Fear not; although we do "cling superstitiously to the relics of the Past" our knowledge will not pass away from the sight of man. It is the "gift of the gods" and the most precious relic of all. The keepers of the sacred Light did not safely cross so many ages but to find themselves wrecked on the rocks of modem scepticism. Our pilots are too experienced sailors to allow us [to] fear any such disaster. We will always find volunteers to replace the tired sentries, and the world, bad as it is in its present state of transitory period, can yet furnish us with a few men now and then. — The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, 2nd ed., p. 215
In every age and nation there have been all manner and degrees of theosophists who through a variety of disciplines have sought to raise the soul "to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty — that is, to the Vision of God."(1) A significant part of H. P. Blavatsky's effort was to show that a few had truly succeeded. Convinced of the power of theosophy to provide a majestically unifying vision of life, she and her teachers assembled from the testimony of history and their own experience a powerful witness of a little known, poorly understood, but universally active community of students and sages, defined by their common aspiration to retrieve for the good of the world a fuller knowledge of the mystery of Being, and to kindle the flames of compassion, wisdom, and brotherly love in the hearts of men and women everywhere.
From the very beginning of her public work, HPB was clear about her purpose and the brotherhood objective she wished to achieve. Realizing that dogmatic churches and scientific academies were unlikely to lend a sympathetic ear initially, she turned to the more receptive, though relatively immature Spiritualist movement as a foothold to reintroduce theosophic ideas. In July 1875, a few months before The Theosophical Society was founded, a Boston Spiritualist journal published her first philosophical article. In it she seeded most of the fundamental concepts that were to be amplified in her later writings. It was a brilliantly composed overture setting forth by hint, allusion, and direct statement the major themes of the Music to follow.(2)
Responding to an article on Rosicrucianism, her keynote was to suggest that the truths about God, the immortality of the soul, and the mysteries of existence had in fact been known from the remotest antiquity. Using language and concepts reasonably familiar to her readers, educated Spiritualists and students of Western esoteric traditions, she spoke about occultism in its original meaning as the science and philosophy of the spiritual principles of life, and of its Oriental "Cabala, or the compound mystic textbook of all the great secrets of Nature." Upon this "primitive" original were modeled the Jewish Kabbalah and the Hermetic and Rosicrucian systems, each elucidating in its own way
1. The nature of the Supreme Being;
2. The origin, creation, and generation of the Universe, the Macrocosmos;
3. The creation, or generation, of outflowing of angels and man;
4. The ultimate destiny of angels, man, and the Universe; or the inflowing;
5. To point out to humanity the real meaning of the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures.(3)
Before the compilation of the first Western Kabbalah "in which a mortal man ever dared to explain the greatest mysteries of the universe," the transcendental doctrines and philosophy of occultism had
come down in an unbroken line of merely oral traditions as far back as man could trace himself on earth. They were scrupulously and jealously guarded by the Wise Men of Chaldaea, India, Persia, and Egypt, and passed from one initiate to another in the same purity of form as when handed down to the first man by the angels, students of God's great Theosophic Seminary.(4)
The notion of ancient brotherhoods preserving and transmitting divine wisdom was, of course, nothing new. Gnostic, Sufi, Masonic, and other secret fraternities had been well known in the West. And in early Jewish-Christian tradition, the apostle Paul (or his editor) certainly had in mind a similar idea when explaining to the Ephesians (3:7-9), how he — who was "less than the least of all saints" — had been granted the privilege of proclaiming the gospel of the "unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all as to what is the fellowship of the mystery which has been hidden from the ages [aions, a gnostic term] in God."(5)
Emphasizing Ecclesiastes' declaration that there is nothing new under the sun, HPB's main thesis was to reassert that the sacred original of all mystic fellowships was not a dead relic of the past, neither a myth nor a hoax, but a living body composed of real people, "Oriental Rosicrucians" and philosophers she called them, who are the present-day "heirs to the early heavenly wisdom of their first forefathers."
Where they are, who they are, is more than is given me to reveal. Perhaps I do not know it myself, and have only dreamed it. Thousands will say it is all imagination; so be it. Time will show. The only thing I can say is that such a body exists, and that the location of their Brotherhoods will never be revealed to other countries, until the day when Humanity shall awake in a mass from its spiritual lethargy, and open its blind eyes to the dazzling light of Truth. A too premature discovery might blind them, perhaps forever.
Nevertheless, HPB wished to make clear that the intent of this fraternity was gradually to reintroduce such portions of the sacred science as would dissipate the "clouds and unhealthy mists of a thousand religious sects which disgrace the present century . . . and recall into new life the wretched souls who shiver and are half frozen under the icy hand of killing skepticism."
Truth will prevail at last, and Spiritualism, the new world's conqueror, reviving, like the fabulous Phoenix out of the ashes of its first parent, Occultism, will unite for ever in one Immortal Brotherhood all antagonistic races.(6) (Italics added.)
By spiritualism, in contrast to materialism, HPB obviously did not mean solely the Spiritualist movement, which then concerned itself primarily with seances and psychic phenomena. Undoubtedly she had great hopes that Spiritualists would recognize the inadequacy of their theories and discover in theosophy a far better explanation of not only the phenomena, but of a grander, more comprehensive philosophy of life. It is spiritualism in this latter sense of a genuine spiritual orientation that HPB saw as the means by which humanity could more clearly envision the oneness and interdependence of life, and the key to harmonious living. When all is said and done, what is of lasting value in our lives is the vivifying light of our relationships — of those inner bonds built on love, trust, and respect. This brings its own blessing and its own potent understanding. But to achieve a realization of true fellowship or brotherhood, let alone deeper knowledge of the divine mystery which is our common parent, one must begin by living in a brotherly way. And that is the essence of the Masters' call to "Try."
It was not by chance or mere synchronicity, then, that HPB received, also in July 1875, a directive from one of her teachers to "establish a philosophico-religious Society." (7) As she pointed out through her entire public career, one does not become spiritually wise simply by studying theoretical doctrines. Practice is a necessity; though by "practice" neither she nor the Mahatmas had in mind a schooling in "promiscuous theurgic rites."
The Chiefs want a "Brotherhood of Humanity," a real Universal Fraternity started; an institution which would make itself known throughout the world and arrest the attention of the highest minds. — The Mahatma Letters, p. 24
Tracing The Theosophical Society's roots to this sacred community of "god-taught" philosophers, the founders sought as far as practical to model the Society's educational and humanitarian goals on the original program of its parent. Over the years, the number, specific wording, and manner of fulfilling these objectives have varied somewhat in accordance with changing needs, but the central focus on brotherhood — as fact and ideal — has never changed.
As a vehicle for disseminating universal theosophy and fostering better human relations for the benefit of the world, the Society's mandate directs it to be nonexclusive, international in scope, free of sectarian interest, with absolutely no one to stand between an individual and his or her own divine source. As stated in its brochure today, "The primary requisite for Fellowship in The Theosophical Society is an acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood. No dogma or creed is binding upon members, who may belong to any religious faith or to none."
From its inception, the founders realized that the TS, as a body of and for humanity, would be vulnerable to human shortcomings — in particular to the divisive influences of selfishness, dogmatism, and fanaticism. Therefore HPB and her teachers counseled repeatedly that the fellows of the TS must make altruism and brotherly living the basis of their lives. Otherwise this new presentation of theosophy could become just another set of ritualized intellectual dogmas, and the Society one of those "other countries" with no port of entry for the life-giving spirit of compassionate wisdom. Aside from the commonsense ethic of brotherly conduct and the protection it naturally affords, there is a far deeper, more philosophical reason for brotherhood.
Love and wisdom are deathless, and belong to the infinite resources of the great inscrutable Mystery, from which the "outflowings" and "inflowings" of countless universes continue on into eternity. From the first moment of every cosmic birth there is bipolarity, and the evolution of consciousness and substance proceeds by sympathy and attraction. In human life, similarity of thought and action automatically induces a harmonic resonance, and the moment we are sympathetic with something or someone, we automatically link together in direct proportion to the strength of our desire or aspiration. In the region of creative spirit, our light calls to Light. Whether it be named the Light of Christ or of the holy Tathagatas (Buddhas), a fusion occurs, and the world will be blessed by it. Conversely, negative energies may be aroused in like manner, and we are reminded to give care to the quality of thoughts we invite into our soul.
As offspring of the divine mystery, we and all beings in the universe are brothers in fact and divinities in potential. Trying to live as brothers, working from the best of ourselves to the best in each other, being helpful and considerate, forgiving the hurts done to us out of ignorance, curbing anger, and just plain loving our neighbor, evokes a resonance of spirit that brings peace surpassing understanding. In principle it is not difficult to find the courage to be a brother, for courage — as the word implies — comes from the heart. Self-discovery is a process of awakening vision: of the fact that I and Thou are indeed one in essence and purpose, and regardless of how "high" or "low" on the evolutionary scale (cosmically we humans are pretty much in the "middle"), each of us has something absolutely vital to contribute. Once we volunteer to resume our ancient vow of altruism — of being true to all, however imperfect we are — we link ourselves with a fellowship of kindred spirits that embraces the universe.
Since HPB's time a great deal of misleading speculation and nonsense has been written and spoken about occultism, Masters, gurus, ancient wisdom, and the Great Ideal Brotherhood — so much so that one hesitates to use these terms. But what words can we invent that will not someday be abused? The opening new age has brought with it greater hope for a better and more harmonious world, but we would be naive to believe the Millennium has arrived. Where the light is bright, deep shadows also form. How then to distinguish genuine wisdom from psychic delusion and egotism, both outwardly in the world, and within the soul? The ability to recognize authenticity amidst the din of fictitious claimants is another gift of brotherhood that is simple to understand: like recognizes like. Discernment is not a consequence of sentimental feeling, but derives from the sustained application of principle. Spiritual-intellectual insight is something earned from within, and there is yet a great task before us all. Teachers and teachings can help open a doorway, but each of us must cross the threshold of truth by ourself. No true teacher, savior, or brother would rob us of that privilege.
For all her volumes of teaching and guidance, HPB's last message to theosophists and to humanity were summed up in four simple words, spoken shortly before she died: "Keep the link unbroken." For one hundred years these words have been given perhaps as many interpretations as there are individuals who have searched their meaning. Amidst the diversity of possibilities, there is one with which even the most fiercely independent theosophist would probably concur: inwardly, the link with the divine mystery and its fellowship and, outwardly, with humanity and the world. Although we must discover our own strength and wisdom individually, we depend upon each other to solve creatively the challenges ahead. Here, it seems, is the harmonizing keynote to all our human relations, the gift HPB wished to impart: the immortal link of compassion that connects us with the universal brotherhood of life.
1. "What Is Theosophy?," The Theosophist (1:1), October 1879. (Return to text)
2. "A Few Questions to 'Hiraf'," The Spiritual Scientist, July 15, 22, 1875; reprinted in H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings (BCW ) 1:101-18. For an earlier privately written summary, see Letter VIII to H. S. Olcott, 21 May 1875, H.P.B. Speaks 1:37-47. (Return to text)
3. Ibid. 1:113. Allowing for its Western idiom, this list reads virtually as a table of contents of HPB's later works, in particular The Secret Doctrine, which attempted to elevate these subjects from their crude sectarian garments, "demythologize" them as far as possible, and provide their scientific rationale. For commentary and excerpts from text, see W. T. S. Thackara, "Overture and Opener of the Way," Sunrise, June/July 1997. (Return to text)
4. Ibid. 1:110. See also Eugene Corson, Some Unpublished Letters of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Letter 2, postmarked Feb. 16, 1875, p. 128. (Return to text)
5. This passage is a centuries-old puzzle because the majority of known manuscripts contain a variant text: oikonomia tou mysteriou, the economy, plan, or administration (literally, the "house-law") of the mystery, which is equally suggestive. Whether fellowship (koinonia) is Paul's own word, a scribe's error, or an editorial substitution, we do not know. What is certain is that it is the word of choice in the "Received Text" of the Church. The root idea, moreover, is fundamental to Jewish-Christian theology, being expressed elsewhere as the assembly of angels and perfected men in the city of God on the mysterious Mt. Zion (Heb 12:2 2-3) and, mystically, the communion of saints. See also Eph 2:19-22 where Paul refers to the faithful of Ephesus as having become "fellow-citizens of the holy ones (saints) and of the household of God." (Return to text)
6. "Hiraf," BCW 1:108, 113, 114. (Return to text)
7. In HPB's Scrapbook, BCW 1:94. See also "Important Note," BCW 1:73. (Return to text)
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1991; copyright © 1991 Theosophical University Press)
Minds are conquered not by arms but by greatness of soul. — Spinoza, Ethics