The Path – November 1892


I do not know how widespread is the tendency, but I have been noticing among many of our best and most thoughtful members a reluctance to style themselves "Theosophist". Instead, the unwieldy title, "a member of the Theosophical Society", is used. To this is usually added "and I am trying to become a Theosophist". The reason given for this course is that to them a Theosophist is, or more truly would be, a being of perfect virtue and perfect wisdom.

With this meaning attached to the title it is entirely comprehensible that they disclaim it for themselves. But it is a meaning which, to me, seems to have been needlessly and arbitrarily assigned. Needlessly, because we have many other words which will better serve the purpose, as "altruist" from the European terminology, and, in the rarely rich vocabulary which has come to us from the East, a series of titles for the whole hierarchy of spiritually-striving beings, from the lowly Chela to the Buddha of Compassion; arbitrarily, for the etymology implies no such meaning.

In most words of like formation the suffix implies only "one who labors at", while in words such as realist and materialist it means still less, merely "one who believes in". We do not refuse to term a man "geologist" because he is not an Agassiz; we call many a man, and rightly, an artist, although between him and Michael Angelo there be degrees which it must take him ages to climb.

According to all analogy, then, a Theosophist is not one who has attained, but one who labors to reach, Divine Wisdom. To make perfection a necessary qualification for bearing the title would be, in Kali Yuga, to put that title out of use.

Fortunately, whatever the struggle of individuals, the world in general will not be content to use a phrase when it can find a word: and a word it must and will find to express that a man is not merely "a member of the Theosophical Society", but that he recognizes the truth of its chief teachings, that he believes in the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, in Karma and Reincarnation, and — in H. P. B.

Since, then, to raise the word to its highest is to debar ourselves from using it, and since there is a need which in its lower meaning it well fills, let us accept this lower meaning and call ourselves Theosophists. The title may be borne in all humility; to say "I strive" is but to confess the goal unreached. In so using the word we cannot belittle it, for not the achievement but the effort that makes it possible is truly great.

The Path