Nota bene, "T. S." is an abbreviation for "Theosophical Society."
Enq. What are the objects of the "Theosophical Society"?
Theo. They are three, and have been so from the beginning. (1.) To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, colour, or creed. (2.) To promote the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the World's religion and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely, of the Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies. (3.) To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially. These are, broadly stated, the three chief objects of the Theosophical Society.
Enq. Can you give me some more detailed information upon these?
Theo. We may divide each of the three objects into as many explanatory clauses as may be found necessary.
Enq. Then let us begin with the first. What means would you resort to, in order to promote such a feeling of brotherhood among races that are known to be of the most diversified religions, customs, beliefs, and modes of thought?
Theo. Allow me to add that which you seem unwilling to express. Of course we know that with the exception of two remnants of races — the Parsees and the Jews — every nation is divided, not merely against all other nations, but even against itself. This is found most prominently among the so-called civilized Christian nations. Hence your wonder, and the reason why our first object appears to you a Utopia. Is it not so?
Enq. Well, yes; but what have you to say against it?
Theo. Nothing against the fact; but much about the necessity of removing the causes which make Universal Brotherhood a Utopia at present.
Enq. What are, in your view, these causes?
Theo. First and foremost, the natural selfishness of human nature. This selfishness, instead of being eradicated, is daily strengthened and stimulated into a ferocious and irresistible feeling by the present religious education, which tends not only to encourage, but positively to justify it. People's ideas about right and wrong have been entirely perverted by the literal acceptance of the Jewish Bible. All the unselfishness of the altruistic teachings of Jesus has become merely a theoretical subject for pulpit oratory; while the precepts of practical selfishness taught in the Mosaic Bible, against which Christ so vainly preached, have become ingrained into the innermost life of the Western nations. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" has come to be the first maxim of your law. Now, I state openly and fearlessly, that the perversity of this doctrine and of so many others Theosophy alone can eradicate.
Theo. Simply by demonstrating on logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and even scientific grounds that: — (a) All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy. (b) As mankind is essentially of one and the same essence, and that essence is one — infinite, uncreate, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature — nothing, therefore, can affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other men. This is as certain and as obvious as that a stone thrown into a pond will, sooner or later, set in motion every single drop of water therein.
Enq. But this is not the teaching of Christ, but rather a pantheistic notion.
Theo. That is where your mistake lies. It is purely Christian, although not Judaic, and therefore, perhaps, your Biblical nations prefer to ignore it.
Enq. This is a wholesale and unjust accusation. Where are your proofs for such a statement?
Theo. They are ready at hand. Christ is alleged to have said: "Love each other" and "Love your enemies"; for "if ye love them (only) which love you, what reward (or merit) have ye? Do not even the publicans (1) the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even publicans so?" These are Christ's words. But Genesis ix. 25, says "Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." And, therefore, Christian but Biblical people prefer the law of Moses to Christ's law of love. They base upon the Old Testament, which panders to all their passions, their laws of conquest, annexation, and tyranny over races which they call inferior. What crimes have been committed on the strength of this infernal (if taken in its dead letter) passage in Genesis, history alone gives us an idea, however inadequate. (2)
Enq. I have heard you say that the identity of our physical origin is proved by science, that of our spiritual origin by the Wisdom-Religion. Yet we do not find Darwinists exhibiting great fraternal affection.
Theo. Just so. This is what shows the deficiency of the materialistic systems, and proves that we Theosophists are in the right. The identity of our physical origin makes no appeal to our higher and deeper feelings. Matter, deprived of its soul and spirit, or its divine essence, cannot speak to the human heart. But the identity of the soul and spirit, of real, immortal man, as Theosophy teaches us, once proven and deep-rooted in our hearts, would lead us far on the road of real charity and brotherly goodwill.
Enq. But how does Theosophy explain the common origin of man?
Theo. By teaching that the root of all nature, objective and subjective, and everything else in the universe, visible and invisible, is, was, and ever will be one absolute essence, from which all starts, and into which everything returns. This is Aryan philosophy, fully represented only by the Vedantins, and the Buddhist system. With this object in view, it is the duty of all Theosophists to promote in every practical way, and in all countries, the spread of non-sectarian education.
Enq. What do the written statutes of your Society advise its members to do besides this? On the physical plane, I mean?
Theo. In order to awaken brotherly feeling among nations we have to assist in the international exchange of useful arts and products, by advice, information, and co-operation with all worthy individuals and associations (provided, however, add the statutes, "that no benefit or percentage shall be taken by the Society or the 'Fellows' for its or their corporate services"). For instance, to take a practical illustration. The organization of Society, depicted by Edward Bellamy, in his magnificent work "Looking Backwards," admirably represents the Theosophical idea of what should be the first great step towards the full realization of universal brotherhood. The state of things he depicts falls short of perfection, because selfishness still exists and operates in the hearts of men. But in the main, selfishness and individualism have been overcome by the feeling of solidarity and mutual brotherhood; and the scheme of life there described reduces the causes tending to create and foster selfishness to a minimum.
Enq. Then as a Theosophist you will take part in an effort to realize such an ideal?
Theo. Certainly; and we have proved it by action. Have not you heard of the Nationalist clubs and party which have sprung up in America since the publication of Bellamy's book? They are now coming prominently to the front, and will do so more and more as time goes on. Well, these clubs and this party were started in the first instance by Theosophists. One of the first, the Nationalist Club of Boston, Mass., has Theosophists for President and Secretary, and the majority of its executive belong to the T. S. In the constitution of all their clubs, and of the party they are forming, the influence of Theosophy and of the Society is plain, for they all take as their basis, their first and fundamental principle, the Brotherhood of Humanity as taught by Theosophy. In their declaration of Principles they state: — "The principle of the Brotherhood of Humanity is one of the eternal truths that govern the world's progress on lines which distinguish human nature from brute nature." What can be more Theosophical than this? But it is not enough. What is also needed is to impress men with the idea that, if the root of mankind is one, then there must also be one truth which finds expression in all the various religions — except in the Jewish, as you do not find it expressed even in the Kabala.
Enq. This refers to the common origin of religions, and you may be right there. But how does it apply to practical brotherhood on the physical plane?
Theo. First, because that which is true on the metaphysical plane must be also true on the physical. Secondly, because there is no more fertile source of hatred and strife than religious differences. When one party or another thinks himself the sole possessor of absolute truth, it becomes only natural that he should think his neighbor absolutely in the clutches of Error or the Devil. But once get a man to see that none of them has the whole truth, but that they are mutually complementary, that the complete truth can be found only in the combined views of all, after that which is false in each of them has been sifted out — then true brotherhood in religion will be established. The same applies in the physical world.
Enq. Please explain further.
Theo. Take an instance. A plant consists of a root, a stem, and many shoots and leaves. As humanity, as a whole, is the stem which grows from the spiritual root, so is the stem the unity of the plant. Hurt the stem and it is obvious that every shoot and leaf will suffer. So it is with mankind.
Enq. Yes, but if you injure a leaf or a shoot, you do not injure the whole plant.
Theo. And therefore you think that by injuring one man you do not injure humanity? But how do you know? Are you aware that even materialistic science teaches that any injury, however slight, to a plant will affect the whole course of its future growth and development? Therefore, you are mistaken, and the analogy is perfect. If, however, you overlook the fact that a cut in the finger may often make the whole body suffer, and react on the whole nervous system, I must all the more remind you that there may well be other spiritual laws, operating on plants and animals as well as on mankind, although, as you do not recognise their action on plants and animals, you may deny their existence.
Enq. What laws do you mean?
Theo. We call them Karmic laws; but you will not understand the full meaning of the term unless you study Occultism. However, my argument did not rest on the assumption of these laws, but really on the analogy of the plant. Expand the idea, carry it out to a universal application, and you will soon find that in true philosophy every physical action has its moral and everlasting effect. Hurt a man by doing him bodily harm; you may think that his pain and suffering cannot spread by any means to his neighbors, least of all to men of other nations. We affirm that it will, in good time. Therefore, we say, that unless every man is brought to understand and accept as an axiomatic truth that by wronging one man we wrong not only ourselves but the whole of humanity in the long run, no brotherly feelings such as preached by all the great Reformers, pre-eminently by Buddha and Jesus, are possible on earth.
Enq. Will you now explain the methods by which you propose to carry out the second object?
Theo. To collect for the library at our head quarters of Adyar, Madras, (and by the Fellows of their Branches for their local libraries,) all the good works upon the world's religions that we can. To put into written form correct information upon the various ancient philosophies, traditions, and legends, and disseminate the same in such practicable ways as the translation and publication of original works of value, and extracts from and commentaries upon the same, or the oral instructions of persons learned in their respective departments.
Enq. And what about the third object, to develop in man his latent spiritual or psychic powers?
Theo. This has to be achieved also by means of publications, in those places where no lectures and personal teachings are possible. Our duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions. To oppose and counteract — after due investigation and proof of its irrational nature — bigotry in every form, religious, scientific, or social, and cant above all, whether as religious sectarianism or as belief in miracles or anything supernatural. What we have to do is to seek to obtain knowledge of all the laws of nature, and to diffuse it. To encourage the study of those laws least understood by modern people, the so-called Occult Sciences, based on the true knowledge of nature, instead of, as at present, on superstitious beliefs based on blind faith and authority. Popular folk-lore and traditions, however fanciful at times, when sifted may lead to the discovery of long-lost, but important, secrets of nature. The Society, therefore, aims at pursuing this line of inquiry, in the hope of widening the field of scientific and philosophical observation.
Enq. Have you any ethical system that you carry out in the Society?
Theo. The ethics are there, ready and clear enough for whomsoever would follow them. They are the essence and cream of the world's ethics, gathered from the teachings of all the world's great reformers. Therefore, you will find represented therein Confucius and Zoroaster, Laotze and the Bhagavat-Gita, the precepts of Gautama Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, of Hillel and his school, as of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and their schools.
Enq. Do the members of your Society carry out these precepts? I have heard of great dissensions and quarrels among them.
Theo. Very naturally, since although the reform (in its present shape) may be called new, the men and women to be reformed are the same human, sinning natures as of old. As already said, the earnest working members are few; but many are the sincere and well-disposed persons, who try their best to live up to the Society's and their own ideals. Our duty is to encourage and assist individual fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral, and spiritual; not to blame or condemn those who fail. We have, strictly speaking, no right to refuse admission to anyone — especially in the Esoteric Section of the Society, wherein "he who enters is as one newly born." But if any member, his sacred pledges on his word of honour and immortal Self notwithstanding, chooses to continue, after that "new birth," with the new man, the vices or defects of his old life, and to indulge in them still in the Society, then, of course, he is more than likely to be asked to resign and withdraw; or, in case of his refusal, to be expelled. We have the strictest rules for such emergencies.
Enq. Can some of them be mentioned?
Theo. They can. To begin with, no Fellow in the Society, whether exoteric or esoteric, has a right to force his personal opinions upon another Fellow. "It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express in public, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section (3), religious or philosophical, more than another. All have an equal right to have the essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial world. And no officer of the Society, in his capacity as an officer, has the right to preach his own sectarian views and beliefs to members assembled, except when the meeting consists of his co-religionists. After due warning, violation of this rule shall be punished by suspension or expulsion." This is one of the offences in the Society at large. As regards the inner section, now called the Esoteric, the following rules have been laid down and adopted, so far back as 1880. "No Fellow shall put to his selfish use any knowledge communicated to him by any member of the first section (now a higher 'degree'); violation of the rule being punished by expulsion." Now, however, before any such knowledge can be imparted, the applicant has to bind himself by a solemn oath not to use it for selfish purposes, nor to reveal anything said except by permission.
Enq. But is a man expelled, or resigning, from the section free to reveal anything he may have learned, or to break any clause of the pledge he has taken?
Theo. Certainly not. His expulsion or resignation only relieves him from the obligation of obedience to the teacher, and from that of taking an active part in the work of the Society, but surely not from the sacred pledge of secrecy.
Enq. But is this reasonable and just?
Theo. Most assuredly. To any man or woman with the slightest honourable feeling a pledge of secrecy taken even on one's word of honour, much more to one's Higher Self — the God within — is binding till death. And though he may leave the Section and the Society, no man or woman of honour will think of attacking or injuring a body to which he or she has been so pledged.
Enq. But is not this going rather far?
Theo. Perhaps so, according to the low standard of the present time and morality. But if it does not bind as far as this, what use is a pledge at all? How can anyone expect to be taught secret knowledge, if he is to be at liberty to free himself from all the obligations he had taken, whenever he pleases? What security, confidence, or trust would ever exist among men, if pledges such as this were to have no really binding force at all? Believe me, the law of retribution (Karma) would very soon overtake one who so broke his pledge, and perhaps as soon as the contempt of every honourable man would, even on this physical plane. As well expressed in the N. Y. "Path" just cited on this subject, "A pledge once taken, is for ever binding in both the moral and the occult worlds. If we break it once and are punished, that does not justify us in breaking it again, and so long as we do, so long will the mighty lever of the Law (of Karma) react upon us." (The Path, July, 1889.)
1. Publicans — regarded as so many thieves and pickpockets in these days. Among the Jews the name and profession of a publican was the most odious thing in the world. They were not allowed to enter the Temple, and Matthew (xviii. 17) speaks of a heathen and a publican as identical. Yet they were only Roman tax-gatherers occupying the same position as the British officials in India and other conquered countries. (return to text)
2. "At the close of the Middle Ages slavery, under the power of moral forces, had mainly disappeared from Europe; but two momentous events occurred which overbore the moral power working in European society and let loose a swarm of curses upon the earth such as mankind had scarcely ever known. One of these events was the first voyaging to a populated and barbarous coast where human beings were a familiar article of traffic; and the other the discovery of a new world, where mines of glittering wealth were open, provided labour could be imported to work them. For four hundred years men and women and children were torn from all whom they knew and loved, and were sold on the coast of Africa to foreign traders; they were chained below decks — the dead often with the living — during the horrible 'middle passage,' and, according to Bancroft, an impartial historian, two hundred and fifty thousand out of three and a quarter millions were thrown into the sea on that fatal passage, while the remainder were consigned to nameless misery in the mines, or under the lash in the cane and rice fields. The guilt of this great crime rests on the Christian Church. 'In the name of the most Holy Trinity' the Spanish Government (Roman Catholic) concluded more than ten treaties authorising the sale of five hundred thousand human beings; in 1562 Sir John Hawkins sailed on his diabolical errand of buying slaves in Africa and selling them in the West Indies in a ship which bore the sacred name of Jesus; while Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen, rewarded him for his success in this first adventure of Englishmen in that inhuman traffic by allowing him to wear as his crest 'a demi-Moor in his proper colour, bound with a cord, or, in other words, a manacled negro slave.' — Conquests of the Cross (quoted from the Agnostic Journal). (return to text)
3. A "branch," or lodge, composed solely of co-religionists, or a branch in partibus, as they are now somewhat bombastically called. (return to text)