Sisters & brothers:
Sometimes it is good to go back to the basics. To that effect, I wish to propose some reflections based on certain statements by the founders of the Theosophical Society. I have no desire to view the statements as dogmatically binding. I respect the freedom of all to view them according to their individual consideration.
“In order to leave no room for equivocation, the members of the T. S. have to be reminded of the origin of the Society in 1875. Sent to the U.S. of America in 1873 for the purpose of organizing a group of workers on a psychic plane, two years later the writer received orders from her Master and Teacher to form the nucleus of a regular Society whose objects were broadly stated as follows:
- Universal Brotherhood;
- No distinction to be made by the member between races, creeds, or social positions, but every member had to be judged and dealt by on his personal merits;
- To study the philosophies of the East — those of India chiefly, presenting them gradually to the public in various works that would interpret exoteric religions in the light of esoteric teachings;
- To oppose materialism and theological dogmatism in every possible way, by demonstrating the existence of occult forces unknown to science, in nature, and the presence of psychic and spiritual powers in man; trying, at the same time to enlarge the views of the Spiritualists by showing them that there are other, many other agencies at work in the production of phenomena besides the ‘Spirits’ of the dead. Superstition had to be exposed and avoided; and occult forces, beneficent and maleficent — ever surrounding us and manifesting their presence in various ways — demonstrated to the best of our ability.”
[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, Ostende, October 3, 1886] (Blavatsky, CW 7, 145)
One can see that the three basic objects have been tweaked over time, adopting a broader, more universal formulation. One can also notice the reform positions it adopted towards science, religion and spiritualism.
In the same manuscript document, the basics of a an altruistic, philanthropic organisation are explained:
“The Founders had to exercise all their influence to oppose selfishness of any kind, by insisting upon sincere, fraternal feelings among the Members — at least outwardly; working for it to bring about a spirit of unity and harmony, the great diversity of creeds notwithstanding; expecting and demanding from the Fellows, a great mutual toleration and charity for each other’s shortcomings; mutual help in the research of truths in every domain — moral or physical — and even, in daily life.” (Blavatsky, CW 7, 147)
“Theosophy teaches mutual-culture before self-culture to begin with. Union is strength. It is by gathering many theosophists of the same way of thinking into one or more groups, and making them closely united by the same magnetic bond of fraternal unity and sympathy that the objects of mutual development and progress in Theosophical thought may be best achieved. “Self-culture” is for isolated Hatha Yogis, independent of any Society and having to avoid association with human beings; and this is a triply distilled SELFISHNESS. For real moral advancement-there ‘where two or three are gathered’ in the name of the SPIRIT OF TRUTH — there that Spirit of Theosophy will be in the midst of them. To say that theosophy has no need of a Society — a vehicle and centre thereof, — is like affirming that the Wisdom of the Ages collected in thousands of volumes at the British Museum has no need of either the edifice that contains it, nor the works in which it is found.” (Blavatsky, CW 7, 161)
This quote has surely become classic – taken from a letter from an adept:
“He who does not practice altruism; he who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or poorer than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever race, nation, or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and does not undertake his defence as he would undertake his own – is no Theosophist.”
The following passages considers that good actions and altruism are important, but how do go about doing this? How can one do good? How can we be of service and help to our colleagues? It is not necessarily that easy. This requires knowledge, wisdom and understanding: Learning and doing:
“None know more keenly and definitely than they that good works are necessary; only these cannot be rightly accomplished without knowledge. Schemes for Universal Brotherhood, and the redemption of mankind, might be given out plentifully by the great adepts of life, and would be mere dead-letter utterances while individuals remain ignorant, and unable to grasp the great meaning of their teachers. To Theosophists we say, let us carry out the rules given us for our society before we ask for any further schemes or laws. To the public and our critics we say, try to understand the value of good works before you demand them of others, or enter upon them rashly yourselves. Yet it is an absolute fact that without good works the spirit of brotherhood would die in the world; and this can never be. Therefore is the double activity of learning and doing most necessary; we have to do good, and we have to do it rightly, with knowledge.’
[“Let Every Man Prove His Own Work,” Lucifer, Vol. I, No. 3, November, 1887, pp. 161-169] (CW 8, p. 171)]
To the question of the relation between Theosophy and Buddhism, HPB has this to say:
“Against this it protests a little, fearing to take on an exclusive and sectarian character. It is mistaken the true and original Buddhism is not a sect, it is hardly a religion. It is rather a moral and intellectual reform, which excludes no belief, but adopts none. This is what is done by the Theosophical Society.
“We have given our reasons for protesting. We are pinned to no faith. In stating that the T.S. is “Buddhist,” É. Burnouf is quite right, however, from one point of view. It has a Buddhist colouring simply because that religion, or rather philosophy, approaches more nearly to the TRUTH (the secret wisdom) than does any other exoteric form of belief. Hence the close connexion between the two. But on the other hand the T.S. is perfectly right in protesting against being mistaken for a merely Buddhist propaganda, for the reasons given by us at the beginning of the present article, and by our critic himself. For although in complete agreement with him as to the true nature and character of primitive Buddhism, yet the Buddhism of to-day is none the less a rather dogmatic religion, split into many and heterogeneous sects. We follow the Buddha alone. Therefore, once it becomes necessary to go behind the actually existing form, and who will deny this necessity in respect to Buddhism?—once this is done, is it not infinitely better to go back to the pure and unadulterated source of Buddhism itself, rather than halt at an intermediate stage? Such a half and half reform was tried when Protestantism broke away from the elder Church, and are the results satisfactory?
“Such then is the simple and very natural reason why the T.S. does not raise the standard of exoteric Buddhism and proclaim itself a follower of the Church of the Lord Buddha. It desires too sincerely to remain within that unadulterated “light” to allow itself to be absorbed by its distorted shadow.”
[CW 10, p. 69-70. “The Theosophical Society: Its Mission and its Future,” Lucifer, Vol. II, No. 12, August, 1888, pp. 421-433]
Here’s a nice articulation of the first object; notice the rather discreet little digression ”the social “hurricane” to come”, something of a ‘hidden hint’, perhaps…
“The Theosophical Society replies: ‘It surely will, were we to follow out his well-meaning advice, yet one which is concerned but with the lower plane.’ It is not the policy of self-preservation, not the welfare of one or another personality in its finite and physical form that will or can ever secure the desired object and screen the Society from the effects of the social ‘hurricane’ to come; but only the weakening of the feeling of separateness in the units which compose its chief element. And such a weakening can only be achieved by a process of inner enlightenment. It is not violence that can ever insure bread and comfort for all; nor is the kingdom of peace and love, of mutual help and charity and ‘food for all,’ to be conquered by a cold, reasoning, diplomatic policy. It is only by the close brotherly union of men’s inner SELVES, of soul-solidarity, of the growth and development of that feeling which makes one suffer when one thinks of the suffering of others, that the reign of Justice and equality for all can ever be inaugurated. This is the first of the three fundamental objects for which the Theosophical Society was established, and called the ‘Universal Brotherhood of Man,’ without distinction of race, colour or creed.” [Lucifer, Vol. II, No. 12, August, 1888, pp. 421-433]
In “Modern apostles and pseudo messiahs” HPB was maybe a little too optimistic about curbing people’s penchant for declaring themselves Messiahs, but she does give what are perhaps some of her most eloquent definitions of Theosophy:
“Wherever Theosophy spreads, there it is impossible for the deluded to mislead, or the deluded to follow. It opens a new path, a forgotten philosophy which has lived through the ages, a knowledge of the psychic nature of man, which reveals alike the true status of the Catholic saint, and the spiritualistic medium the Church condemns. It gathers reformers together, throws light on their way, and teaches them how to work towards a desirable end with most effect, but forbids any to assume a crown or sceptre, and no less delivers from a futile crown of thorns. Mesmerisms and astral influences fall back, and the sky grows clear enough for higher light. It hushes the ‘Lo here! and lo there!’ and declares the Christ, like the kingdom of heaven, to be within. It guards and applies every aspiration and capacity to serve humanity in any man, and shows him how. It overthrows the giddy pedestal, and safely cares for the human being on solid ground. Hence, in this way, and in all other ways, it is the truest deliverer and saviour of our time.”
“For if it teaches, or has taught, one thing more plainly than another, it is that the ‘first shall be last, and the last first.’ And in the face of genuine spiritual growth, and true illumination, the Theosophist grows in power to most truly befriend and help his fellows, while he becomes the most humble, the most silent, the most guarded of men.” Lucifer, July, 1890
Theosophy is easy:
”It is easy to become a Theosophist. Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbor than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer — is a Theosophist.” (Practical Occultism, Lucifer IV, 348n)
The 1888-89 period saw quite a few theosophy-defining articles by HPB, often in response to various questions and debates with members or critics. ‘Is Theosophy a Religion?’ being one of the more important ones, imo. She begins with the notions of the universalist, essentialist perspective of religion and the strongly crititcal position towards all forms of religious dogmatism (these critiques have been extensively developped all through Isis and the Secret Doctrine), so religious reform is a significant part of the program, it would seem.
“Moreover, the very raison d’être of the Theosophical Society was, from its beginning, to utter a loud protest and lead an open warfare against dogma or any belief based upon blind faith.”
“He who believes his own religion on faith, will regard that of every other man as a lie, and hate it on that same faith. Moreover, unless it fetters reason and entirely blinds our perceptions of anything outside our own particular faith, the latter is no faith at all, but a temporary belief, the delusion we labour under, at some particular time of life. Moreover, ‘faith without principles is but a flattering phrase for willful positiveness or fanatical bodily sensations,’ in Coleridge’s clever definition.” [“Is Theosophy a Religion?” Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 15, November, 1888, pp. 177-187]
The quotes below describe theosophy as a kind of universal humanistic social religious spirit:
“But to Theosophists (the genuine Theosophists are here meant) who accept no mediation by proxy, no salvation through innocent bloodshed, nor would they think of ‘working for wages’ in the One Universal religion, the only definition they could subscribe to and accept in full is one given by Miller. How truly and theosophically he describes it, by showing that
‘. . . true Religion
Is always mild, propitious and humble;
Plays not the tyrant, plants no faith in blood,
Nor bears destruction on her chariot wheels;
But stoops to polish, succour and redress,
And builds her grandeur on the public good.’
“In this respect, as it is the duty and task of every genuine theosophist to accept and carry out these principles, Theosophy is RELIGION, and the Society its one Universal Church; the temple of Solomon’s wisdom, in building which ‘there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was building’ (I Kings, vi., 7); for this ‘temple’ is made by no human hand, nor built in any locality on earth–but, verily, is raised only in the inner sanctuary of man’s heart wherein reigns alone the awakened soul.”
“Thus Theosophy is not a Religion, we say, but RELIGION itself, the one bond of unity, which is so universal and all-embracing that no man, as no speck–from gods and mortals down to animals, the blade of grass and atom—can be outside of its light. Therefore, any organization or body of that name must necessarily be a UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD.”
The following explains how the perennial perspective is useful in overcoming dogmatism thus giving clearer perspective in any religious school:
“Were it otherwise, Theosophy would be but a word added to hundreds other such words as high sounding as they are pretentious and empty. Viewed as a philosophy, Theosophy in its practical work is the alembic of the Mediæval alchemist. It transmutes the apparently base metal of every ritualistic and dogmatic creed (Christianity included) into the gold of fact and truth, and thus truly produces a universal panacea for the ills of mankind. This is why, when applying for admission into the Theosophical Society, no one is asked what religion he belongs to, nor what his deistic views may be. These views are his own personal property and have nought to do with the Society. Because Theosophy can be practiced by Christian or Heathen, Jew or Gentile, by Agnostic or Materialist, or even an Atheist, provided that none of these is a bigoted fanatic, who refuses to recognize as his brother any man or woman outside his own special creed or belief. Count Leo N. Tolstoy does not believe in the Bible, the Church, or the divinity of Christ; and yet no Christian surpasses him in the practical bearing out of the principles alleged to have been preached on the Mount. And these principles are those of Theosophy; not because they were uttered by the Christian Christ, but because they are universal ethics, and were preached by Buddha and Confucius, Krishna, and all the great Sages, thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount was written. Hence, once that we live up to such theosophy, it becomes a universal panacea indeed, for it heals the wounds inflicted by the gross asperities of the Church “isms” on the sensitive soul of every naturally religious man. How many of these, forcibly thrust out by the reactive impulse of disappointment from the narrow area of blind belief into the ranks of arid disbelief, have been brought back to hopeful aspiration by simply joining our Brotherhood–yea, imperfect as it is.”
The following develops how this universal approach embraces all forms of knowledge and infuses them with an edifying spiritual perspective:
“Furthermore, there is this also to be added: the number of those who left can hardly be compared with the number of those who found everything they had hoped for in Theosophy. Its doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one’s reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and the real, as opposed to the false and the unreal. Tearing off with no uncertain hand the thick veil of dead-letter with which every old religious scriptures were cloaked, scientific Theosophy, learned in the cunning symbolism of the ages, reveals to the scoffer at old wisdom the origin of the world’s faiths and sciences. It opens new vistas beyond the old horizons of crystallized, motionless and despotic faiths; and turning blind belief into a reasoned knowledge founded on mathematical laws–the only exact science–it demonstrates to him under profounder and more philosophical aspects the existence of that which, repelled by the grossness of its dead-letter form, he had long since abandoned as a nursery tale. It gives a clear and well-defined object, an ideal to live for, to every sincere man or woman belonging to whatever station in Society and of whatever culture and degree of intellect. Practical Theosophy is not one Science, but embraces every science in life, moral and physical. It may, in short, be justly regarded as the universal “coach,” a tutor of world-wide knowledge and experience, and of an erudition which not only assists and guides his pupils toward a successful examination for every scientific or moral service in earthly life, but fits them for the lives to come, if those pupils will only study the universe and its mysterieswithin themselves, instead of studying them through the spectacles of orthodox science and religions.”
She makes a point to distinguish between the ideal of Theosophy and the mundane reality:
“And let no reader misunderstand these statements. It is Theosophy per se, not any individual member of the Society or even Theosophist, on whose behalf such a universal omniscience is claimed. The two–Theosophy and the Theosophical Society–as a vessel and the olla podrida it contains, must not be confounded. One is, as an ideal, divine Wisdom, perfection itself; the other a poor, imperfect thing, trying to run under, if not within, its shadow on Earth. No man is perfect; why, then, should any member of the T.S. be expected to be a paragon of every human virtue? And why should the whole organization be criticized and blamed for the faults, whether real or imaginary, of some of its “Fellows,” or even its Leaders? Never was the Society, as a concrete body, free from blame or sin—errare humanum est—nor were any of its members. Hence, it is rather those members most of whom will not be led by theosophy, that ought to be blamed. Theosophy is the soul of its Society; the latter the gross and imperfect body of the former. Hence, those modern Solomons who will sit in the Judgment Seat and talk of that they know nothing about, are invited before they slander theosophy or any theosophists to first get acquainted with both, instead of ignorantly calling one a ‘farrago of insane beliefs’ and the other a ‘sect of impostors and lunatics’.”
The following passages explain the concepts of perennialism, universalism, and primordiality of religions:
“It is from this WISDOM-RELIGION that all the various individual ‘Religions’ (erroneously so called) have sprung, forming in their turn offshoots and branches, and also all the minor creeds, based upon and always originated through some personal experience in psychology. Every such religion, or religious offshoot, be it considered orthodox or heretical, wise or foolish, started originally as a clear and unadulterated stream from the Mother-Source. The fact that each became in time polluted with purely human speculations and even inventions, due to interested motives, does not prevent any from having been pure in its early beginnings. There are those creeds—we shall not call them religions—which have now been overlaid with the human element out of all recognition; others just showing signs of early decay; not one that escaped the hand of time. But each and all are of divine, because natural and true origin; aye—Mazdeism, Brahmanism, Buddhism as much as Christianity. It is the dogmas and human element in the latter which led directly to modern Spiritualism.”
“Thus were born all prehistoric, as well as all the historic religions, Mazdeism and Brahmanism, Buddhism and Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism and Mahomedanism; in short every more or less successful ‘ism.’ All are true at the bottom, and all are false on their surface. The Revealer, the artist who impressed a portion of the Truth on the brain of the Seer, was in every instance a true artist, who gave out genuine truths; but the instrument proved also, in every instance, to be only a man. Invite Rubenstein and ask him to play a sonata of Beethoven on a piano left to self-tuning, one-half of the keys of which are in chronic paralysis, while the wires hang loose; then see whether, the genius of the artist notwithstanding, you will be able to recognize the sonata. The moral of the fabula is that a man—let him be the greatest of mediums or natural Seers—is but a man; and man left to his own devices and speculations must be out of tune with absolute truth, while even picking up some of its crumbs. For Man is but a fallen Angel, a god within, but having an animal brain in his head, more subject to cold and wine fumes while in company with other men on Earth, than to the faultless reception of divine revelations.”
Below is outline the theosophical view on the relation of Religion and Science, which it endeavors to consider as complementary and part of a unified holistic perspective:
“Theosophy, as repeatedly declared in print and viva voce by its members and officers, proceeds on diametrically opposite lines to those which are trodden by the Church; and Theosophy rejects the methods of Science, since her inductive methods can only lead to crass materialism. Yet, de facto, Theosophy claims to be both ‘RELIGION’ and ‘SCIENCE,’ for theosophy is the essence of both. It is for the sake and love of the two divine abstractions—i.e., theosophical religion and science, that its Society has become the volunteer scavenger of both orthodox religion and modern science; as also the relentless Nemesis of those who have degraded the two noble truths to their own ends and purposes, and then divorced each violently from the other, though the two are and must be one. To prove this is also one of our objects in the present paper. . .”
Below is an outline of theosophical objections to what is termed nowadays “fundamentalism” in religion; the problems being experienced presently, can perhaps justify Blavatsky’s strong words regarding this issue:
“Thus, if theosophy does no more than point out and seriously draw the attention of the world to the fact that the supposed disagreement between religion and science is conditioned, on the one hand by the intelligent materialists rightly kicking against absurd human dogmas, and on the other by blind fanatics and interested churchmen who, instead of defending the souls of mankind, fight simply tooth and nail for their personal bread and butter and authority—why, even then, theosophy will prove itself the saviour of mankind. . .”
Closing up the articles from the challenging year of 1888 we have “Is Denunciation a Duty?” Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 16, December 1888, pp. 265-273.
First rule of thumb: Refrain from making questionable allegations about people, defend people who are unjustly slandered, avoid listening to questionable gossip about others:
“In fact, the duty of defending a fellow-man stung by a poisonous tongue during his absence, and to abstain, in general, ‘from condemning others’ is the very life and soul of practical theosophy, for such action is the handmaiden who conducts one into the narrow Path of the ‘higher life,’ that life which leads to the goal we all crave to attain. Mercy, Charity and Hope are the three goddesses who preside over that ‘life.’ To ‘abstain’ from condemning our fellow beings is the tacit assertion of the presence in us of the three divine Sisters; to condemn on ‘hearsay’ shows their absence. ‘Listen not to a tale bearer or slanderer,’ says Socrates. ‘For, as he discovereth of the secrets of others, so he will thine in turn.’ Nor is it difficult to avoid slandermongers. Where there is no demand, supply will very soon cease. ‘When people refrain from evil-hearing, then evil speakers will refrain from evil-talking,’ says a proverb. To condemn is to glorify oneself over the man one condemns. Pharisees of every nation have been constantly doing it since the evolution of intolerant religions. Shall we do as they?”
Second rule of thumb: Should theosophists denounce and critique the general problems and injustices of society? Yes. Should Theosophists make personal undiplomatic denunciations and accusations to individual people? No.
“We may be told, perhaps, that we ourselves are the first to break the ethical law we are upholding. That our theosophical periodicals are full of ‘denunciations,’ and Lucifer lowers his torch to throw light on every evil, to the best of his ability. We reply—this is quite another thing. We denounce indignantly systems and organizations, evils, social and religious—cant above all: we abstain from denouncing persons. The latter are the children of their century, the victims of their environment and of the Spirit of the Age. To condemn and dishonour a man instead of pitying and trying to help him, because, being born in a community of lepers he is a leper himself, is like cursing a room because it is dark, instead of quietly lighting a candle to disperse the gloom. “Ill deeds are doubled with an evil word”; nor can a general evil be avoided or removed by doing evil oneself and choosing a scape-goat for the atonement of the sins of a whole community. Hence, we denounce these communities not their units; we point out the rottenness of our boasted civilisation, indicate the pernicious systems of education which lead to it, and show the fatal effects of these on the masses. Nor are we more partial to ourselves. Ready to lay down our life any day for THEOSOPHY—that great cause of the Universal Brotherhood for which we live and breathe—and willing to shield, if need be, every theosophist with our own body, we yet denounce as openly and as virulently the distortion of the original lines upon which the Theosophical Society was primarily built, and the gradual loosening and undermining of the original system by the sophistry of many of its highest officers.”
The passage below has some interesting observations on the cosmopolitan and egalitarian aspect of universal brother/sisterhood:
“We are sincerely sorry to find a most worthy brother holding such mistaken views. First of all, poor is that theosophic culture which fails to transform simply a “good citizen” of his own native country into a “good citizen” of the world. A true theosophist must be a cosmopolitan in his heart. He must embrace mankind, the whole of humanity in his philanthropic feelings. It is higher and far nobler to be one of those who love their fellow men, without distinction of race, creed, caste or colour, than to be merely a good patriot, or still less, a partizan. To mete one measure for all, is holier and more divine than to help one’s country in its private ambition of aggrandizement, strife or bloody wars in the name of GREEDINESS and SELFISHNESS. Severe denunciation is a duty to truth.” It is; on condition, however, that one should denounce and fight against the root of evil and not expend one’s fury by knocking down the irresponsible blossoms of its plant. The wise horticulturist uproots the parasitic herbs, and will hardly lose time in using his garden shears to cut off the heads of the poisonous weeds.”
“I PLEDGE MYSELF NEVER TO LISTEN WITHOUT PROTEST TO ANY EVIL THING SPOKEN OF A BROTHER THEOSOPHIST, AND TO ABSTAIN FROM CONDEMNING OTHERS.”
The above rule is considered to be a key aspect of a kind of universal code of ethics that the TS wants to promote – and practicing what you preach is also an important concern:
“Who of these will undertake to maintain that clause 3 is not a fundamental principle of the code of ethics which ought to guide every theosophist aspiring to become one in reality? For such a large body of men and women, composed of the most heterogeneous nationalities, characters, creeds and ways of thinking, furnishing for this very reason such easy pretexts for disputes and strife, ought not this clause to become part and parcel of the obligation of each member—working or ornamental—who joins the Theosophical movement? We think so, and leave it to the future consideration of the representatives of the General Council, who meet at the next anniversary at Adyar. In a Society with pretensions to an exalted system of ethics—the essence of all previous ethical codes—which confesses openly its aspirations to emulate and put to shame by its practical example and ways of living the followers of every religion, such a pledge constitutes the sine qua non of the success of that Society. In a gathering where ‘near the noisome nettle blooms the rose,’ and where fierce thorns are more plentiful than sweet blossoms, a pledge of such a nature is the sole salvation. No Ethics as a science of mutual duties—whether social, religious or philosophical—from man to man, can be called complete or consistent unless such a rule is enforced.”
[“Is Denunciation a Duty” Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 16, December 1888, pp. 265-273]
I’m sure many must be thinking — “it’s really swell to have random extracts from all those articles that hpb wrote on Theosophy, old chap, but what about thematic groupings? That’s the thing, that’s really getting to the nitty-gritty”
By George, you inquiring folks surely hit the hammer on the head, thematic groupings are surely the way to go – so without further ado, I humbly submit the first grouping — Theosophy is all about . . . Freedom:
The universalist perspective entails that freedom of thought is an important value:
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. (Key, 19)
Neither the Founders, nor the ‘most prominent members,’ nor yet the majority thereof, constitute the Society, but only a certain portion of it, which, moreover, having no creed as a body, yet allows its members to believe as and what they please.” PHILOSOPHERS AND PHILOSOPHICULES [Lucifer, Vol. V, No. 26, October, 1889, pp. 85-91, CW11, 431]
Membership in the Theosophical Society does not expose the “Fellows” to any interference with their religious, irreligious, political, philosophical or scientific views. The Society is not a sectarian nor is it a religious body, but simply a nucleus of men devoted to the search after truth, whencesoever it may come. [FORCE OF PREJUDICE Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 23,July, 1889, pp. 353-360, CW11, 330]
A cosmopolitan sense of equality and respect of fundamental human rights for all is part of this perspective:
We have already said in The Theosophist: “Born in the United States of America, the Theosophical Society was constituted on the model of its mother country. The latter, as we know, omits the name of God from its constitution, lest, said the Fathers of the Republic, this word someday afford the pretext for a State religion; for they wanted to grant absolute equality in its laws to all religions so that all would support the State and all in their turn would be protected.” The Theosophical Society was established on this beautiful model. THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol. I, No. I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13, CW11, 123]
ENQUIRER. What do you consider as due to humanity at large?
THEOSOPHIST. Full recognition of equal rights and privileges for all, and without distinction of race, colour, social position, or birth.
ENQUIRER. When would you consider such due not given?
THEOSOPHIST. When there is the slightest invasion of another’s right — be that other a man or a nation; when there is any failure to show him the same justice, kindness, consideration or mercy which we desire for ourselves. The whole present system of politics is built on the oblivion of such rights, and the most fierce assertion of national selfishness. The French say: “Like master, like man”; they ought to add, “Like national policy, like citizen.” Key, p. 230
To begin with, no Fellow in the Society, whether exoteric or esoteric, has a right to force his personal opinions upon another Fellow. “It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express in public, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section, religious or philosophical, more than another. All have an equal right to have the essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial world. And no officer of the Society, in his capacity as an officer, has the right to preach his own sectarian views and beliefs to members assembled, except when the meeting consists of his co-religionists. (Key,50)
In general, self-reliance, independent and original thinking is encouraged, in a spirit of inclusiveness. The position is one of neutrality, objectivity and open-mindedness; this is considered to be the basis of a non-sectarion, non-dogmatic position:
As a body, the Theosophical Society holds that all original thinkers and investigators of the hidden side of nature whether materialists–those who find in matter “the promise and potency of all terrestrial life,” or spiritualists–that is, those who discover in spirit the source of all energy and of matter as well, were and are, properly, Theosophists. For to be one, one need not necessarily recognize the existence of any special God or a deity. One need but worship the spirit of living nature, and try to identify oneself with it. To revere that Presence, the invisible Cause, which is yet ever manifesting itself in its incessant results; the intangible, omnipotent, and omnipresent Proteus: indivisible in its Essence, and eluding form, yet appearing under all and every form; who is here and there, and everywhere and nowhere; is ALL, and NOTHING; ubiquitous yet one; the Essence filling, binding, bounding, containing everything, contained in all. It will, we think, be seen now, that whether classed as Theists, Pantheists or Atheists, such men are near kinsmen to the rest. Be what he may, once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought–Godward–he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with “an inspiration of his own” to solve the universal problems. [What are the Theosophists? The Theosophist, Vol. I, October, 1879, pp. 5-7, CW2, 98]
The Society, in its capacity as an abstract corporation, believes in nothing, accepts nothing, teaches nothing. The Society per se cannot and must not have any religion, for it contains all religions. Cults are, after all, but external vehicles, more or less material forms and containing more or less of the essence of the One and Universal Truth. In its essential nature Theosophy is the spiritual as well as the physical science of this Truth–the very essence of deistic and philosophical research. As visible representative of the universal Truth, since it contains all religions and philosophies, and since each of them contains in its turn a portion of this Truth–the Society could not be sectarian, have preferences, or be any more partial than, say, an anthropological or geographic society. Do the latter care to what religion their explorers belong, so long as each of their members bravely carries out his duty? THE NEW CYCLE [La Revue Theosophique, Paris, Vol. I, No. I, March 21, 1889, pp. 3-13, CW11, 123]
I’m sure people must be thinking, right on, old sock, this thematic grouping business is the cat’s meow – but the whole impetus seems to have fizzled out, when are you going to get on with it? No to fear – the next thematic grouping after freedom is… tolerance:
Tolerance and charity are the key principles in relations among one’s fellow human beings:
ENQUIRER. And what should you do then?
THEOSOPHIST. Pity and forbearance, charity and long-suffering, ought to be always there to prompt us to excuse our sinning brethren, and to pass the gentlest sentence possible upon those who err. A Theosophist ought never to forget what is due to the shortcomings and infirmities of human nature.
ENQUIRER. Ought he to forgive entirely in such cases?
THEOSOPHIST. In every case, especially he who is sinned against.
ENQUIRER. But if by so doing, he risks to injure, or allow others to be injured? What ought he to do then?
THEOSOPHIST. His duty; that which his conscience and higher nature suggests to him; but only after mature deliberation. Justice consists in doing no injury to any living being; but justice commands us also never to allow injury to be done to the many, or even to one innocent person, by allowing the guilty one to go unchecked.
ENQUIRER. What are the other negative clauses?
THEOSOPHIST. No Theosophist ought to be contented with an idle or frivolous life, doing no real good to himself and still less to others. He should work for the benefit of the few who need his help if he is unable to toil for Humanity, and thus work for the advancement of the Theosophical cause.(key 251)
Only the latter, remaining as kindly disposed and brotherly to the “individual theosophist and even a Branch” — that snub him and his “order,” by refusing to pay what others do — shows himself ten-fold more theosophical and true to the principle of Brotherhood, than the former, who traduces and denounces him in such uncharitable terms, instead of kindly warning him of the bad effect produced. Unfortunately, it is not those who speak the loudest of virtue and theosophy, who are the best exemplars of both. Few of them, if any, have tried to cast out the beam from their own eye, before they raised their voices against the mote in the eye of a brother. Furthermore, it seems to have become quite the theosophical rage in these days, to denounce vehemently, yet never to offer to help pulling out any such motes.[The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, Ostende, October 3, 1886, CW 156]
This principle of tolerance is of course extended to the field of religion, which includes denouncing fanaticism:
Viewed as a philosophy, Theosophy in its practical work is the alembic of the Mediæval alchemist. It transmutes the apparently base metal of every ritualistic and dogmatic creed (Christianity included) into the gold of fact and truth, and thus truly produces a universal panacea for the ills of mankind. This is why, when applying for admission into the Theosophical Society, no one is asked what religion he belongs to, nor what his deistic views may be. These views are his own personal property and have nought to do with the Society. Because Theosophy can be practiced by Christian or Heathen, Jew or Gentile, by Agnostic or Materialist, or even an Atheist, provided that none of these is a bigoted fanatic, who refuses to recognize as his brother any man or woman outside his own special creed or belief. Count Leo N. Tolstoy does not believe in the Bible, the Church, or the divinity of Christ; and yet no Christian surpasses him in the practical bearing out of the principles alleged to have been preached on the Mount. And these principles are those of Theosophy; not because they were uttered by the Christian Christ, but because they are universal ethics, and were preached by Buddha and Confucius, Krishna, and all the great Sages, thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount was written. Hence, once that we live up to such theosophy, it becomes a universal panacea indeed, for it heals the wounds inflicted by the gross asperities of the Church “isms” on the sensitive soul of every naturally religious man. How many of these, forcibly thrust out by the reactive impulse of disappointment from the narrow area of blind belief into the ranks of arid disbelief, have been brought back to hopeful aspiration by simply joining our Brotherhood–yea, imperfect as it is. . [IS THEOSOPHY A RELIGION? Lucifer, Vol. III, No. 15, November, 1888, pp. 177-187, CW 164]
Freedom, tolerance and equality are considered mutually complementary values:
We have now, we think, made clear why our members, as individuals, are free to stay outside or inside any creed they please, provided they do not pretend that none but themselves shall enjoy the privilege of conscience, and try to force their opinions upon the others. In this respect the Rules of the Society are very strict: It tries to act upon the wisdom of the old Buddhistic axiom, “Honour thine own faith, and do not slander that of others”; echoed back in our present century, in the “Declaration of Principles” of the Brahmo Samaj, which so nobly states that: “no sect shall be vilified, ridiculed, or hated.” In Section VI of the Revised Rules of the Theosophical Society, recently adopted in General Council, at Bombay, is this mandate: “It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section (sectarian division, or group within the Society) more than another. All must be regarded and treated as equally the objects of the Society’s solicitude and exertions. All have an equal right to have the essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial world. In their individual capacity, members may, when attacked, occasionally break this Rule, but, nevertheless, as officers they are restrained, and the Rule is strictly enforced during the meetings. For, above all human sects stands Theosophy in its abstract sense; Theosophy which is too wide for any of them to contain but which easily contains them. [What are the Theosophists? The Theosophist, Vol. I, October, 1879, pp. 5-7, CW 105-06]
This spirit of tolerance includes both scientific and religious beliefs:
In conclusion, we may state that, broader and far more universal in its views than any existing mere scientific Society, it has plus science its belief in every possibility, and determined will to penetrate into those unknown spiritual regions which exact science pretends that its votaries have no business to explore. And, it has one quality more than any religion in that it makes no difference between Gentile, Jew, or Christian. It is in this spirit that the Society has been established upon the footing of a Universal Brotherhood. [What are the Theosophists? The Theosophist, Vol. I, October, 1879, pp. 5-7, CW 106]