custom, we ought to revere and worship them.
The noblest, the chastest, the most pious and holy worship of the gods is to revere them always with a pure, wholehearted, and stainless mind and voice; our ancestors as well as the philosophers have all separated superstition from religion. Those who prayed entire days and sacrificed so that their children should survive them, were called superstitious, a word which later became more general; but those who diligently followed and, so to say, read and practised continually, all duties belonging to the worthship of the gods were called religiosi, religious, from the word relegendo, reading over again or practising; [a derivation] like elegantes, elegant, meaning choosing, selecting a good choice, or like diligentes, diligent, carefully following our selection; or like intelligentes, intelligent, from understanding: for all these meanings are derived from the same root-word. Thus are the words superstition and religion understood: the former being a term of opprobrium, the latter of honor. . . .
I declare then that the Universe in all its parts was in its origin builded, and has ever since, without any interruption, been directed, by the providence of the gods. — II, xxviii, xxx
Never has a Christian critic of the errors of a degenerate polytheism spoken in stronger terms than does this Roman philosopher against the mistake and impiety of looking upon the divine, spiritual, and ethereal beings who inspire, oversee, and by their inherent presence control the universe, as being but little better than merely enlarged men and women. Moreover, one has but to read the caustic words of Lucian, the Greek satirist, to realize how the revolt against superstition and degenerate religion was as widely diffused and ran with as strong a current in ancient times as it may have done in any later period, including our own.
Thus then, "religion," following Cicero's derivation, means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the spiritual intellect, and a consequent joyful abiding by that selection, the whole resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that had been reached. This is the religious spirit.
Philosophy is another part of the activity of the human consciousness. As religion represents the mystical and intuitional and devotional part of our inner human constitution, so philosophy represents the correlating and the examining portion of our intellectual-psychological apparatus. The same faculty of discrimination or selection is as strongly operative in this field of thought as it is in the religious, but by means of a different internal organ of the human constitution — that of the mentality. Just as religion divorced from the intellectual faculty becomes superstition or a showy emotionalism, just so does philosophy divorced from the intuitional or discriminating portion of us become empty verbiage, logical in its processes mayhap, but neither profound nor inspired.
When men classify and record the knowledge that they have gathered from instinctive love for research and subject to measurement and category the facts and processes which nature thereupon presents — that is science. Here we see that science, like philosophy and religion, is universal and impersonal, and of equal spiritual and intellectual dignity; all three are but joint and several interpretations in formal system of the relations — inherent, compelling, and ineluctable — of man with the universe.
Thus, if we understand the nature and working of our own spiritual-intellectual consciousness, we have an infallible touchstone by which we may subject to trial and experiment all that comes before our attention. Theosophy is that touchstone — formulated into a comprehensible system.
The purpose of this present work, then, is to aid in the research for a greater truth for men; and however small this contribution may be to that really sublime objective, the reader is asked to remember the will while studying the deed.