The Path – November 1893

IMPOLITIC REFERENCE — "H. P. B." — Alexander Fullerton

Theosophy is rapidly pushing its way through journalistic and other channels, and is cropping out in regions and hamlets the most unexpected. Its expansion during the last few years has astonished even those who best know its merits, and every day brings new indications that it is soon to be in the forefront of the questions of the age and the interest of the religious world. For, in truth, it supplies the very desiderata for which earnest men have vainly sought, and finds welcome in exact proportion as those meeting it are intelligent, open-minded, and devout. A system which insists on including every fact which research can grasp, which harmonizes each fact and each department of its vast philosophy, which solves the piteous puzzles in every human life and lot, which nerves to the most patient endurance and the most hopeful endeavor, is one which cannot be indifferent to those who think and feel and aspire.

Theosophy is not only exhaustive in its inclusions, it is most ingenuous in its methods. It waives aside all cajolery or special pleading, and asks no one to give his assent to its statements unless his reason is thoroughly convinced. Any other adhesion would be half-hearted, insincere, superficial: none such is congenial to a system which cares only for truth, and for perception of truth, and for honest avowal of the perception. Unless a man finds its teachings upheld by his judgment and his moral sense, it frankly tells him that he cannot rightfully accept them.

But in order for the judgment to act, Theosophy furnishes copiously the material. The philosophy may be divided into two parts, — the facts and laws wholly beyond the reach of us ordinary mortals, the facts and laws measurably within our reach but needing elucidation by the former class. These it expounds with fulness, fortifying itself with the discoveries of science and the best exercise of reason. Those it presents as upon the evidence of extraordinary mortals, men whose larger acquisitions of faculty enable them to transcend our limits and explore vast realms beyond. Then it connects the two and exhibits a consistent scheme explanatory of all life seen and unseen, and by the beautiful harmony and relation of all parts depicts a whole which is worthy of its Divine Author.

As knowledge of matters outside our ken can only be communicated to us through one of ourselves, Theosophy avows that certain individuals have from time to time been used as channels of these higher truths, the sources being above them, known to be such, avowed to be such. Sometimes in sacred writings recognized as "Scriptures", sometimes in scientific expositions of advanced grade, sometimes in moral or spiritual disquisitions, sometimes in the translation of inaccessible or non-understood works, truth appertaining to loftier planes is made to percolate down for the benefit and refreshment of dwellers upon the plains. In such cases the channel was valued for its accuracy and its service; it did not authenticate the truth, it transmitted it; it was not the authority but the witness. The truth, even, did not rest upon the medium; its certitude was in the responsiveness of the auditor, and its sanction in the validity of its source.

Thus it is that Theosophy approaches all hearers of this or any other age, — large-minded, open-handed, frank, inviting every critical research, discountenancing all sham or partiality, pointing to proofs, citing evidence when accessible and furnishing testimony when not, appealing only to reason and insight and perception. Its most conspicuous Apostles most exhibit this spirit, and beg their pupils to look not to them but through them for the Truth which is to make free. They disclaim names as finalities, and will not consent that texts are to be fetters to the soul or any book weigh down a struggling mind. A disciple may reverence his teacher, but not truly so by repetition of phrases or by any other course than that which has convinced and qualified the teacher himself.

These facts have important bearing in the era to which Theosophy has now arrived. It has passed beyond the stage of mere novelty, and its philosophy has larger coherence as well as wider popular attention. Advance is being made into broader regions of thought, principles are receiving fuller application, legitimate criticism is testing the soundness of doctrine. The Theosophical Society finds a hearing in many quarters formerly barred to it, and its expounders have audiences neither unfriendly nor unfair. To be distinct they have to be explicit, and to be explicit they have to be precise. But this often seems to be dogmatic, to be laying down fact as if incontestable, to be proclamatory of truth as assured. It is by no means necessarily so, for the genuine expounder disclaims more than commendation to reason and will not allow any coercive intention. It is his to suggest, to vindicate, to impress; never to insist, demand, or extort. If there is appearance of dogmatism, it is contrary to his purpose and spirit, utterly contrary to the Society he represents.

Even though there may be no real dogmatic character in Theosophy, the Society, or its expounders, there may yet be an impolicy of reference which impairs the course of the message. The revival in the West of the ancient Wisdom Religion came about through Madame H. P. Blavatsky, herself an Initiate and a direct messenger from the Masters behind. The services she gave to the Cause, the self-sacrificing devotion to her mission which marked every day of her career, the contributions she made to Theosophical literature and learning, no pen can fully compute. Theosophists feel for her a gratitude and veneration which they may well feel for one who was the means of throwing open to them a new and boundless spiritual life, and in her works they find an exhaustless treasure of scientific, moral, and spiritual truth. Not unnaturally but still mistakenly, many of them extend this attitude from their private studies to their public discussions, and forget that a reverence which is personal cannot validate a proposition which is impersonal. To non-Theosophic hearers a doctrine stands or falls by its conformity to reason and the moral sense, not by the repetition of a name or a quotation from a book. Take Karma, for instance. If it is to become influential as a motive in life, its existence and operations have to be shown by argument, analogy, and illustration. All quarters can be drawn upon, and the larger the basis the surer the construction. Demonstrated thus, it makes its way to the judgment and the heart. But treat it as a dictum of Isis Unveiled, The Key to Theosophy, and The Secret Doctrine, consider it as proved because H. P. B. said so, dispose airily of questions as worthless because they have no sanction in H. P. B's works or words, and it becomes merely a shibboleth of adherence to a side, not at all an ethical law to be verified by conviction.

And certainly the most devoted Theosophists — who are usually also the most devoted disciples of the Teacher — are often willing to admit that this mistake has been made in public exposition. It is a mistake in judgment, for the public are to be won through the merits of a doctrine and not through appeals to an authority. It is a mistake in perception, for they who perpetrate it forget that their own conversion to Theosophy was by conviction of reason, reverence being a later experience. And it is a mistake in policy, for the free mind resents an attempt to coerce it by a name instead of an attempt to influence it by a fact. So irritation is aroused, and a truth which might be winsome is transformed into a dogma which must be repellent, the spirit waxing impatient at the supposition that it can be over-awed by a quotation or silenced by a term. Undoubtedly many a warming interest has been chilled by supposition that Theosophy is expressed and bounded by H. P. B's published works, that it has no other support than can be found from her, that all propositions are to be tested by their conformity to the Secret Doctrine, that Theosophists think only as she allowed and believe only as they are sure she would approve. And if an inquirer conceives that the choice is between a free range of thought which shall carry him, unfettered, through every sphere and bring him before every truth, and a circumscribed round which shall tether him to a name and a book, he cannot be blamed if he thinks harsh things, says harsh words, and abjures Theosophy, H. P. B., and the Society.

Now free-thought and insistence on reason as the vindication of doctrine are no disloyalty to our great Leader. Rather are they homage to her, since she so battled for them. No one who knew her or who is familiar with her works found her exacting of subservience to her views. On the contrary, she held and taught and enjoined that submission without conviction was not only worthless but unmanly, and her appeal was ever to argument and proof. We shall not improve upon her by reversing her policy, and we shall not further the Cause she loved by methods she disapproved. Loving reverence may express itself in loving imitation, the truest homage in an extension of her own spirit. In commending Theosophy and its priceless benefits to men, the genuine disciple of H. P. B. can refrain from phrases which she abjured and references which she discountenanced, and can uphold the philosophy and its contents and its conclusions with the richest of arguments and illustrations and verifications. As they affect the public mind and swell the number of the enlightened and the aspiring, he will become ever more conscious of the broad spirit of his mission, and, while not pushing the name and words of H. P. B. to the forefront of his discourse, will know that behind it they are a source of strength and inspiration and motive, flowing through his every thought and impulse, even though rarely voiced in the hearing of the multitude.

[NOTE. The above article has my unqualified approval. It is easy to prove that the Theosophical Society is not dogmatic and has no creed and no personal authority in matters of doctrine or belief; but the wise Theosophist should see to it that undue attention is not given to a line of proof that may arouse a needless opposition. — W. Q. J.]

The Path