There is often a fine line of demarcation between theory and practice which, if not checked, can become a wide chasm of misunderstanding. It is well therefore to return occasionally to fundamental principles to determine the basis of mutual agreement. As the years roll by since the founding of the T. S. in 1875, the circumstances surrounding that event fade into history. Thus are formed the various lines of theory concerning not only the policies of the T. S., but even the expression of the theosophical teachings themselves. Some bits of interesting correspondence in recent months on the subject of psychism show the need of a sympathetic co-ordination of thought along this line. We are reminded in this connection of a statement familiar to many of us, "You are all correct from your own viewpoint, but." In other words, to synchronize individual opinion we must of necessity approach the matter from a broad and basic viewpoint so that "opinion" is replaced with knowledge.
Any sincere student of theosophy accepts its teachings as a source of knowledge; our individual interpretation of these teachings may often be opinion. So to find that basis of knowledge in this particular instance concerning the teachings and practice of psychism, let us examine the original purpose of Mme. Blavatsky in presenting them to the world. Creeds, laws, and dogmas are not laid out for us to follow. The way is shown, both right and wrong, and it is up to us to choose the path we take.
For direction one can of course quote H. P. Blavatsky and other theosophical leaders on the subject of psychism, but such quotations are seldom convincing and in fact can often prove contradictory. The old saying that anything can be proved by the Bible may just as well be said of H. P. B. We can also examine the objects of the T. S., but here again we can lose our perspective in trying to determine exact and literal definitions instead of penetrating a bit deeper to the purpose of those objects. As has been pointed out before (see Theosophical Forum, Oct., 1947, Our Directives), the wording of Object No. III, which concerns the investigation of the powers in man, has been changed two or three times.
The original wording of this Object as given in 1882 was, "To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature and the Psychical powers latent in man." In 1886 this was changed to read thus: ". . . to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers of man." In 1888 we have an addition to Object No. Ill which reads, "The Fellows interested in this third Object now form a distinct private division of the Society under the direction of the Corresponding Secretary." This addition however, was cancelled in 1890. After other changes made during the passing years, the present and last reading of this Object (now No. V, Covina T. S.), was made in 1929 by G. de Purucker and reads, "To investigate the powers innate in man." (Theosophical Forum, Oct., 1929)
The consciousness and environment of the world has changed completely since 1875 and if the T. S. is to give any assistance or guidance to this changing world, its objects must be fluidic enough to meet this change; otherwise we shall become a dogmatic sect built on creed and phraseology. There was a definite need in 1882 which called forth the wording of Object III of the T. S. to "investigate the psychical powers in man." Note the wording of this Object today, "To investigate the powers innate in man" — a much wider compass of investigation, without destroying the original.
When the original objects of the T. S. were formulated, interest in spiritualism and psychic phenomena had reached a period of unwholesome intensity. Ignorant of the dangers or causes of such practices, seekers of a more spiritual way of life believed they had found the keys to unlock the shackles of scientific materialism and religious dogma. Here was proof (as erroneously assumed) of life after death, proof of unknown powers in man. Science of course could see no further than its laboratory test-tubes and denounced all psychic phenomena as impossible and absurd. The church doctrines of salvation, sin, and a personal god could no longer co-ordinate blind faith with scientific reasoning. So the field for spiritualism was laid wide open.
Anyone familiar with the life of H. P. B. knows what stupendous efforts she made to "prove" to the materialistic Nineteenth Century the existence and powers of psychic phenomena. It was this very thing which brought so much derision upon her shoulders. Yet, when she also tried to show the dangers and illusions of psychism, H. P. B. was scorned by the professional mediums and spiritualists. The task was gigantic, the need heart-rending. So in addition to the broad field of theosophical teachings, particular emphasis was given by H. P. B. to the investigation of the psychical powers in man.
Today, the premise of psychic investigation is established and it is gradually being placed upon a firm basis of scientific study. The forward-looking writers and thinkers of the present day are coordinating the fields of science, religion, and philosophy. Psychic and occult phenomena are more or less accepted as fact. The need today is to explain such phenomena and to give them their rightful place in the scheme of life. Emphasis now must be placed on the complete man, man as a physical, mental, and spiritual, as well as psychical, being and his relation to life of this world and the universe of which he is a part.
A survey of the field of occultism shows us that during the past fifty years an increasing number of organizations and cults have sprung directly or indirectly, from the T. S. Many such groups stress only certain aspects of the original theosophical teachings, particularly those of psychism and the latent powers of man. So we shall always have those among us who seek sensationalism. Others of course are searching for the basic truths of the ancient wisdom. If the T. S. is to remain the fountain-head of occult and spiritual knowledge, then we have a certain moral obligation to such groups insofar as it will be accepted. Guidance and not criticism is needed to change the focus of attention from the astral, psychical, and phenomenal to the broader concepts of our innate human and spiritual faculties.
The various psychical research groups and societies are making sincere and commendable investigations into the field of psychic phenomena. The general attitude is one of scientific research in an endeavor to "prove" the existence of intelligent life beyond the reach of our physical senses. This attitude is in contra-distinction to the hostility expressed by the S. P. R. of Blavatsky's time. However, such groups do not consider the dangers involved in such investigations nor their accompanying moral responsibilities. Guidance is needed. So a consideration of the "innate powers in man" is an essential object of the T. S. today, if we are to retain those principles for which the Society was originally founded.
We can safely say that the greatest advance made in the study of the complex human being, outside of theosophical or occult circles, has been in the field of psychology. Scientific recognition of psychic faculties is admitted when psychologists make a distinction between psychism, which they term Psi, and other fields of psychological experiment. Dr. J. B. Rhine of Duke University is perhaps the leading figure in establishing "proof of man's extra-sensory perceptions and even of deeper innate capacities. His experiments and writings are now accepted in many scientific circles and have done much in removing the sensationalism from psychic phenomena. Many leading religious counselors combine the use of psychology with spiritual guidance to give practical as well as spiritual aid. Medical treatment is concerned today with the psychological and mental ailments in diagnosis. Perhaps we do not always agree with such analysis but modern psychologists have touched an important aspect of our human complexity. They have not yet plumbed the depths of real human development but they have reached beyond the astral and psychic to the more human elements. It can be said with some reservations that modern psychology has assumed the burden of investigating the "psychical powers in man." In keeping with such trends, the emphasis of the T. S. needs to be on the broader level of investigating the more spiritual "powers innate in man." We wonder if this trend is the prelude to the coming religious era which we are told will be with us towards the last quarter of this century?
The human race is in a short cycle of astral development which is manifested in our modern inventions such as aircraft, radar, television, etc., as well as in our human sensitiveness to psychic phenomena. This is a natural condition and should be accepted as such without undue emphasis. Perhaps the great danger is one of morals and ethics as it is obvious that humanity has displayed its lack of moral control over affairs of the physical plane. Why then should we try to force the development of our psychic faculties which we do not know how to control and which we do not understand? It reminds one of the trite analogy of giving a child chemical explosives to play with. Let us give greater attention to those human faculties which are so neglected, control of our thoughts and emotions, and the development of our real sixth sense — intuition.
The abuse of anything soon brings deterioration and destruction and that is what is being done to the latent psychic faculties which are awakening within us. They are used too often for sensationalism, personal gain, and a misplaced sense of spiritual development. There is a difference between magical tricks and real psychic faculties, yet we are often deluded by them. Motive is the keynote to follow. If our interest is for unselfish purposes and for the good of human development, a great step forward has been made. In this respect modern psychology is outstanding, but a firm basis still needs to be established.
The position of the T. S. in this modern world of expanding psychic research and practice, is still based on those broad precepts set forth by H. P. B. It is not sufficient to admit the existence of psychism; it needs to be explained and given its rightful place in the scheme of human evolution. The dangers of psychic practice in its various forms, without the guidance of a true teacher, need to be stressed. Attention must be drawn to the development of the higher human and spiritual faculties of man. These objects can only be attained by extending a helping hand, not through criticism. A responsibility and a charge have been placed upon the shoulders of every F. T. S. How much we assume that responsibility depends upon our knowing the fundamental teachings of the ancient wisdom so that we may pass them on to others as we have received them.