Theosophy & the Theosophical Society

by Grace F. Knoche (Compiled from her writings)

There is a wisdom-tradition that once was universally known by every people on the face of the globe, a common treasury of inspiration and truth from which the saviors and benefactors of mankind draw. Known variously in different eras as the perennial philosophy, the gnosis of Greek and early Christian thought, the esoteric tradition, or the Mystery-teachings of the sanctuary — it is this god-wisdom that Jesus shared with the fisherfolk of Galilee; that Gautama imparted to ferryman and prince; and that Plato immortalized in letters and dialogues, in fable and myth. Today the modern presentation of this wisdom is called theosophy.

What is this theosophy which has been passed on from sage to sage through untold ages — from Vivasvat, the sun, who told it to Manu, who in turn handed it down to rishis and seers until "the mighty art was lost"? (Bhagavad-Gita 4:1-3.) It is the core inspiration of sacred scripture, and the wisdom that we distill from daily experience. Theosophy has no creed, no dogma, no set of beliefs that must be accepted, because truth is not something beyond or outside us, but in fact is within. Nonetheless, it comprises a coherent body of teachings about man and nature that have been expressed in various ways in the sacred traditions of the world.

Whether theosophy will bring vision, insight, understanding, with its body of rich philosophical doctrines, depends upon ourselves. Blavatsky made clear at the outset in her first periodical, The Theosophist, that "The very root idea of the Society is free and fearless investigation." This is why those who join a theosophical organization are not obligated to believe any of the doctrines; they are there for the taking or leaving. The only primal requisite is an acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood and a willingness to try to think, speak, and act humanely in every circumstance.

The idea of brotherhood as a living, workable philosophy has surfaced time and again. All illuminati of the spirit emphasize it as their chief objective. Teachers and saviors have come among us and imparted the same challenging truth: that we cannot eradicate the selfishness and greed that are choking the soul of mankind unless we each root them out in our own character. The lives of the great teachers are an exemplification of this ideal. Way back in time Prince Siddhartha broke through the bigotry of the Brahmans and talked openly of these truths with the people. To him there was no greater rule than to love and to understand the brethren, and to him the whole of humanity was the brethren.

Of course, acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood is relatively simple compared to living it. Clearly this is not readily done, but just the fact that it may take an entire lifetime or many lives to achieve, is no reason not to begin. All of us have difficulty at times living harmoniously with ourselves, let alone with others. Perhaps a first step would be to accept ourselves, to be friends with the whole of our nature, recognizing that when we do so we are accepting our lower tendencies along with our higher potentialities. In this acceptance we automatically are accepting others, their frailties as well as their grandeur. This is brotherhood in action, for it dispels those subtle blockages that bar us from feeling we all are units of one human life-wave.

Today it is as though the longing of the countless millions of human souls, who have ever yearned in past lives for a universal concord of peoples, is demanding that this time we make it work. "I and Thou are One" has been sung by Hindu sage, Sufi poet, and the bards of every age. Now we must invest this truth with meaning; it must become a turning point in our aspirations. Our challenge is dual: on the one hand, we have steadfastly to be true to the mandates of our inmost self; on the other, we have so to widen our sympathies and the horizons of our understanding that Love wells forth without hindrance, to eradicate separatism and distrust. Then, and only then, will we know this oneness, this Homonoia, this union of hearts and minds — not as an intellectual or social accommodation, but as a living, breathing inflow-outflow of life-consciousness, enfolding suns and stones as it does every one of us.

This is the message of theosophy, a message of hope: that within every one of us is the light of divinity, "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" irrespective of ideology or theology, or materialist bias. Theosophy tells of our divine ancestry going back many millions of years — far longer if we reckon beyond this universe to previous universes; that we are not pawns of any god or devil, nor do we have need for anyone to intercede for us between our Father within and the Father without, because we are all sparks from the celestial fire at the heart of Being, brothers and companions of the stars and of the gods. Most wondrous of all, theosophy illumines what Plato spoke of, that the Soul — using the term for the spiritual self here — "is immortal, having been born many times, and having seen all things that exist . . . has knowledge of them all," so it really oughtn’t to be difficult to recapture "out of a single recollection all the rest," if a person throws his heart and soul into it and does not give up — for, as he put it, "all enquiry and learning is but recollection," remembering (Meno, §81).

The student is absolutely free to search and inquire and come to his or her own perception of values. The general tendency is to look for answers outside ourselves; we forget that no system of philosophical truths or of religious insights — including theosophy — is intended to provide specific prescriptions for every mental, psychological, or other symptom, but rather to reawaken us to the broad ethical and moral ideals on which the universe and every part of that universe is built.

Theosophists are the friends of all movements that work toward the amelioration of the human condition, and therefore are supportive of every enlightened effort. However, we must be realistic. Much as we would like to, it is impossible for us to send people into different countries to do this type of saving work. Some theosophists are involved in one or another benevolent activity, but as a Society, as H. P. Blavatsky well said, ours is a more difficult — even a more important — task: to work to uproot the causes of the difficulties (H. P. Blavatsky to the American Conventions: 1888-1891, p. 8). It is to the causes of human misery and illness and poverty that we would address ourselves most earnestly. It is on just this point where we have to question and reexamine ourselves, because quite unconsciously one could hide behind that facade and become selfish and even hardhearted, feeling "our work is not among the people, but simply in the realm of ideas."

Our work is among ideas, but our work, to remain alive, has to be a continuous dedication of ourselves to seeing that only positive and constructive energies go into the thought world, into the sharing of these ideas. If this is truly an all-absorbing quality of the nature, we will find ourselves actually helping to relieve those very conditions in an inner way and, possibly without our knowledge, inspire others to work in an outward way.

If in truth the universe groans under the burden of selfish acts and thoughts, we are responsible insofar as we have individually contributed to that weight. Every one of us is human, every one of us has mixed motives to a degree, but we have a grand ideal of constantly endeavoring to make our lives truly altruistic. This is a goal that cannot be attained in a single lifetime, but it is a goal that we must never give up. It must be the predominating and overruling influence in our lives and, if we can aspire toward this, then we can have confidence that at least a larger expression of unselfishness than of its opposite will flow forth from us.

Every altruistic thought and aspiration sends its influence into the thought atmosphere of our world, and every individual — whether known to us or not — who is in sympathetic vibration with that quality of aspiration responds in kind, and his life is ennobled and his surroundings irradiated.

Many today have a deep pessimism concerning our world; they see so many expressions of unbrotherliness, cruelty, and dishonesty being almost accepted as the norm. In fact, pessimism has eroded much of the confidence of our civilization. Part of our task is to replace that pessimistic outlook with its opposite — not a Pollyanna type of optimism, but with a confidence in the capacity of the human soul to open itself to the influx of its innate strength and light and purity.

It should be understood that neither theosophy nor the Theosophical Society as such prescribes specific remedies for this or that malady (mental, psychological, physical, or other). However, the rich philosophical teachings and broad ethical ideals of theosophy, when understood even in part, do have power to cast light on practically every problem we humans face — although in the final analysis each person must apply them to his own situation. All growth and advancement must be self-earned, and the overriding purpose of the modern theosophic effort is to encourage reliance on one’s own inner perception and strength. It is well to dispense with crutches as soon as possible and stand on our own feet; dependency of any kind, chemical, emotional, spiritual, is debilitating and in the end self-defeating. At the same time, we must give aid and comfort wherever we can, for compassion is the very heart of theosophy as it is of every genuine religious system.

What, then, does theosophy offer? Vision, perspective, confidence in ourselves and in the majesty and ultimate justice of the cosmic ecosystem in which we, together with every atomic life in space, are evolving through the cycles into ever grander expressions of the Divine. As divinities working through our human phase we are bound to make manifold errors as we struggle to break our self-made chains of material desire. This is where nature’s habit of recurring cycles of birth and death, governed by karma or the law that effect equals cause, provides unlimited opportunity for learning and enlargement of experience.

Even a little understanding of theosophy helps us to see our karmic lot from a broader and less personal viewpoint — not as an unjust fate but as an opportunity for growth, or for clearing the slate, as it were, before greater responsibilities can be assumed. In the crucible of experience we gain a deepening sympathy for those passing through the shadows, through their private gethsemanes, and are better able to help them find their own strength.

As coming events cast their shadows before them, we draw encouragement from the fact that in the midst of unprecedented turbulence in domestic and international affairs theosophic ideas are catching on. If given welcome, they may indeed become openers of heart and mind to nature's mystic secrets: truths that have been patiently recorded, verified, and guarded for humanity's benefit by those who had the stamina and compassion to undergo lives of preparation for this sacred charge.