Extract from the U. S. Census of Religious Bodies, 1926, entitled "Theosophical Societies," General Statement, furnished by Col. William Oscar Gilbert, U. S. Army, retired.
The ultimate base of Theosophy is universal brotherhood. As a science, Theosophy declares universal brotherhood to be a fact in nature; as a philosophy, it begins all reasoning with, and relates all conclusions to, universal brotherhood; as a religion, it bases the social fabric upon, and deduces its code of ethics from, universal brotherhood.
But it uses the term "universal brotherhood" not in a sentimental sense, or as expressing a merely human relationship. On the contrary, the term is used to express the broadest possible relationship of everything that is to every other thing that is; as a picturesque assertion of the fact that each and every thing in the universe — in the all that is — is related to each and every other thing; indeed, is not only related, but proceeds from a common source — a common parent, so to speak. And this common source of all things and the things that proceed therefrom are, according to Theosophy, one and the same thing: The one absolute Essence — the God of the Bible who is All and in All; a Homogeneity during its Universal Night when every atom has been drawn back into itself and the biblical end of the world has arrived; a Heterogeneity during its Universal Day when by process of unfolding, or evolution, the objective world appears and the Creation of Genesis is accomplished. In this universe which is One, as in our body which is one, no single part is independent of any other part or unaffected by it. Relationship, or brotherhood, thus becomes a fact in nature and is universal.
To the question, Suppose universal brotherhood exists, what of it? Theosophy has a startling answer: Evolution is toward perfection. The soul, the Ego, is incarnated in a human body to gather experience and forward its own evolution toward perfection. It must incarnate not once but reincarnate many times in order to become perfect. But evolution moves as a whole. Before the next great stage can be entered upon, the full processes upon this globe must be accomplished. Each and every soul must have reached this goal. Thus, those who are forward in the march must await the laggards" arrival. Theosophy leaves no doubt as to the answer to the question, Am I my brother's keeper?
Theosophy proclaims a Deific Absolute Essence, infinite and unconditioned and so without form, which it would not mind calling God were it not for the present anthropomorphic, personalizing concept of that word; and it teaches "that the root of all nature, objective and subjective, and everything else in the universe, visible and invisible, is, was and ever will be" this one Absolute Essence "from which all starts, and into which everything returns," just as all the waters throughout the land started — that is, were lifted by the sun's rays — from the ocean, and in due course will return thereto, each particle thereof still water and still retaining its differentiation from the mass.
Theosophy proclaims that man — not the body, but that which distinguishes the human from the brute — is a soul. It speaks not of the Nephesh of Genesis, translated as "living soul," but of the Nous of Plato and the Logos of St. John, "the word made flesh." This Soul, it teaches, is immortal. Says Mme. Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled, "They [the sages of the Orient] showed us that by combining science with religion, the existence of God and immortality of man's spirit may be demonstrated like a problem of Euclid." In her mammoth work, The Secret Doctrine, this demonstration is to be found.
An important teaching of Theosophy is Reincarnation, the tenet that the Soul, or Ego (the real man), is the tenant of many different bodies in many different lives during its evolutionary course down the ages — a teaching that demonstrates Theosophy's idea of evolution to be fundamentally different from the evolution taught by science and feared by the church, namely, the evolution solely of what we call the physical universe. Theosophy postulates a double evolution — one physical and one spiritual. Soul evolution can only be carried on, and Theosophy says it is carried on, by reincarnation. Through the experiences of its many incarnations, the soul is able to progress to the stature, nature, and dignity of Godhood and thus to emancipate itself from the necessity for further pilgrimage. The soul gets nothing by favor, but everything by merit. Literally it works out its "own salvation with fear and trembling." Reincarnation, too, is the doctrine of "another chance." A mistake means not eternal damnation, but a chance in other incarnations to make up for failure. And as a corollary it may be stated that "original sin" finds no place in Theosophy. Reincarnation must not be confused with transmigration. "Once a man always a man" is the saying in the Great Lodge. This doctrine of reincarnation which produces such a shock to the western world is not claimed by Theosophy as its peculiar property; for it points out that a full half of the world believes in it, that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is full of it, and that Jesus, if he did not teach it, at least assented to it.
Closely allied with reincarnation is the law of Karma, or cause and effect, whereby is struck a perfect balance for merit and demerit. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap;" if not in the life in which the sowing took place, then in some future one; and thus Theosophy explains many seeming injustices and inequalities.
Theosophy combines the fields of science and religion; is a religious science and a scientific religion. It shows how the worlds have evolved, how man has reached his high estate, and what will be the future of the worlds and the future of man. It describes the septenary constitution of man, with its lower quaternary and its higher triad, thus demonstrating the duality of his make-up and elucidating the eternal struggle between the lower and the higher self. It explains the origin and nature of mind and opens a psychology (including that of the subconscious) whose borders otherwise have barely been touched. It admits the phenomena of the Spiritualists and the "miracles" of Jesus, but denies the interposition of spirits in the one case and of the supernatural in the other, pointing out how each was accomplished by the exercise of natural laws; for psychic forces work according to laws as definite as those attaching in other realms, and neither set of laws can be antagonistic to the other; for throughout the universe the same laws prevail, being duplicated and re-duplicated on successive planes; "as in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm"; "as above, so below."
The foregoing is a most incomplete resume of a few of the teachings of Theosophy. Theosophy deals with manifold subjects new to western thought, has a new (yet old) interpretation for many things that are familiar in science and religion, and, with it all, is hampered by the failure of the English language to have developed, as yet, an ample vocabulary for the expression of the abstract or the description of the metaphysical. There is accessible, however, an extensive literature covering all the branches and aspects of the movement and its teachings.
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