The Key to Theosophy
AND ESOTERIC THEOSOPHY
THE MODERN THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY IS NOT
ENQUIRER. Your doctrines, then, are not a revival of Buddhism, nor are they entirely copied from the Neo-Platonic Theosophy?
THEOSOPHIST. They are not. But to these
questions I cannot give you a better answer than by quoting from a paper read on
"Theosophy" by Dr. J. D. Buck, F.T.S., before the last Theosophical
Convention, at Chicago, America (April, 1889). No living theosophist has better
expressed and understood the real essence of Theosophy than our honoured friend
Dr. Buck: --
Theosophical Society was organized for the purpose of promulgating the
Theosophical doctrines, and for the promotion of the Theosophic life. The
present Theosophical Society is not the first of its kind. I have a volume
entitled: 'Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society,' published in
London in 1697; and another with the following title: 'Introduction to
Theosophy, or the Science of the Mystery of Christ; that is, of Deity, Nature,
and Creature, embracing the philosophy of all the working powers of life,
magical and spiritual, and forming a practical guide to the sublimest purity,
sanctity, and evangelical perfection; also to the attainment of divine vision,
and the holy angelic arts, potencies, and other prerogatives of the
regeneration,' published in London in 1855. The following is the dedication of
this volume: --
students of Universities, Colleges, and schools of Christendom: To Professors of
Metaphysical, Mechanical, and Natural Science in all its forms: To men and women
of Education generally, of fundamental orthodox faith: To Deists, Arians,
Unitarians, Swedenborgians, and other defective and ungrounded creeds,
rationalists, and sceptics of every kind: To just-minded and enlightened
Mohammedans, Jews, and oriental Patriarch-religionists: but especially to the
gospel minister and missionary, whether to the barbaric or intellectual peoples,
this introduction to Theosophy, or the science of the ground and mystery of all
things, is most humbly and affectionately dedicated.'
following year (1856) another volume was issued, royal octavo, of 600 pages,
diamond type, of 'Theosophical Miscellanies.' Of the last-named work 500 copies
only were issued, for gratuitous distribution to Libraries and Universities.
These earlier movements, of which there were many, originated within the Church,
with persons of great piety and earnestness, and of unblemished character; and
all of these writings were in orthodox form, using the Christian expressions,
and, like the writings of the eminent Churchman William Law, would only be
distinguished by the ordinary reader for their great earnestness and piety.
These were one and all but attempts to derive and explain the deeper meanings
and original import of the Christian Scriptures, and to illustrate and unfold
the Theosophic life. These works were soon forgotten, and are now generally
unknown. They sought to reform the clergy and revive genuine piety, and were
never welcomed. That one word, "Heresy," was sufficient to bury them
in the limbo of all such Utopias. At the time of the Reformation John Reuchlin
made a similar attempt with the same result, though he was the intimate and
trusted friend of Luther. Orthodoxy never desired to be informed and
enlightened. These reformers were informed, as was Paul by Festus, that too much
learning had made them mad, and that it would be dangerous to go farther.
Passing by the verbiage, which was partly a matter of habit and education with
these writers, and partly due to religious restraint through secular power, and
coming to the core of the matter, these writings were Theosophical in the
strictest sense, and pertain solely to man's knowledge of his own nature and the
higher life of the soul. The present Theosophical movement has sometimes been
declared to be an attempt to convert Christendom to Buddhism, which means simply
that the word 'Heresy' has lost its terrors and relinquished its power.
Individuals in every age have more or less clearly apprehended the Theosophical
doctrines and wrought them into the fabric of their lives. These doctrines
belong exclusively to no religion, and are confined to no society or time. They
are the birthright of every human soul. Such a thing as orthodoxy must be
wrought out by each individual according to his nature and his needs, and
according to his varying experience. This may explain why those who have
imagined Theosophy to be a new religion have hunted in vain for its creed and
its ritual. Its creed is Loyalty to Truth, and its ritual 'To honour every truth
this principle of Universal Brotherhood is understood by the masses of mankind,
how seldom its transcendent importance is recognised, may be seen in the
diversity of opinion and fictitious interpretations regarding the Theosophical
Society. This Society was organized on this one principle, the essential
Brotherhood of Man, as herein briefly outlined and imperfectly set forth. It has
been assailed as Buddhistic and anti-Christian, as though it could be both these
together, when both Buddhism and Christianity, as set forth by their inspired
founders, make brotherhood the one essential of doctrine and of life. Theosophy
has been also regarded as something new under the sun, or at best as old
mysticism masquerading under a new name. While it is true that many Societies
founded upon, and united to support, the principles of altruism, or essential
brotherhood, have borne various names, it is also true that many have also been
called Theosophic, and with principles and aims as the present society bearing
that name. With these societies, one and all, the essential doctrine has been
the same, and all else has been incidental, though this does not obviate the
fact that many persons are attracted to the incidentals who overlook or ignore
No better or more explicit answer -- by a
man who is one of our most esteemed and earnest Theosophists -- could be given
to your questions.
ENQUIRER. Which system do you prefer or follow, in that case, besides Buddhistic ethics?
THEOSOPHIST. None, and all. We hold to no
religion, as to no philosophy in particular: we cull the good we find in each.
But here, again, it must be stated that, like all other ancient systems,
Theosophy is divided into Exoteric and Esoteric Sections.
ENQUIRER. What is the difference?
THEOSOPHIST. The members of the
Theosophical Society at large are free to profess whatever religion or
philosophy they like, or none if they so prefer, provided they are in sympathy
with, and ready to carry out one or more of the three objects of the
Association. The Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the
propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical
lines. The Fellows may be Christians or Mussulmen, Jews or Parsees,
Buddhists or Brahmins, Spiritualists or Materialists, it does not matter; but
every member must be either a philanthropist, or a scholar, a searcher into
Aryan and other old literature, or a psychic student. In short, he has to help,
if he can, in the carrying out of at least one of the objects of the programme.
Otherwise he has no reason for becoming a "Fellow." Such are the
majority of the exoteric Society, composed of "attached" and
"unattached" members. [An "attached member" means one who
has joined some particular branch of the T. S. An "unattached," one
who belongs to the Society at large, has his diploma, from the Headquarters
(Adyar, Madras), but is connected with no branch or lodge.] These may, or may
not, become Theosophists de facto. Members they are, by virtue of their
having joined the Society; but the latter cannot make a Theosophist of one who
has no sense for the divine fitness of things, or of him who
understands Theosophy in his own -- if the expression may be used -- sectarian
and egotistic way. "Handsome is, as handsome does" could be
paraphrased in this case and be made to run: "Theosophist is, who Theosophy
AND MEMBERS OF THE "T. S."
ENQUIRER. This applies to lay members, as I understand. And what of those who pursue the esoteric study of Theosophy; are they the real Theosophists?
THEOSOPHIST. Not necessarily, until they
have proven themselves to be such. They have entered the inner group and pledged
themselves to carry out, as strictly as they can, the rules of the occult body.
This is a difficult undertaking, as the foremost rule of all is the entire
renunciation of one's personality -- i. e., a pledged member
has to become a thorough altruist, never to think of himself, and to forget his
own vanity and pride in the thought of the good of his fellow-creatures, besides
that of his fellow-brothers in the esoteric circle. He has to live, if the
esoteric instructions shall profit him, a life of abstinence in everything, of
self-denial and strict morality, doing his duty by all men. The few real
Theosophists in the T. S. are among these members. This does not imply that
outside of the T. S. and the inner circle, there are no Theosophists; for there
are, and more than people know of; certainly far more than are found among the lay
members of the T. S.
ENQUIRER. Then what is the good of joining the so-called Theosophical Society in that case? Where is the incentive?
THEOSOPHIST. None, except the advantage of getting esoteric instructions, the genuine doctrines of the "Wisdom-Religion," and if the real programme is carried out, deriving much help from mutual aid and sympathy. Union is strength and harmony, and well-regulated simultaneous efforts produce wonders. This has been the secret of all associations and communities since mankind existed.
ENQUIRER. But why could not a man of well-balanced mind and singleness of purpose, one, say, of indomitable energy and perseverance, become an Occultist and even an Adept if he works alone?
THEOSOPHIST. He may; but there are ten
thousand chances against one that he will fail. For one reason out of many
others, no books on Occultism or Theurgy exist in our day which give out the
secrets of alchemy or mediaeval Theosophy in plain language. All are symbolical
or in parables; and as the key to these has been lost for ages in the West, how
can a man learn the correct meaning of what he is reading and studying? Therein
lies the greatest danger, one that leads to unconscious black magic or
the most helpless mediumship. He who has not an Initiate for a master had better
leave the dangerous study alone. Look around you and observe. While two-thirds
of civilized society ridicule the mere notion that there is anything in
Theosophy, Occultism, Spiritualism, or in the Kabala, the other third is
composed of the most heterogeneous and opposite elements. Some believe in the
mystical, and even in the supernatural (!), but each believes in his
own way. Others will rush single-handed into the study of the Kabala, Psychism,
Mesmerism, Spiritualism, or some form or another of Mysticism. Result: no two
men think alike, no two are agreed upon any fundamental occult principles,
though many are those who claim for themselves the ultima thule of
knowledge, and would make outsiders believe that they are full-blown adepts. Not
only is there no scientific and accurate knowledge of Occultism accessible in
the West -- not even of true astrology, the only branch of Occultism which, in
its exoteric teachings, has definite laws and a definite system -- but
no one has any idea of what real Occultism means. Some limit ancient wisdom to
the Kabala and the Jewish Zohar,
which each interprets in his own way according to the dead-letter of the
Rabbinical methods. Others regard Swedenborg or Boehme as the ultimate
expression of the highest wisdom; while others again see in mesmerism the great
secret of ancient magic. One and all of those who put their theory into practice
are rapidly drifting, through ignorance, into black magic. Happy are those who
escape from it, as they have neither test nor criterion by which they can
distinguish between the true and the false.
ENQUIRER. Are we to understand that the inner group of the T. S. claims to learn what it does from real initiates or masters of esoteric wisdom?
THEOSOPHIST. Not directly. The personal
presence of such masters is not required. Suffice it if they give instructions
to some of those who have studied under their guidance for years, and devoted
their whole lives to their service. Then, in turn, these can give out the
knowledge so imparted to others, who had no such opportunity. A portion of the
true sciences is better than a mass of undigested and misunderstood learning. An
ounce of gold is worth a ton of dust.
ENQUIRER. But how is one to know whether the ounce is real gold or only a counterfeit?
THEOSOPHIST. A tree is known by its fruit,
a system by its results. When our opponents are able to prove to us that any
solitary student of Occultism throughout the ages has become a saintly adept
like Ammonius Saccas, or even a Plotinus, or a Theurgist like Iamblichus, or
achieved feats such as are claimed to have been done by St. Germain, without any
master to guide him, and all this without being a medium, a self-deluded
psychic, or a charlatan -- then shall we confess ourselves mistaken. But till
then, Theosophists prefer to follow the proven natural law of the tradition of
the Sacred Science. There are mystics who have made great discoveries in
chemistry and physical sciences, almost bordering on alchemy and Occultism;
others who, by the sole aid of their genius, have rediscovered portions, if not
the whole, of the lost alphabets of the "Mystery language," and are,
therefore, able to read correctly Hebrew scrolls; others still, who, being
seers, have caught wonderful glimpses of the hidden secrets of Nature.
But all these are specialists. One is a theoretical inventor, another a
Hebrew, i. e., a Sectarian Kabalist, a third a Swedenborg of modern
times, denying all and everything outside of his own particular science or
religion. Not one of them can boast of having produced a universal or even a
national benefit thereby, not even to himself. With the exception of a few
healers -- of that class which the Royal College of Physicians or Surgeons would
call quacks -- none have helped with their science Humanity, nor even a number
of men of the same community. Where are the Chaldees of old, those who wrought
marvellous cures, "not by charms but by simples"? Where is an
Apollonius of Tyana, who healed the sick and raised the dead under any climate
and circumstances? We know some specialists of the former class in
Europe, but none of the latter -- except in Asia, where the secret of the Yogi,
"to live in death," is still preserved.
ENQUIRER. Is the production of such healing adepts the aim of Theosophy?
THEOSOPHIST. Its aims are several; but the
most important of all are those which are likely to lead to the relief of human
suffering under any or every form, moral as well as physical. And we believe the
former to be far more important than the latter. Theosophy has to inculcate
ethics; it has to purify the soul, if it would relieve the physical body, whose
ailments, save cases of accidents, are all hereditary. It is not by studying
Occultism for selfish ends, for the gratification of one's personal ambition,
pride, or vanity, that one can ever reach the true goal: that of helping
suffering mankind. Nor is it by studying one single branch of the esoteric
philosophy that a man becomes an Occultist, but by studying, if not mastering,
ENQUIRER. Is help, then, to reach this most important aim, given only to those who study the esoteric sciences?
THEOSOPHIST. Not at all. Every lay
member is entitled to general instruction if he only wants it; but few are
willing to become what is called "working members," and most prefer to
remain the drones of Theosophy. Let it be understood that private
research is encouraged in the T. S., provided it does not infringe the limit
which separates the exoteric from the esoteric, the blind from the conscious
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEOSOPHY AND OCCULTISM
ENQUIRER. You speak of Theosophy and Occultism; are they identical?
THEOSOPHIST. By no means. A man may be a
very good Theosophist indeed, whether in or outside of the
Society, without being in any way an Occultist. But no one can be a true
Occultist without being a real Theosophist; otherwise he is simply a black
magician, whether conscious or unconscious.
ENQUIRER. What do you mean?
THEOSOPHIST. I have said already that a
true Theosophist must put in practice the loftiest moral ideal, must strive to
realize his unity with the whole of humanity, and work ceaselessly for others.
Now, if an Occultist does not do all this, he must act selfishly for his own
personal benefit; and if he has acquired more practical power than other
ordinary men, he becomes forthwith a far more dangerous enemy to the world and
those around him than the average mortal. This is clear.
ENQUIRER. Then is an Occultist simply a man who possesses more power than other people?
THEOSOPHIST. Far more -- if he is a practical
and really learned Occultist, and not one only in name. Occult sciences are
not, as described in Encyclopaedias, "those imaginary sciences
of the Middle Ages which related to the supposed action or influence of
Occult qualities or supernatural powers, as alchemy, magic, necromancy, and
astrology," for they are real, actual, and very dangerous sciences. They
teach the secret potency of things in Nature, developing and cultivating the
hidden powers "latent in man," thus giving him tremendous advantages
over more ignorant mortals. Hypnotism, now become so common and a subject of
serious scientific inquiry, is a good instance in point. Hypnotic power
has been discovered almost by accident, the way to it having been prepared by
mesmerism; and now an able hypnotizer can do almost anything with it, from
forcing a man, unconsciously to himself, to play the fool, to making him commit
a crime -- often by proxy for the hypnotizer, and for the benefit of the
latter. Is not this a terrible power if left in the hands of unscrupulous
persons? And please to remember that this is only one of the minor branches of
ENQUIRER. But are not all these Occult sciences, magic, and sorcery, considered by the most cultured and learned people as relics of ancient ignorance and superstition?
THEOSOPHIST. Let me remind you that this
remark of yours cuts both ways. The "most cultured and learned" among
you regard also Christianity and every other religion as a relic of ignorance
and superstition. People begin to believe now, at any rate, in hypnotism, and
some -- even of the most cultured -- in Theosophy and phenomena. But
who among them, except preachers and blind fanatics, will confess to a belief in
Biblical miracles? And this is where the point of difference comes in.
There are very good and pure Theosophists who may believe in the supernatural,
divine miracles included, but no Occultist will do so. For an Occultist
practises scientific Theosophy, based on accurate knowledge of Nature's
secret workings; but a Theosophist, practising the powers called abnormal, minus
the light of Occultism, will simply tend toward a dangerous form of mediumship,
because, although holding to Theosophy and its highest conceivable code of
ethics, he practises it in the dark, on sincere but blind faith.
Anyone, Theosophist or Spiritualist, who attempts to cultivate one of the
branches of Occult science -- e.g., Hypnotism, Mesmerism, or even the
secrets of producing physical phenomena, etc. -- without the knowledge of the
philosophic rationale of those powers, is like a rudderless boat
launched on a stormy ocean.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEOSOPHY AND SPIRITUALISM
ENQUIRER. But do you not believe in Spiritualism?
THEOSOPHIST. If by
"Spiritualism" you mean the explanation which Spiritualists give of
some abnormal phenomena, then decidedly we do not. They maintain that
these manifestations are all produced by the "spirits" of departed
mortals, generally their relatives, who return to earth, they say, to
communicate with those they have loved or to whom they are attached. We deny
this point blank. We assert that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth
-- save in rare and exceptional cases, of which I may speak later; nor do they
communicate with men except by entirely subjective means. That which
does appear objectively, is only the phantom of the ex-physical man. But in psychic,
and so to say, "Spiritual" Spiritualism, we do believe, most
ENQUIRER. Do you reject the phenomena also?
THEOSOPHIST. Assuredly not -- save cases
of conscious fraud.
ENQUIRER. How do you account for them,
THEOSOPHIST. In many ways. The causes of
such manifestations are by no means so simple as the Spiritualists would like to
believe. Foremost of all, the deus ex machina of the so-called
"materializations" is usually the astral body or "double" of
the medium or of some one present. This astral body is also the
producer or operating force in the manifestations of slate-writing,
"Davenport"-like manifestations, and so on.
ENQUIRER. You say "usually"; then what is it that produces the rest?
THEOSOPHIST. That depends on the nature of
the manifestations. Sometimes the astral remains, the Kamalokic "shells"
of the vanished personalities that were; at other times, Elementals.
"Spirit" is a word of manifold and wide significance. I really do not
know what Spiritualists mean by the term; but what we understand them to claim
is that the physical phenomena are produced by the reincarnating Ego,
the Spiritual and immortal "individuality." And this
hypothesis we entirely reject. The Conscious Individuality of the
disembodied cannot materialize, nor can it return from its own mental
Devachanic sphere to the plane of terrestrial objectivity.
ENQUIRER. But many of the communications received from the "spirits" show not only intelligence, but a knowledge of facts not known to the medium, and sometimes even not consciously present to the mind of the investigator, or any of those who compose the audience.
THEOSOPHIST. This does not necessarily
prove that the intelligence and knowledge you speak of belong to spirits, or
emanate from disembodied souls. Somnambulists have been known to
compose music and poetry and to solve mathematical problems while in their
trance state, without having ever learnt music or mathematics. Others, answered
intelligently to questions put to them, and even, in several cases, spoke
languages, such as Hebrew and Latin, of which they were entirely ignorant when
awake -- all this in a state of profound sleep. Will you, then, maintain that
this was caused by "spirits"?
ENQUIRER. But how would you explain it?
THEOSOPHIST. We assert that the divine
spark in man being one and identical in its essence with the Universal Spirit,
our "spiritual Self" is practically omniscient, but that it cannot
manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter. Now the more these
impediments are removed, in other words, the more the physical body is
paralyzed, as to its own independent activity and consciousness, as in deep
sleep or deep trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner Self
manifest on this plane. This is our explanation of those truly wonderful
phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and knowledge are
exhibited. As to the lower order of manifestations, such as physical phenomena
and the platitudes and common talk of the general "spirit," to explain
even the most important of the teachings we hold upon the subject would take up
more space and time than can be allotted to it at present. We have no desire to
interfere with the belief of the Spiritualists any more than with any other
belief. The onus probandi must fall on the believers in
"spirits." And at the present moment, while still convinced that the
higher sort of manifestations occur through the disembodied souls, their leaders
and the most learned and intelligent among the Spiritualists are the first to
confess that not all the phenomena are produced by spirits. Gradually
they will come to recognise the whole truth; but meanwhile we have no right nor
desire to proselytize them to our views. The less so, as in the cases of purely psychic
and spiritual manifestations we believe in the intercommunication of the
spirit of the living man with that of disembodied personalities.
ENQUIRER. This means that you reject the philosophy of Spiritualism in toto?
THEOSOPHIST. If by "philosophy"
you mean their crude theories, we do. But they have no philosophy, in truth.
Their best, their most intellectual and earnest defenders say so. Their
fundamental and only unimpeachable truth, namely, that phenomena occur through
mediums controlled by invisible forces and intelligences -- no one, except a
blind materialist of the "Huxley big toe" school, will or can deny.
With regard to their philosophy, however, let me read to you what the able
editor of Light, than whom the Spiritualists will find
no wiser nor more devoted champion, says of them and their philosophy. This is
what "M. A. Oxon," one of the very few philosophical
Spiritualists, writes, with respect to their lack of organization and blind
It is worthwhile
to look steadily at this point, for it is of vital moment. We have an experience
and a knowledge beside which all other knowledge is comparatively insignificant.
The ordinary Spiritualist waxes wroth if anyone ventures to impugn his assured
knowledge of the future and his absolute certainty of the life to come. Where
other men have stretched forth feeble hands groping into the dark future, he
walks boldly as one who has a chart and knows his way. Where other men have
stopped short at a pious aspiration or have been content with a hereditary
faith, it is his boast that he knows what they only believe, and that out of his
rich stores he can supplement the fading faiths built only upon hope. He is
magnificent in his dealings with man's most cherished expectations. "You
hope," he seems to say, "for that which I can demonstrate. You have
accepted a traditional belief in what I can experimentally prove according to
the strictest scientific method. The old beliefs are fading; come out from them
and be separate. They contain as much falsehood as truth. Only by building on a
sure foundation of demonstrated fact can your superstructure be stable. All
round you old faiths are toppling. Avoid the crash and get you out.
comes to deal with this magnificent person in a practical way, what is the
result? Very curious and very disappointing. He is so sure of his ground that he
takes no trouble to ascertain the interpretation which others put upon his
facts. The wisdom of the ages has concerned itself with the explanation of what
he rightly regards as proven; but he does not turn a passing glance on its
researches. He does not even agree altogether with his brother Spiritualist. It
is the story over again of the old Scotch body who, together with her husband,
formed a "kirk." They had exclusive keys to Heaven, or, rather, she
had, for she was "na certain aboot Jamie." So the infinitely divided
and subdivided and re-subdivided sects of Spiritualists shake their heads, and
are "na certain aboot" one another. Again, the collective experience
of mankind is solid and unvarying on this point that union is strength, and
disunion a source of weakness and failure. Shoulder to shoulder, drilled and
disciplined, a rabble becomes an army, each man a match for a hundred of the
untrained men that may be brought against it. Organization in every department
of man's work means success, saving of time and labour, profit and development.
Want of method, want of plan, haphazard work, fitful energy, undisciplined
effort -- these mean bungling failure. The voice of humanity attests the truth.
Does the Spiritualist accept the verdict and act on the conclusion? Verily, no.
He refuses to organize. He is a law unto himself, and a thorn in the side of his
neighbours." -- Light, June 22, 1889.
ENQUIRER. I was told that the Theosophical Society was originally founded to crush Spiritualism and belief in the survival of the individuality in man?
THEOSOPHIST. You are misinformed. Our
beliefs are all founded on that immortal individuality. But then, like so many
others, you confuse personality with individuality. Your Western
psychologists do not seem to have established any clear distinction between the
two. Yet it is precisely that difference which gives the key-note to the
understanding of Eastern philosophy, and which lies at the root of the
divergence between the Theosophical and Spiritualistic teachings. And though it
may draw upon us still more the hostility of some Spiritualists, yet I must
state here that it is Theosophy which is the true and unalloyed
Spiritualism, while the modern scheme of that name is, as now practised by the
masses, simply transcendental materialism.
ENQUIRER. Please explain your idea more clearly.
THEOSOPHIST. What I mean is that though
our teachings insist upon the identity of spirit and matter, and though we say
that spirit is potential matter, and matter simply crystallized spirit
(e.g., as ice is solidified steam), yet since the original and eternal
condition of all is not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak,
(visible and solid matter being simply its periodical manifestation,) we
maintain that the term spirit can only be applied to the true
ENQUIRER. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality" and the "I" or "Ego" of which we are all conscious?
THEOSOPHIST. Before I can answer you, we
must argue upon what you mean by "I" or "Ego." We
distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling
that "I am I," and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith"
or "Mrs. Brown." Believing as we do in a series of births for the same
Ego, or re-incarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole
idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily
experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith
calls "himself." But none of these "experiences" are really
the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling
that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily experiences,
and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last. We
Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of
"experiences," which we call the false (because so finite and
evanescent) personality, and that element in man to which the feeling
of "I am I" is due. It is this "I am I" which we call the true
individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or individuality plays, like
an actor, many parts on the stage of life. (Vide infra, "On
Individuality and Personality.") Let us call every new life on earth of the
same Ego a night on the stage of a theatre. One night the
actor, or "Ego," appears as "Macbeth," the next as
"Shylock," the third as "Romeo," the fourth as
"Hamlet" or "King Lear," and so on, until he has run through
the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his life-pilgrimage as a sprite,
an "Ariel," or a "Puck"; he plays the part of a super, is
a soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to "speaking
parts," plays leading roles, interspersed with insignificant
parts, till he finally retires from the stage as "Prospero," the magician.
ENQUIRER. I understand. You say, then, that this true Ego cannot return to earth after death. But surely the actor is at liberty, if he has preserved the sense of his individuality, to return if he likes to the scene of his former actions?
THEOSOPHIST. We say not, simply because
such a return to earth would be incompatible with any state of unalloyed
bliss after death, as I am prepared to prove. We say that man suffers so much
unmerited misery during his life, through the fault of others with whom he is
associated, or because of his environment, that he is surely entitled to perfect
rest and quiet, if not bliss, before taking up again the burden of life.
However, we can discuss this in detail later.
IS THEOSOPHY ACCEPTED?
ENQUIRER. I understand to a certain extent; but I see that your teachings are far more complicated and metaphysical than either Spiritualism or current religious thought. Can you tell me, then, what has caused this system of Theosophy which you support to arouse so much interest and so much animosity at the same time?
THEOSOPHIST. There are several reasons for
it, I believe; among other causes that may be mentioned is, firstly, the
great reaction from the crassly materialistic theories now prevalent among
scientific teachers. Secondly, general dissatisfaction with the
artificial theology of the various Christian Churches, and the number of daily
increasing and conflicting sects. Thirdly, an ever-growing perception
of the fact that the creeds which are so obviously self -- and mutually --
contradictory cannot be true, and that claims which are unverified cannot
be real. This natural distrust of conventional religions is only
strengthened by their complete failure to preserve morals and to purify society
and the masses. Fourthly, a conviction on the part of many, and knowledge
by a few, that there must be somewhere a philosophical and religious system
which shall be scientific and not merely speculative. Finally, a
belief, perhaps, that such a system must be sought for in teachings far
antedating any modern faith.
ENQUIRER. But how did this system come to be put forward just now?
THEOSOPHIST. Just because the time was
found to be ripe, which fact is shown by the determined effort of so many
earnest students to reach the truth, at whatever cost and wherever it
may be concealed. Seeing this, its custodians permitted that some portions at
least of that truth should be proclaimed. Had the formation of the Theosophical
Society been postponed a few years longer, one half of the civilized nations
would have become by this time rank materialists, and the other half
anthropomorphists and phenomenalists.
ENQUIRER. Are we to regard Theosophy in any way as a revelation?
THEOSOPHIST. In no way whatever -- not
even in the sense of a new and direct disclosure from some higher, supernatural,
or, at least, superhuman beings; but only in the sense of an
"unveiling" of old, very old, truths to minds hitherto ignorant of
them, ignorant even of the existence and preservation of any such archaic
ENQUIRER. You spoke of "Persecution." If truth is as represented by Theosophy, why has it met with such opposition, and with no general acceptance?
THEOSOPHIST. For many and various reasons
again, one of which is the hatred felt by men for "innovations," as
they call them. Selfishness is essentially conservative, and hates being
disturbed. It prefers an easy-going, unexacting lie to the greatest
truth, if the latter requires the sacrifice of one's smallest comfort. The power
of mental inertia is great in anything that does not promise immediate benefit
and reward. Our age is pre-eminently unspiritual and matter of fact. Moreover,
there is the unfamiliar character of Theosophic teachings; the highly abstruse
nature of the doctrines, some of which contradict flatly many of the human
vagaries cherished by sectarians, which have eaten into the very core of popular
beliefs. If we add to this the personal efforts and great purity of life exacted
of those who would become the disciples of the inner circle, and the
very limited class to which an entirely unselfish code appeals, it will be easy
to perceive the reason why Theosophy is doomed to such slow, up-hill work. It is
essentially the philosophy of those who suffer, and have lost all hope of being
helped out of the mire of life by any other means. Moreover, the history of any
system of belief or morals, newly introduced into a foreign soil, shows that its
beginnings were impeded by every obstacle that obscurantism and selfishness
could suggest. "The crown of the innovator is a crown of thorns"
indeed! No pulling down of old, worm-eaten buildings can be accomplished without
ENQUIRER. All this refers rather to the ethics and philosophy of the T. S. Can you give me a general idea of the Society itself, its objects and statutes?
THEOSOPHIST. This was never made secret.
Ask, and you shall receive accurate answers.
ENQUIRER. But I heard that you were bound by pledges?
THEOSOPHIST. Only in the Arcane or
ENQUIRER. And also, that some members after leaving did not regard themselves bound by them. Are they right?
THEOSOPHIST. This shows that their idea of
honour is an imperfect one. How can they be right? As well said in the Path,
our theosophical organ at New York, treating of such a case:
"Suppose that a soldier is tried for infringement of oath and discipline,
and is dismissed from the service. In his rage at the justice he has called
down, and of whose penalties he was distinctly forewarned, the soldier turns to
the enemy with false information, -- a spy and traitor -- as a revenge upon his
former Chief, and claims that his punishment has released him from his oath of
loyalty to a cause." Is he justified, think you? Don't you think he
deserves being called a dishonourable man, a coward?
ENQUIRER. I believe so; but some think
THEOSOPHIST. So much the worse for them.
But we will talk on this subject later, if you please.
 We say that in such cases
it is not the spirits of the dead who descend on earth,
but the spirits of the living that ascend to the pure Spiritual
Souls. In truth there is neither ascending nor descending, but
a change of state or condition for the medium. The body of
the latter becoming paralyzed, or "entranced," the spiritual Ego
is free from its trammels, and finds itself on the same plane of
consciousness with the disembodied spirits. Hence, if there is any spiritual
attraction between the two they can communicate, as often occurs in
dreams. The difference between a mediumistic and a non-sensitive nature is
this: the liberated spirit of a medium has the opportunity and facility of
influencing the passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them
act, speak, and write at its will. The Ego can make it repeat, echo-like,
and in the human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity,
as well as its own. But the non-receptive or non-sensitive organism
of one who is very positive cannot be so influenced. Hence, although there
is hardly a human being whose Ego does not hold free intercourse, during the
sleep of his body, with those whom it loved and lost, yet, on account of the
positiveness and non-receptivity of its physical envelope and brain, no
recollection, or a very dim, dream-like remembrance, lingers in the memory
of the person once awake.
 It has become
"fashionable," -- especially of late, to deride the notion that
there ever was, in the mysteries of great and civilized peoples,
such as the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, anything but priestly imposture.
Even the Rosicrucians were no better than half lunatics, half knaves.
Numerous books have been written on them; and tyros, who had hardly heard
the name a few years before, sallied out as profound critics and Gnostics on
the subject of alchemy, the fire-philosophers, and mysticism in general. Yet
a long series of the Hierophants of Egypt, India, Chaldea, and Arabia are
known, along with the greatest philosophers and sages of Greece and the
West, to have included under the designation of wisdom and divine science
all knowledge, for they considered the base and origin of every art and
science as essentially divine. Plato regarded the mysteries as
most sacred, and Clemens Alexandrinus, who had been himself initiated into
the Eleusinian mysteries, has declared "that the doctrines taught
therein contained in them the end of all human knowledge." Were Plato
and Clemens two knaves or two fools, we wonder, or -- both?