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This article is about the philosophy introduced by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in association with Ascended Masters. See Theosophy (history of philosophy) for other uses.

Theosophy is a doctrine of religious philosophy and metaphysics. Theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the "Spiritual Hierarchy" to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth. The founding members, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), and William Quan Judge (1851–96), established the Theosophical Society in 1875.

Contents

Etymology

Blavatsky addressed the name in the beginning of The Key to Theosophy:

It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians, from phil "loving," and aletheia "truth." The name Theosophy dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.

Theosophy, literally "god-wisdom" (Greek: θεοσοφία theosophia), designated several bodies of ideas predating Blavatsky:

The term appeared in Neoplatonism. Porphyry De Abstinentia (4.9) mentioned "Greek and Chaldean theosophy", Ἑλληνική, Χαλδαϊκὴ θεοσοφία. The adjective θεόσοφος "wise in divine things" was applied by Iamblichus (De mysteriis 7.1) to the gymnosophists (Γυμνοσοφισταί), i.e. the Indian yogis or sadhus.

There was a group of Renaissance philosophers: Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, Robert Fludd, and, especially, Jacob Boehme; the Enlightenment theologian Emanuel Swedenborg was influenced by these.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines theosophy as: "Any system of speculation which bases the knowledge of nature upon that of the divine nature", noting it is used in particular with reference to Boehme.

The three objects

The three declared objects of the original Theosophical Society as established by Blavatsky, Judge and Olcott were as follows:

  • First — To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
  • Second — To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
  • Third — To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man."[1]

Basic Theosophical beliefs

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Evolution and Race

Theosophists believe that religion, philosophy, science, the arts, commerce, and philanthropy, among other "virtues," lead people ever closer to "the Absolute." Planets, solar systems, galaxies, and the cosmos itself are regarded as conscious entities, fulfilling their own evolutionary paths. The spiritual units of consciousness in the universe are the Monads, which may manifest as angels, human beings or in various other forms. According to Blavatsky, the Monad is the reincarnating unit of the human soul, consisting of the two highest of the seven constituent parts of the human soul. All beings, regardless of stature or complexity, are informed by such a Monad.

Theosophical writings propose that human civilizations, like all other parts of the universe, develop cyclically through seven stages. Blavatsky posited that the whole humanity, and indeed every reincarnating human monad, evolves through a series of seven "Root Races". Thus in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second age, they were sexless beings inhabiting the now lost continent of Hyperborea; in the third age the giant Lemurians were informed by spiritual impulses endowing them with human consciousness and sexual reproduction. Modern humans finally developed on the continent of Atlantis. Since Atlantis was the nadir of the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity's psychic gifts. The term psychic here really means the realization of the permeability of consciousness as it had not been known earlier in evolution, although sensed by some more sensitive individuals of our species.

Most of present day humanity belongs to the fifth rootrace, the Aryans, which originally developed on Atlantis,.[2] The older races will eventually die out, as the fifth rootrace in time will be replaced by the more advanced peoples of the sixth root race which is set to develop on the reemerging Lemurian continent.[3]

Blavatsky claimed that "The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian with ample reservations. The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans—degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality.".[4] However, this statement was not made in a spirit of attacking any ethnicity. In fact, the main purpose of the Theosophical Society was "To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour", and the Society's membership actually includes members of all nations, races and religions.

Guido von List (and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels) later took up some of Blavatsky's theories, mixing them with nationalism to formulate Ariosophy, a precursor of nazism. Ariosophy emphasized intellectual expositions of racial evolution. The Thule Society was one of several German occult groups drawing on Ariosophy to preach Aryan supremacy. It provides a direct link between occult racial theories and the racial ideology of Hitler and the emerging Nazi party."[5]

The Septenary

Emblem of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) described at [6]

Theosophists opine that the most material of the vestures of the Soul are interpenetrated by the particles of the more subtle vesture. For example they claim that -The "Sthula-Sarira" or most material body, is, as science is aware, mostly space at its atomic level (as all matter is known to be), and these interstitial spaces are inhabited by those subtler particles of the Astral Body or Linga sarira, and so on for the other more energy-like envelopes of the Soul. The important thing about this interpenetration of each sheath, is that we see the inner person as a fluid and unbroken continuity, although varying in density/flexibility and energy and therefore more and more susceptible to the behest of the Real Person - the Soul/Higher Self since they are less and less encumbered by material boundaries. Perhaps the image of a suspension or colloid in chemistry is an apt perspective. And since matter is merely the material counterpart of consciousness (ultimately our aspect being pure consciousness), this interpenetration of sheaths allows for consciousness to interpenetrate Man's nature and explains how we are sensitive to what we think of as external stimuli, through the five senses. Theosophy, as well as many other esoteric groups and occult societies, claims in their esoteric cosmology that the universe is ordered by the number seven. The reincarnating consciousness of the monad utilizes spirit/matter forms in seven bodies:

  • The first body is called sthula-sarira (Sanskrit, from sthula meaning coarse, gross, not refined, heavy, bulky, fat in the sense of bigness, conditioned and differentiated matter + sarira to moulder, waste away). A gross body, impermanent because of its wholly compounded character. The physical body is usually considered as the lowest substance-principle. The physical form is the result of the harmonious co-working on the physical plane of forces and faculties streaming through their astral vehicle or linga-sarira, the pattern or model of the physical body.
  • The second body is called Linga-Sarira, (Sanskrit, from linga meaning characteristic mark, model, pattern + sarira, from the verbal root sri to moulder, waste away). A pattern or model that is impermanent; the model-body or astral body, only slightly more ethereal than the physical body. It is the astral model around which the physical body is built, and from which the physical body flows or develops as growth proceeds.
  • The third body is prana (Sanskrit, from pra before + the verbal root an to breathe, to live). In theosophy, the breath of life. This life or prana works on, in, and around us, pulsating unceasingly during the term of physical existence. Prana is "the radiating force or Energy of Atma -- as the Universal Life and the One Self -- its lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a 'principle' only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of the living man."
  • The fourth principle is kāma (Sanskrit, from the verbal root kam meaning to desire). Desire; the desire principle is the driving, impelling force. Born from the interaction of atman, buddhi, and manas, kama per se is a colourless force, good or bad according to the way the mind and soul use it. It is the seat of the living electrical impulses, desires, and aspirations, considered in their energetic aspect.
  • The fifth principle is manas (Sanskrit, from the verbal root man meaning to think). The seat of mentation and egoic consciousness; in humanity Manas is the human person, the reincarnating ego, immortal in essence, enduring in its higher aspects through the entire manvantara. When embodied, manas is dual, gravitating toward buddhi in its higher aspects and in its lower aspects toward kama. The first is intuitive mind, the second the animal, ratiocinative consciousness, the lower mentality and passions of the personality.
  • The sixth principle or vehicle is Buddhi (Sanskrit, from the verbal root budh to awaken, enlighten, know). The vehicle of pure, universal spirit, hence an inseparable garment or vehicle of atman, which is, in its essence, of the highest plane of akasa or alaya. In man buddhi is the spiritual soul, the faculty of discriminating, the channel through which streams divine inspiration from the atman to the ego, and therefore that faculty which enables us to discern between good and evil: spiritual conscience. The qualities of the buddhic principle when awakened are higher judgment, instant understanding, discrimination, intuition, love that has no bounds, and consequent universal forgiveness.
  • The seventh is called Atman (Sanskrit). Self; pure consciousness, that cosmic self which is the same in every dweller on this globe and on every one of the planetary or stellar bodies in space. It is the feeling and knowledge of "I am," pure cognition, the abstract idea of self. It does not differ at all throughout the cosmos except in degree of self-recognition. It may also be considered as the First Logos in the human microcosm. During incarnation the lowest aspects of atman take on attributes, because it is linked with buddhi, as the buddhi is linked with manas, as the manas is linked with kama, etc.

See: Encyclopedic Theosophic Glossary

History

Original usage

Theosophists trace the origin of Theosophy to the universal striving for spiritual knowledge that existed in all cultures. It is found in an unbroken chain in India but existed in ancient Greece and also in the writings of Plato (427-347 BCE), Plotinus (204-270) and other neo-Platonists, as well as Jakob Boehme (1575-1624). Some relevant quotations:

...we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell.
— The Socrates of Plato, Phaedrus
To the philosopher, the body is "a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge..."
...what is purification but...the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
— The Socrates of Plato, Phaedo

The Theosophical Society

Modern Theosophical esotericism, however, begins with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) usually known as Madame Blavatsky. In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society in New York City together with Henry Steel Olcott, who was a lawyer and writer. During the Civil War Col. Olcott worked to root out corruption in war contracts. Blavatsky was a world traveler who eventually settled in India where, with Olcott, she established the headquarters of the Society in Bangalore. Her first major book Isis Unveiled (1877) presented elements mainly from the Western wisdom tradition based on her extensive travels in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Her second major work The Secret Doctrine (1888), contains a commentary on The Book of Dzyan, and is based upon what she called an Unwritten Secret Doctrine (really the Wisdom tradition or Wisdom Religion allotted to Man), which is described as the underlying basis of all the religions of humanity. These writings, along with her Key to Theosophy and The Voice of the Silence are key texts for genuine students.

Upon Blavatsky's death in 1891, several Theosophical societies emerged following a series of schisms. Annie Besant became leader of the society based in Adyar, India, while William Quan Judge split off the American Section of the Theosophical Society in New York which later moved to Point Loma, Covina, and Pasadena, California under a series of leaders: Katherine Tingley, Gottfried de Purucker, Colonel Arthur L. Conger, James A. Long, Grace F. Knoche, and in March 2006 Randell C. Grubb. The great pulp fiction writer Talbot Mundy was a member of the Point Loma group, and wrote many articles for its newsletter. Yet another international theosophical organization, the United Lodge of Theosophists, was formed by Robert Crosbie. He was a student of William Quan Judge and after his death went to Point Loma in 1900 to help Katherine Tingley's Thesosphical society, and which he left in 1904 to found the ULT in 1909. He experienced a lack of respect for the original work of Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge in Tingley's work and wished to bring that original stream of study back to the world, through a re-presentation of unaltered original writings.

Rudolf Steiner created a successful branch of the Theosophical Society in Germany. He focused on a Western esoteric path that incorporated the influences of Christianity and natural science, resulting in tensions with Annie Besant (cf. Rudolf Steiner and the Theosophical Society); these were seriously exacerbated by Steiner refusing members of the Order of the Star of the East membership in the Theosophical Society's German Section. Steiner was vehemently opposed to The Order of the Star of the East's proclamation that the young boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was the incarnation of Maitreya (who was believed to have "over-shadowed" Jesus Christ). (Krishnamurti later repudiated this role and left the Society to pursue an independent career of spiritual teaching.) In 1913 Steiner founded his own Anthroposophical Society; the great majority of German-speaking theosophists joined the new society, which grew rapidly. Steiner later became most famous for his ideas about education, resulting in an international network of "Steiner Schools," also known as Waldorf schools. Other influences of anthroposophical thought include biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophic medicine and the acting techniques of Michael Chekhov.

In North London, another splinter group split off to form the Palmers Green Lodge under the leadership of the occultist and colonial adventurer, Thomas Neumark-Jones. The Palmers Green Lodge published the journal Kayfabe which published, among others, Rainbow Circle writers like Hobhouse and Chiozza Money. Charles Howard Hinton, a prominent British intellectual, also wrote extensively about Theosophy. After the death of William Quan Judge, another society, the United Lodge of Theosophists, emerged, recognizing no leader after Judge; it is now based in Los Angeles, California.

Other organizations loosely based on the theosophical teachings of Helena Blavatsky, Besant and Leadbeater include the Agni Yoga, "I AM" Activity, The Bridge to Freedom and The Summit Lighthouse. These various offshoots dispute the authenticity of their rivals. Thus followers of the United Lodge of Theosophists will claim that only " the Writings of HPB, William Quan Judge and Robert Crosbie can be trusted to contain unadulterated concepts and ethical direction."

Influence

At its strongest in membership and intensity during the 1920s the parent Theosophical Society (or Theosophical Society Adyar) had around 7,000 members in the USA. [1] The largest section of The Theosophical Society, the Indian section, at one time had more than 20,000 members, is now around 13,000. In the last several decades, there was a steady increase in membership in India, whereas outside India, the membership has been dropping. In the US, the current membership is around 3,900 which is about the same as it was in 1913, ninety-six years ago.[7]

Theosophy was closely linked to the Indian independence movement: the Indian National Congress was founded during a Theosophical conference, and many of its leaders, including M. K. Gandhi were associated with theosophy.

The present-day New Age movement is to a considerable extent based on the teachings of Blavatsky, though some writers have described Alice Bailey as the founder of the "New Age movement".[8] However, the term was used prior to Bailey; a weekly Journal of Christian liberalism and Socialism called The New Age was published as early as 1894. [9] James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, in Perspectives on the New Age wrote, "The most important—though certainly not the only—source of this transformative metaphor, as well as the term "New Age," was Theosophy, particularly as the Theosophical perspective was mediated to the movement by the works of Alice Bailey." [10]

Scholar Alvin Boyd Kuhn wrote his thesis, Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom, on the subject - perhaps the first instance in which an individual has been "permitted" by any modern American or European university to obtain his doctorate with a thesis on Theosophy.[11]

Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy, aside from the musicians listed below, include Aldous Huxley, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kafka, William Butler Yeats, George William Russell (Æ), Owen Barfield, and T. S. Eliot, in Europe, Lawren S. Harris in Canada, and Arthur Dove, George Lucas, Katherine Dreier, Robert Duncan, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Stevens, and James Jones[12] in America.

Some prominent Hindu leaders, such as Swami Vivekananda criticized Theosophy.[13]

Music

Composers such as Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, Gustav Holst, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, and most famously Alexander Scriabin were Theosophists whose beliefs influenced their music, especially by providing a justification or rationale for their dissonant counterpoint. According to Rudhyar, Scriabin was "the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization, the father of the future musician." (Rudhyar 1926b, 899) and an antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky" and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group." (Ibid., 900-901) Scriabin devised a quartal synthetic chord, often called his "mystic" chord, and before his death Scriabin planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would bring about the armageddon; "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." (AMG [14]). This piece, Mysterium, was never realized, due to his death in 1915.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ The Theosophist, Vol. 75, No. 6. Page ii.
  2. ^ (Blavatsky 1977, p. 249)
  3. ^ (Blavatsky 1977, p. 421)
  4. ^ (Blavatsky 1977, p. 200)
  5. ^ Spielvogel, Jackson; David Redles (1986). "Hitler's Racial Ideology: Content and Occult Sources.". Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 3. http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=gvKVLcMVIuG&b=395043. Retrieved 2007-08-22.  
  6. ^ Bosco Mascarenhas. "The Theosophical Society-Adyar - Emblem". Ts-adyar.org. http://ts-adyar.org/emblem.html. Retrieved 2010-01-14.  
  7. ^ Member statistics past, is at <http://leadbeater.org/tillettcwlappendix4.htm> and current at http://teozofija.info/Teozofsko_gibanje/Membership_Statistics_2007-08.htm
  8. ^ Pike, Sarah M. (2004). New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. Columbia University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0231124023.  
  9. ^ History of the New Age periodical, Brown University, Modernist Journals Project
  10. ^ Lewis, James R. and J. Gordon Melton. Perspectives on the New Age. SUNY Press. 1992. p xi
  11. ^ Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Ph.D. A Biographical Sketch of his life and work, by Richard Alvin Sattelberg, B.A., M.S..
  12. ^ Carter, Steven R. James Jones: An American Literary Orientalist Master. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1998, ISBN 0-252-02371-4
  13. ^ Vivekananda. STRAY REMARKS ON THEOSOPHY The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume 4
  14. ^ Minderovic, Zoran (1915-04-27). "((( Alexander Scriabin > Biography )))". allmusic. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=41:7982~T1. Retrieved 2010-01-14.  

References

  • Blavatsky, Helena: The Key to Theosophy, ISBN 0-911500-07-3
  • Blavatsky, H P (1977), The secret doctrine : the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy, Theosophical University Press, ISBN 9780911500004, http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/3330475  
  • Carlson, Maria. No Religion Higher than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-691-05682-X
  • René Guénon. Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (2004), Sophia Perennis. ISBN 0-900588-79-9
  • Roth, Christopher F., "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Washington, Peter Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (1993), London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-56418-1 Review

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(Theosophia = "wisdom concerning God")

Theosophy is a term used in general to designate the knowledge of God supposed to be obtained by the direct intuition of the Divine essence. In method it differs from theology, which is the knowledge of God obtained by revelation, and from philosophy, which is the knowledge of Divine things acquire by human reasoning. It is often incorrectly confounded with mysticism, for the latter is properly the thirst for the Divine, the aspiration for the invisible, and hence a natural manifestation of the religious sentiment. By intuition or illumination the initiated Theosophists are considered to be in harmony with the central principle of the universe. This knowledge of the secret forces of nature of the true relation between the world and man frees them from the ordinary limitations of human life, and gives them a peculiar power over the hidden forces of the macrocosm. Their exceptional faculties are alleged as experimental proof of their superior science: they are the only guarantee of the truth of their teaching. They are said to transmit this truth by way of revelation. Thus theosophy appeals to tradition but not in the Christian sense.

(1) India is the home of all theosophic speculation. Oltramere says that the directive idea of Hindu civilization is theosophic. This development covers a great many ages, each represented in Indian religious literature. There are formed the basic principles of theosophy. Knowledge of the occult laws in nature and in life, the intuitive method, superhuman powers, hostility to established religion are not all equally apparent in each age, but are present conjunctively or separately through the whole course of its history. The early Brahmanic writings contain the germs, which have gradually developed into a rich vegetation of ideas and beliefs. These ideas are organized into systems, not however homogeneous or autonomous but mixed with other belief. Then they leave the schools to act upon the masses, either in forming a religion, e.g. Buddhism, or in penetrating popular religions already existing, e.g. Hinduism. Thus the Upanishads teach: that the individual soul is identical with the universal soul, hence the doctrine of advaita, i.e. non-duality; that the individual existence of the soul is a state of suffering, hence the doctrine of samsara, i.e. metempsychosis; that the individual soul is delivered from suffering by its reunion with the universal soul, a reunion realized by seizing the consciousness of identity with it, hence the doctrine of moksa, i.e. salvation. The basic doctrines of the Vedanta and Saukhya systems are monistic Pantheism, intuition as the supreme means to reach truth, metempsychosis, the world of sense is only a very little part of the category of things, the theory and method of salvation strictly intellectual. These systems developed form the Upanishads. The final development is the Yoga. Yoga, i.e. "one who fits himself, or exercises", refers to the exercises practiced to free the soul from the body, which to it is like a string to a bird. Some of these exercises were: to rid one's self of moral faults (though the masters do not agree as to what these faults are); to sit in certain painful postures, check the breath, and reduce thought to a minimum by staring at the tip of the nose; to place the soul in a particular part of the body, and so gradually acquire mastery over it, or, rather, let the soul, the true self, acquire mastery over the body; to stave and learn to subsist on air or even without it; to concentrate thought by meditation, i.e. to think of nothing. Thyana, the highest state of which is the cataleptic trance samadhi, in which the mind is suppressed but the soul is in full activity. In this sate the person is a mahatma, i.e. master-soul and can enjoy a temporary release from the body which it leaves to go roaming about, performing wonderful feats on material nature and controlling other less powerful souls. This latter was the secret of the Yoga's real power and was supposed to be done by a transfer of soul. When the soul re-enters the body, the Yoga wakes and is like other people. By repeated exercises the soul can become so strong that is secures perpetual release from the body, thus, according to the older Yoga teaching, it flies to heaven where it enjoys great happiness, riding in a celestial car attended by lovely women and music; but with the latter Yogas, on breaking all bodily bonds it formed immediate absorption into the Supreme Soul.

(2) Theosophic teaching comes to the front in the third period of Greek philosophy. Hence it is found in the Jewish-Greek philosophy with the neo-Platonists. The theosophic atmosphere due to the influence of the Orient is plainly shown in Plotinus. The Gnostic systems reveal more theosophy than theology and in the Jewish Kabbala is found a theosophy mixed with various forms of magic and occultism. The Renaissance brought into modern thought neo-Platonism and the Kabbala, e.g. Reuchlin (d. 1492), Agrippa (d. 1535), Cardano (d.1576), Paracelsus (d.1540), Weigel (d. 1588). More important is the teaching of Jakob Böhme (d.1624). He taught that the "eternal dualism" of God is the ultimate cause of all evil; that there is a "dark" negative principle in God, which evil element makes manifest His goodness. Without this there would be no revelation. Further, were it not for this principle God could not know Himself. Böhme's teaching influenced Baader, Schelling, and Gegel. Theosophic principles colour the theology of Swedenborg, and are found in the group of modern thinkers, especially neo-Hegelians, who claim that the existence of God is know by direct intuition or by a special faculty of the soul.

A new importance of these teachings in modern thought is due to the school of Modern theosophy dating from the foundation of the Theosophical Society in New York City by Madame Blavatsky in 1875. She is the chief and only authority for the revelation of so-called Tibetan occultism. A.P. Sinnett however used the term Esoteric Buddhism. They claimed to have the true solution for the problems of the universe and of man from the Upanishads and Buddhist Sutras through Oriental savants, mahatmas, the faithful depositories of a profound and superhuman wisdom. In fact, a great part of their nomenclature is derived from India, and they seek there for a justification of teachings drifting about in modern thought and derived to a great extent, if not wholly, from neo-Platonic and Jewish sources through the Renaissance. The objects of the society are: to form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour; to encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science; to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man. This last clause gives occasion to include magic, the occult, the uncanny, and the marvelous in any and every form. Madame Blavatsky, with Colonel Olcott, went to India in 1878. Shortly afterwards her frauds were exposed through letters written by her and published by Columb and his wife, who had been in her service. This was acknowledged by the London Society of Psychical Research, which in Nov., 1884 sent R. Hodgson, of St. John's College, Cambridge to investigate (Edmund Garrett, "Isis very much Unveiled", London, 1895; Francis Podmore, "Studies in Psychical Research"). In spite of this, however, the teaching was continued and propagated by her disciples Mrs. Besant, Col. Olcott, A.P. Sinnett, and others.

Modern theosophy claims to be a definite science. Its teachings are the product of thought, and its source is consciousness, not any Divine revelation. As a science it is supposed to be based on investigation and experimentation of the occult laws in nature and in human life. Only those qualified for the inquiry can grasp these laws, and they gain from this knowledge certain superhuman powers. Mrs. Besant calls it the great synthesis of life, i.e. of religion, science, and philosophy, as old as thoughtful humanity, proclaimed in a new form suited to the present time. Its aim is that spirit is and can become the master of matter. Hence it is considered as a protest against materialism which teaches that thought and feeling are the results of the aggregations of matter. Theosophy on the contrary sees in matter an instrument of life, and in thought the creative and moulding power of matter.

The basic teaching of theosophy is the universal brotherhood of humanity. Hence springs the preaching of toleration to all persons and to all varieties of belief, e.g. Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, It considers the different religions as methods adopted by man in the search for God. They are of necessity various, because men differ in temperament, type, needs, and stages of evolution. Hence they are different and imperfect expressions of truth. As such it says: "we cannot afford to lose any of the world's religions, for each has its partial truth and its characteristic message which the perfect man must acquire." Hence theosophy appeals to men as the great peacemaker, for it teaches that all religions mean one and the same thing, or rather that they are all branches of a single tree. In this sense it attacks comparative mythology which tries to show that religion was originally the fruit of man's ignorance wand will disappear with the increase of knowledge, whereas in fact religion comes from Divine knowledge, i.e. theosophy.

The principle of universal brotherhood rest upon the 'solidarity' of all living, of all that is, in the one life and one consciousness. Solidarity springs from the belief in the immanence of God, the only and external life manifested in the multiplicity of creation. All forces are external; there is no supernatural, except the superhuman and supersensuous, i.e. powers greater that those normally exercised by man, which, however, can be developed. Ignorance therefore makes the miracle. Hence there is on personal God, and fro this reason Madame Blavatsky and Mrs. Besant say that theosophy is more readily embraced by Atheists and Agnostics. Hence also Colville could teach that the spirit or soul in man is the only real and permanent part of his being; everything else pertaining to him is illusory and transitory. Solidarity, i.e. the common life pervading all things, is thus made the basis of morality. Hence a wrong done to one is done to all, as e.g. an injury inflicted on one part of the human organism results in pain diffused and felt throughout. At the same time we are told that God is good and man immortal, that the "immanence of God justifies religion", i.e. the search after Him, that all things move to good and to man's benefit, that man must understand and co-operate with the scheme of things.

Man has seven aspects, or rather is being composed of seven principles. These are viewed in two groups: the Quarternary, corresponding to our animal nature, i.e. soul and body, the mortal part of man, the products of evolution; and the Triad, corresponding to our spiritual nature, i.e. spirit, for theosophists say that Christian philosophy hold the threefold division of body; soul, and spirit in man. The Quaternary is made up of Sthula Sharira, i.e. physical body; Linga Sharira, i.e. astral double; Prana, i.e. principle of life; Kama, i.e. our passional nature. The Triad is composed of: Manas, i.e. mind or the thinker; Buddhi, i.e. the dwelling-place of spirit; Atnir, i.e. spirit. Hence we find Atnir-Buddhi used conjointly. This Triad is called the Immortal Triad. It is united to the Quaternary by Manas, in itself viewed as Higher Manas, sending out a Ray, which as Lower Manas is imbedded in Karma. Thus Kama-Manas is the link joining our animal to our spiritual nature, and is the battle-ground of life's struggles. Man is primarily divine, a spark of the Divine life; this living flame passing out from the Central Fire, weaves for itself coverings within which it dwells and thus becomes the Triad, the Atma-Buddhi-Manas, the Immortal Self. This sends out its Ray, which becomes encased in grosser matter, in the Kamic body, in the Astral Double, and in the physical body. The Astral Double, i.e. rarer matter, the exact double of the physical body, plays a great part in spiritualistic phenomena. The Manas is the real I, the reincarnating ego makes the human personality. The Quaternary as a whole is viewed as the Personality, i.e. the shadow of the self. In fact each principle or aspect may be considered a Personality in so far as it undervalues Atma, i.e. throws its shadow over Atma, i.e. the One Eternal Existence. The seer however knows that Atma is the one reality, the essence of all things, that Atma-Buddhi is the Universal One Soul, itself an aspect of Atma, that Atma-Buddhi-Manas is the individual mind or Thinker, that the shadow of Manas, our Atma-Buddhi, makes men say "my soul" and "thy soul", whereas in reality we are all one with Atma, the Unknown Root. After death all of the Manasic Ray that is pure and unsoiled gradually disentangles itself, carrying with it such of life's experiences as are of a nature fit for assimilation with the Higher Ego. The Manasic Ego united to Atma-Buddhi passes into the Devachonic state of consciousness, rapt in blissful dreams coloured by the experiences of the earth-life. This state is a continuation of the earth-life shorn of its sorrows, and a completion of its noble and pure wishes.

Theosophy is not only a basis of religion; it is also a philosophy of life. As such, its main teachings are reincarnation and the law of Karma. Karma is the outcome of the collective life, a law of ethical causation. In the past incarnation the ego had acquired certain faculties, set in motion certain causes. The effect of these causes and of causes set in motion in previous incarnations and not yet exhausted are its Karma and determine the conditions into which the ego is reborn. Thus inequalities of natural gifts, e.g. genius, of temperament and of character are explained. The law of progress is the law of involution and evolution, the returning of the Divine Spark into a unity with Spirit through various reincarnations, which are viewed as a process of purification. Sin, poverty, and misery are the fruits of ignorance, and are gradually removed as the spirit in us becomes freed from earthly dross. There is no heaven nor Hell. Death is the passage from this state of life to another. There is an evolution behind and before, with absolute certainty of final attainment for every human soul, i.e. to be one with the Absolute. As man advances in this process his spirit becomes stronger, and can develop latent powers, not shown in ordinary mortals.

Criticism

In of a Christian ethical phraseology, theosophy in reality is a form of pantheism, and denies a personal God and personal immortality. Its appeal to the spiritual in man, and its striving after union with the Divine are based upon a contradictory metaphysic, an imaginary psychology, a system of ethics which recognizes no free-will, but only the absolute necessity of Karma. No evidence or proof is given for its teaching except the simple statements of its leaders. The denial of a personal God nullifies its claim to be a spiritualistic philosophy. Judging it as presented by its own exponents, it appears to be a strange mixture of mysticism, charlatanism, and thaumaturgic pretension combined with an eager effort to express its teaching in words which reflect the atmosphere of Christian ethics and modern scientific truths.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

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