When a person brought up exclusively in the Christian belief of the one God, comes to Theosophical meetings, he may receive a very confusing impression at first.
He will hear the names of beings he has been taught to regard as heathen idols and myths spoken of seriously as mighty spiritual influences — such names as Krishna, Buddha, Brahma, Isis, Osiris, Horus, perhaps Apollo, and others. He will hear quotations from Plato, Socrates, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and many other sources, and lots of statements about "the Gods." Then sooner or later someone is sure to remark that "man is the journey-work of the stars," so apparently the stars made him, and not God, after all.
Then he will ask us the type of question so often asked: "Surely the idea of many gods is a retrogression. Why have a multiplicity of gods when unity in the one God is the progressive ideal? Why go back thousands and thousands of years when living rightly in the present moment is the real necessity? Why study all those complicated doctrines and get so far away from simplicity?"
The fact is that knowledge does help. It is true we are told that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become as little children, but surely one of the strongest characteristics of the child mind is the spirit of enquiry. It must know how the world around it is constructed. Of course, it cannot be completely satisfied; it is a living portion of the living and infinite universe, and the more it expands the more it will find it has still got to learn. Theosophists do not pretend to teach the ultimate secrets of life and death or why the Cosmic Spirit manifests.
It would indeed be a retrogression for Theosophists if they had a lot of gods whom they worshiped, but that is not the case, nor is it correct to state that we worship and pray to one god.
Theosophy teaches that there is one Divine Principle pervading the whole Cosmos, not separated from it. It is not a being, it is be-ness and cannot be prayed to because it is the pure essence which contains the primeval substance of all things and beings, the pure essence of thought and intelligence and love. It does not think and act as the orthodox personal god is said to do. From our standpoint it is "beyond the range and reach of thought, unthinkable and unspeakable."
Out of this ocean of be-ness arise all beings and worlds which we see, also those which we do not see, which are much greater in number. All these worlds and beings are seeking to express the qualities of their divine root, and the reason why they appear to us as all these different things, suns, stars, animals, men, etc., and vary so vastly in their respective degrees of intelligence, independence of action, and so forth, is because of their so vastly varying degrees of spiritual unfoldment.
So, to a Theosophist, the whole universe is alive with divine consciousnesses, not gods to be worshiped in the ordinary way, but a friendly, life-giving brotherhood, the smaller lives living within the greater ones both physically and spiritually, and all equally divine at their source. These lives are bound together in bunches, groups, hierarchies. These hierarchies live and evolve within, and through, around, below and above each other, all having a measure of responsibility and free will, from the baby god at the heart of the chemical atom to the highly evolved god ruling and inspiring and infilling a solar system — a mighty god indeed to us, but to the beings above him he is just a younger brother.
What we see as matter is moved and also held together by the spirit within it. This does not mean that chairs, tables, carpets, etc., have souls. Those are only shapes which men have made out of matter. It is the living atoms forming the matter itself which are ensouled. Every tiny chemical atom has a consciousness of its own and obeys the laws of its own kingdom.
Thus, the atom arises out of that root of being, the Divine Principle, with definite desires, a definite little will of its own. It sends out feelers, little thrills of magnetism, varying in number according to the chemical element the atom forms part of. These little thrills of attraction draw other sympathetic atoms to the first one and form the various chemical substances. Of course, we all know that these chemical elements combine in their turn in many different ways to form matter.
The mineral kingdom provides the solid substance for our globe and our bodies, by the action of the minutest specks of spiritual being, working out the cosmic design on their own plane, following their own evolution and at the same time making our world for us and thereby doing an indispensable service to us and all creatures. You see, the atom is very like ourselves, it works partly by its own free will and partly through the laws of its own kingdom.
Next comes the plant kingdom. Mere specks of spiritual being, with ages, in fact, with universes of experience behind them in the mineral world, have expanded their consciousness sufficiently to utilize the inhabitants of the mineral sphere according to the laws of their own sphere and their own free will, and give us the almost uncountable varieties of plant life, the two worlds, plant and mineral, blending exquisitely to make one whole, though each living its own life.
Each thing that is brought into being by nature is a hierarchy, a group of little lives, held together by a larger life, or hierarch, its head, its guide and inspirer. Thus, our human bodies are hierarchies of lives, the lives of the atoms and organs, each with its own little head, all working together under one greater head, our human mind, which would appear as a mighty, unknowable god, "beyond the range and reach of thought," to the souls of the atoms. Thus, a tree is not just a collection of bark, sap, fiber, and pigment, but a blending of growing entities, living within a more evolved entity.
The teachings of Theosophy explain in this way that mysterious companionship which we feel so strongly in nature, that feeling that we should be able to have direct inner communion with it. Indeed we often have. Katherine Tingley says in Theosophy, the Path of the Mystic:
Truly I believe that birds and flowers know us better than we know ourselves; and when we are on the high plane of mystical knowledge, when our hearts are touched with the spiritual forces of Nature and of life, we learn to talk with Nature, we learn to work with her.
I never went into the woods but the birds sang better while I was there. Not that I gave them the power, but that they, in their simplicity, being part of the great Law, felt the longing of my soul for a touch of sweet Nature, and they sang to me. I have had some strange experiences in handling flowers; they have answered the yearnings of my soul with just the answer most needed. The tiniest atoms of the earth have voices, and these voices are even a part of ourselves.
Following up our expanding picture of struggling godhood we now come across apparently a big gulf between the plant and animal worlds. But the gulf is only apparent. It is rather like the changing of scenes at a pantomime, when the stage goes dark without the curtain dropping and we see dark shadowy figures, like spirits moving in the underworld, doing the job, but we cannot make out what they are doing. Then up come the lights and there is a marvelous new world, the old one completely vanished. Just so when the group of entities has learned all its lessons in one of nature's kingdoms, it passes out of our sight into the deeper spiritual dimensions of nature, for long ages. An assimilation of experience takes place there, and deep rest. The entities then feel the pull towards objective existence again, seek more self-expression, find themselves capable of building and infilling much more complicated vehicles or bodies than they could last time, so there we have a new or higher realm of beings. The big change, the new focusing of consciousness, takes place in the silence and apparent oblivion between the two kingdoms. That is why scientists do not find their missing links. They are not to be found in the material world.
The law of cycles, which includes the law of reimbodiment, is seen operating here. All things great and small, move and live in cycles of reimbodiment and rest, the cycling progressions of small beings fitting within those of great ones.
Also, nothing comes out of nothing. The less always comes out of the greater, both in the case of whole kingdoms of nature and of the individuals making up those kingdoms, so that smaller beings are always backed up and supported by greater ones. "Beneath are the everlasting arms." The little ones are guided into existence by their spiritual fathers, "the Gods."
It is taught that there is not a pin point anywhere in space that is not filled with active consciousnesses, and so between the Solar and Planetary Spirits and us humans there are hierarchies of intelligences whose holy work is to watch over the races of men and give assistance wherever possible. They are consciousnesses that have deeply awakened and widely developed the spiritual faculties lying latent in every living thing. They have struggled and rested, that is incarnated and died and reincarnated, countless times through the lower and human realms, and also through previous lifetimes of the earth until they have become "Gods."
To use a technical term, these protective powers are Buddhas. The Buddhas have striven and suffered until they have won control over all their lower principles, and have become actively self-conscious to quite a large extent in their sixth principle, Buddhi, whence their title springs. These facts make of them a link with the gods and therefore mighty healing and enlightening influences, shedding beneficent power over the whole globe.
Without their unseen help we would perish under the crushing weight of our own wrong thoughts and doings. We don't do too well even with their help, as you have probably noticed. That is because man must use his free will. It is the act of striving to bring into activity the good and great side of his nature, and the fact that he is free to choose, which make him a living building brick in a living universe, knitted into its fabric, deeply responsible to all lives around him, and those forming his own constitution, for by contact with his psychology they are elevated or dragged down.
The theosophist sees man both in death and in life, as an eternal pilgrim in a friendly universe, with infinite expansion before him. Fighting evil forces and suffering, to be sure, but surrounded by the light of Divinity in all directions, and fighting not only for himself but for all creatures.
In the fight he is (or can be) aided by his own higher self, that upper triad of principles, of which his everyday personal self (his human soul) is a ray, and which is his link with infinity, as was said earlier. The higher self is a bright and starry god who has journeyed through many previous lifetimes of the planet. It is of the very nature of heaven, as Jesus said "The kingdom of heaven is within you" and "I tell you that ye are gods."
1. Paper given at the Manchester (England) Lodge. (return to text)