The Theosophical Forum – January 1941

WHAT IS THEOSOPHY? — Iverson L. Harris

[Note: page numbers cited for The Esoteric Tradition are to the 2-vol. Second Edition and do not correspond to the 1-vol. 3rd & Revised Edition.]

FIRST: Theosophy is a way of living, a path through the labyrinth of life, lighted from within by the fires of aspiration, of love and compassion and sympathy for all that lives, and illuminated from without by the self-shining sign-posts all along the way left by the Enlightened Ones of all ages and of all peoples, who have trodden the Path before us.

Second: Theosophy is a magic treasure-house of spiritual and intellectual wisdom, into which anyone may enter and partake of the riches therein offered, to the extent that he is willing to pay the price for them — the price being sincerity and disinterestedness of purpose, readiness to work and study and strive and serve and give. Marvelous paradox! The more one avails himself of the riches of this treasure-house, the greater one finds therein the riches yet untouched; and the more one gives to others of the treasures received, the more richly he finds himself endowed. Such is the magic of sharing in spiritual and intellectual treasures. There are no letters patent issued by the Keepers of this Thesaurus. Its treasure-chests are open to any and all who will give the right knock; and no one can shut the doors to the treasury except oneself.

Third: Theosophy is a master-locksmith, who supplies gratis keys to all who earnestly apply for them and are willing to serve their apprenticeship in order to learn how rightly to use them — keys to the basic, underlying, hidden, and noumenal causes behind the superficial, outward, obvious, and phenomenal effects which so mystify and baffle thinking men searching for solutions to the deeper problems of religion, philosophy, and science.

Fourth: Theosophy is a universal Baedeker or guide-book, which describes the travel-routes, points out the places of interest, recommends the best stopping-places, warns of the dangers, and answers age-old questions for the serious wayfarer on his eternal pilgrimage from un-self-conscious god-spark to fully self-conscious god: Who am I? Where did I come from? Whither am I bound? What is the purpose of it all? What is my relationship to the vast universe — visible and invisible — which surrounds me? And, perhaps most important of all, What is my relationship and my duty to my fellow-pilgrims along the way?

Fifth: Theosophy affords me the companionship of real men and women in many varying degrees of evolutionary development, enlightenment, and awareness; and from the moment these companions have really been touched by the spirit of Theosophy — even if not yet familiar with it by name — all are at once linked with me in a marvelous web of destiny — my spiritual brothers and sisters, closer to me, mayhap, than those of my own flesh and blood. To some of these — my younger brothers in Theosophy — I may be able to give light and help, because I may have passed through the grades into which they are just entering; as to the majority, I study and grow and aspire with them, each sharing with all the others the lessons learned, the experiences passed through, the difficulties overcome, the victories won, the achievements recorded, the enemies inside ourselves conquered. From those wiser and more evolved than ourselves — our leaders and teachers — we receive inspiration, light, and guidance. Fallible human beings like us, as they themselves remind us, they are perhaps closer to us for that very reason; while they nevertheless enrich our lives with the brilliance of their genius, the loftiness of their ideals, the creative power of their imagination, the dynamic force of their resilient vitality, the bountiful generosity of their intellectual and spiritual gifts. And beyond them, through Theosophy, we are made aware of our link with the real Elder Brothers of the Race, the Mahatmans, the highly illuminated spiritual Sages and Seers, the men in whom the living spirit of the Christ and of the Buddha actually abides and manifests itself in the outpouring of magnificent philosophy, occult science, lofty ethics, universal religion, and all-embracing love.

If, perchance, some are unfamiliar with the treasures that Theosophy has to offer, and doubt that such riches as I have spoken of are actually available in this sad world of ours, then to such I say: Do yourselves the service of investigating personally. Dare you plunge in deeply into the arcana of occult lore? Seek you to know the Masters of Wisdom by their own words and teachings? Then read and study The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett or the synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science transmitted from them to the world by H. P. Blavatsky over fifty years ago in her monumental masterpiece, The Secret Doctrine. Let me whet your appetites with a brief quotation from each of these works. Listen first to this daring figure from The Mahatma Letters (page 339):

The culture of society more often inclines to lawn-tennis philosophy than to that of the banned "adepts," whose wider game has worlds for balls, and etheric space for its shaven lawn.

And in the Preface to The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky states that the teachings contained therein

. . . belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original elements, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.

Do you seek to share in the universal ethical ideals and devotional teachings which Theosophy has to offer? Then study and memorize and make a part of your lives the golden rules contained in H. P. Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence, William Q. Judge's recension of the Bhagavad-Gita, and G. de Purucker's Golden Precepts of Esotericism. A brief quotation from each by way of example: From The Voice of the Silence:

For mind is like a mirror; it gathers dust while it reflects. It needs the gentle breezes of soul-wisdom to brush away the dust of our illusions. Seek, O Beginner, to blend thy mind and soul.

From the Bhagavad-Gita:

Even if the good of mankind only is considered by thee, the performance of thy duty will be plain; for whatever is practised by the most excellent men, that is also practised by others. The world follows whatever example they set. (ch. iii, page 25)

From Golden Precepts of Esotericism:

Love is the most beauteous, the holiest, thing known to human beings. It gives to man hope; it holds his heart in aspiration; it stimulates the noblest qualities of the human being, such as the sacrifice of self for others; it brings about self-forgetfulness; it brings also peace and joy that know no bounds. It is the noblest thing in the universe.

Do you seek to know more about the application of Theosophy to the problems of home and education and every-day living? Then read Katherine Tingley's Theosophy, the Path of the Mystic or her Wine of Life. In the first of these works she wrote:

Think of Theosophy not so much as a body of philosophic or other teachings, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion, (p. 3)

And in The Wine of Life Katherine Tingley wrote:

Theosophy is not exclusive, it is all-inclusive; it is not for the "chosen people'; it is for all humanity. It is the great, sweeping breath of truth, (p. 131)

Do you desire to share in the light which the technical doctrines of Theosophy, expressed in easily understood language, have to throw on some of the basic questions of religion, philosophy, and science? Then read H. P. Blavatsky's The Key to Theosophy, William Q. Judge's Ocean of Theosophy, or G. de Purucker's Esoteric Tradition. In the concluding chapter of The Key, H. P. B. wrote:

Theosophy . . ., as it has existed eternally throughout the endless cycles upon cycles of the Past, so it will ever exist throughout the infinitudes of the Future, because Theosophy is synonymous with Everlasting Truth.

In his opening chapter of The Ocean of Theosophy, William Q. Judge declared:

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. It is wisdom about God for those who believe that he is all things and in all, and wisdom about nature for the man who accepts the statement found in the Christian Bible that God cannot be measured or discovered, and that darkness is around his pavilion. Although it contains by derivation the name God and thus may seem at first sight to embrace religion alone, it does not neglect science, for it is the science of sciences and therefore has been called the Wisdom-Religion. For no science is complete which leaves out any department of nature, whether visible or invisible, and that religion which, depending solely on an assumed revelation, turns away from things and the laws which govern them is nothing but a delusion, a foe to progress, an obstacle in the way of man's advancement toward happiness. Embracing both the scientific and the religious, Theosophy is a scientific religion and a religious science.

In The Esoteric Tradition, our present Leader, Dr. de Purucker says on page 406:

It [Theosophy] is the result of innumerable ages of human experience, of human research and experiment by the Great Sages, the Masters of Life and Wisdom, and of their deep thinking and reflexion, casting this Wisdom-Knowledge into systematic formulation. It is the result of their correlation of the knowledge that they have wrested from the womb of Nature and have formulated into systematic exposition. Such Great Men still live as a Brotherhood.

Elsewhere, Dr. de Purucker has stated:

Theosophy is a formulation in human language of the operations, structure, origin, present state, and destiny of the Universe. . . .

Light for the mind, love for the heart, understanding for the intellect: all three must be satisfied in every man before he has real peace.

Finally, would you like to take the first steps in this wide field of intellectual and spiritual culture and development? Then, I say, join a Theosophical study-group or lodge, or enroll in the free Theosophical Correspondence Class, and read the series of fifteen little Theosophical Manuals issued this year as a complete set by the Theosophical University Press. They are entitled respectively:

1. What is Theosophy? A General View for Inquirers
2. Reincarnation: A Lost Chord in Modern Thought
3. Karman: The Doctrine of Consequences
4. The Seven Principles of Man
5. After Death — What?
6. Evolution
7. Rounds and Races: Man's Divine Parentage and Destiny
8. The Doctrine of Cycles
9. Hierarchies: The Ladder of Life
10. The Astral Light
11. Psychic Powers
12. Theosophy and Christianity
13. Mahatmans and Chelas
14. The Mystery-Schools
15. Yoga and Yoga Discipline: A Theosophical Interpretation

As a verbal keystone to the great arch in the temple of Theosophy, I think the following message from one of the Masters transmitted through H P. Blavatsky to her students is superlatively inspiring and bears constant repetition.

Behold the Truth before you: a clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one's co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of Truth, once we have placed our confidence in and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it, a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the Secret Science (Gupta-Vidya) depicts — these are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the temple of Divine Wisdom

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