"That Thou Art, 0 Shvetaketu." — Upanishads
If there is one idea in Theosophical philosophy that has been reiterated more than any other, it is perhaps the necessity for proceeding in one's study according to the Platonic method — from universals to particulars. Theosophists know this admonition by heart, and it is evident to anyone who thinks, that Truth exists only in the Whole, not in the part; that it is only by viewing any thing, object, situation, or being, from the point of view of totality that its true nature and status can be known. How was it possible, do we think, that H. P. Blavatsky and Wm. Q. Judge were always able to see clearly when others were confused? How could they, in dealing with both great and small questions, detect so readily the fundamental principles underlying any line of action? The answer lies undoubtedly in their method of approach, in the fact that they employed the Platonic system of deduction, which enabled them to see at a glance all things and beings in their true and proper relation. If confusion is ours, perhaps it is due to our failure to apply this key.
Take, for example, the difficulty experienced by many thinkers, both in and outside the Theosophical Movement, in comprehending the Eastern metaphysical teaching regarding the powers and functions of perfected Men, or Mahatmans — of Buddha, for instance, who was said to be omnipresent, capable of being in an indefinite number of places at once. This difficulty, says H. P. B. in the Glossary, lies primarily in the fact that we reason inductively, that we view these powers as being attributes of particular personalities, of human Buddhas.
. . . it is not Buddha (Gautama, the mortal man, or any other personal Buddha) who lives ubiquitously in "three different states at the same time," but Bodhi, the universal and abstract principle of divine wisdom, symbolized in philosophy by Adi-Buddha. . . . Thus it is not one Buddha who is meant, nor any particular avatar of the collective Dhyani Buddhas, but verily Adi-Bodhi, the first Logos, whose primordial ray is Mahabuddhi, the Universal Soul, Alaya, whose flame is ubiquitous . . . because, once again, it is Universal Being itself or the reflex of the Absolute.
So material is our age that we persist in thinking of man only in terms of flesh and blood. Reasoning from this basis we utterly fail to understand how a single human being, even a Buddha, can possibly possess such powers. But reversing the process and beginning with the Over-Soul, it is not difficult to grasp the possibility. Beginning with universals, the student is led to see that it is Adi-Buddha, or Universal Being, and not mortal man, for whom these attributes are claimed. Thus, we find a lesson in the teacher's method of approach, and at the same time come a step nearer toward an understanding of the nature of perfected Man.
Consider, again, the lack of perception shown by the managers of the Theosophical Publication Society in London in 1888 when they reached the conclusion that philosophy is too advanced for men of this day, and that what is needed is "a stepping-stone from fiction to philosophy." This course, if pursued, would have spelled the wreck of the Theosophical Movement of this age. How account for this lack of perception? And how explain the fact that Wm. Q. Judge was able to see the truth and could warn, was able to know that philosophy is, in fact, man's greatest need, and that the true student is not satisfied by fictionized or stepped-down truth?
The answer lies again in methods of approach. The English theosophists were accustomed to Aristotelian reasoning. They were tutored under the Darwinian interpretation of evolution, which views man as an animal being, struggling upward through the ages, who had hardly reached the point where he could grasp philosophy. Mr. Judge, on the other hand, began with universals, with the Soul. He saw man as a divine Pilgrim incarnated in a body of flesh, to whom philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics are as natural and assimilable as is physical food to the body.
It is not possible to see clearly unless one proceeds from the universal point of view. But is intellectual acceptance of this proposition enough? Does mere knowledge of the formula endow one with universal consciousness whereby he can see all things and beings as parts of one great Whole? Unfortunately, we know it does not. Wisdom in perception and action is not of the intellect. If H. P. B. and Mr. Judge were able to see clearly, it was not that they intellectually said to themselves, when faced with any problem: "I must study this situation from the universal point of view." Men approach all questions, in reality, from where they stand in heart perception, and Sages, being universal in their very natures, have no need to take any other position than their own. Such perception comes from creating in one's self the feeling of Universal Brotherhood.
Merely knowing in the mind, therefore, that one should begin with universals does not mean that his nature, when he approaches a subject, is universal. But to take the position of Brotherhood, to strive to live and think each moment of the day as Soul, gradually elevates the consciousness to the plane of All-Being. There, seeing all things and beings whatsoever in one's self, the universal approach to every question is assured.
1. Reprinted from Theosophy (Los Angeles), December, 1945. (return to text)