The Uniqueness of Theosophy

Geoffrey Farthing – England

In these latter days Theosophy as such, i.e. as given us by the Masters directly or through H. P. Blavatsky, is seldom seriously studied. These original teachings have become ousted by or confused with later teachings, mostly personalized views but some claiming direct inspiration from a Master or Masters. Those who subscribe to these later teachings are content that they have authentic material. That there are radical differences between their views and Theosophy proper could for them be somewhat disquieting but for the most part they are ignorant of the differences.

So what does Theosophy have that the others have not? First, we must understand it as a great outpouring at the end of the nineteenth century of some knowledge of true Occultism or aspects of the Wisdom Religion of which some parts had never before been made public in the history of the world. The release of information was against the tenets and beliefs of established religious teachings, philosophies, even scientific writings, at that time. The religious systems then existing included the great scriptures of India. There had been traditional teaching by gurus in the Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Zoroastrian and Jain modes for centuries if not millennia. In one way or another these scriptures and those of some other religions included ideas of a transcendental Deity, reincarnation, and Karma particularly as it related to individual men. The great world Teachers were true mystics, and in their schools and ashrams they brought many hundreds of aspirants up through various degrees of enlightenment up to even the highest.

It could be argued that these teachings are sufficient in themselves and that they are all we need to know of Theosophy, but are they? Against this historical background let us see what happened at the end of the nineteenth century. We know that at that time there was a considerable and widespread interest in spiritualism, of which there were various branches. Some were concerned only with phenomena, others attempted to establish a kind of philosophical religious system which demonstrated survival after death. These ideas were merged with those of the then traditional ideas of an anthropomorphic Deity, which was particularly prominent in the current ideas on heaven. There were also some ‘occult’ or secret societies, all operating independently of one another and each with its characteristic literature, teachings and practices.

In amongst all this came the Theosophical Society and then slowly the introduction of the idea of the Masters of the Wisdom by way of letters and articles by H. P. Blavatsky. 1877 saw the publication of Isis Unveiled, a great work of two volumes of over 600 pages each. These volumes comprised a series of articles of an esoteric flavor introducing ideas which had never before been publicly discussed. Against a background of very extensive knowledge these articles introduced the reader to some aspects of Occultism which applied to the then extant philosophies, science and religion. They also added a new dimension to them. After 1877 H. P. B. wrote further articles and letters. The articles have been collected together and published in a series called the Collected Writings edited by Boris de Zirkoff. There are fourteen volumes and an index. The content of these voluminous writings ranges over a whole variety of subjects in the literary, religious and scientific fields. In particular there was much that was specific about Theosophy as such and its newly formed Society. Some of the latter material is couched in very inspirational terms, as anyone familiar with the content of these writings will know.

Amongst other things H. P. B. gave out an explanation of spiritualistic phenomena from an esoteric viewpoint, containing material never before made public. This was supplemented by information on the hierarchies of beings and the planes of Nature. The writings also contain guidance on the path to discipleship. Some of the ‘dark’ sayings of Jesus including his parables are explained by Esotericism which sheds a completely new light on them. The writings also discussed a number of the more obscure aspects of Christianity and other religions. There are articles on the Kabala, Rosicrucianism, Masonry and other such topics, all against a background of an emerging occult view not included in traditional writings.

Whilst H. P. B. was engaged on this work Mr. A. P. Sinnett was receiving from the Master К. H. a series of more than 100 letters (including a few from the Master M) setting out the framework of a philosophy which was completely new to the profane world. These letters included specific information about the great cycles of existence which set the stage for our present cosmic scene and include the coming into being of our earth, about Rounds and Races and much else. They gave a detailed description of the after-death states and processes - also never before made public.

The Letters contained the sevenfold classification of man’s principles, later used by H. P. B. in The Key to Theosophy. These not only laid down and described the elements of man's inner being but established a nomenclature, an enumeration of the principles which is used throughout the vast theosophical literature. These Letters ended in about 1885 and thereafter, apart from H. P. B.’s articles, there was no major outpouring of theosophical knowledge direct from the Masters. Then came H. P. B.’s master-work. The Secret Doctrine, in two volumes, about 600 pages each, the volumes being entitled Cosmogenesis (Vol I) and Anthropogenesis (Vol II). The first significantly expanded the teachings extant in the exoteric Eastern religious literature, including the ‘creation’ theme and the nature of the Absolute. The idea of there being two Unities was propounded: the unmanifest One (the Absolute) and the periodically manifest One (the ONE ALL), the latter forming the basis of all existence regarded by many as the total Cosmic Maya. The Secret Doctrine goes on to explain how everything thereafter comes to be and to be as it is. This account has regard to the ancient eastern teaching of the Akasha, but expands it with information on the nature and function of the Elementals.

All this ‘Becoming’ of the One Life, by way of an infinity of forms is all subject to the direction of the One Universal Divine Law, eternally operative. This Law includes all aspects of Karma as used in other religious works but it clarifies many obscurities and exposes much that is erroneous in them. Reincarnation is included in the workings of the Law; a proper understanding of which involves a knowledge of the sevenfold constitution of man.

In Anthropogenesis the whole evolutionary process of life on earth is unfolded with particular reference to man. This information is much misunderstood by those students who tend to regard all that is said in The Secret Doctrine as applicable only to the physical plane. It is this plane which is being specifically investigated by science. The S. D. deals with life on the inner planes of existence which corresponds exactly to the ‘principles’ of man’s constitution. The cosmic process of Life ever-becoming is unimaginably long, in terms of earth time many millions of years. Vol II is the story of the evolution of life in its various forms on various globes, as well as in the subjective realms. This process covers periods of time never dreamt of by orthodox science. All this information was absolutely new when it was first divulged in these writings.

Towards the end of her life, H. P. B. wrote The Key to Theosophy, forming in brief, in question and answer form, an outline of the main tenets of Theosophy, stressing its practical applications. She followed this quickly with The Voice of the Silence, a unique inspirational book of descriptions of the path and instruction for the serious pilgrim.

The foregoing is merely to whet the appetites of the truly inquiring students, who would explore the depths of our theosophical teachings. The advent of Theosophy in these terms was indeed a world event. Another unique feature about this outpouring was that the Masters concerned gave it out either by themselves or through H. P. B. under their direction. She had periods of intense training and developed remarkable psychic and spiritual faculties and from about the age of 40 until she died at the age of 59 she devoted her whole life to the task. This involved her in a sacrifice of her health and entailed much suffering.

The story of her writing of these enormous works is an epic in itself. Never before had the inner hierarchy made so much information directly available. No other world teacher had ever written anything. What we have of their teachings was what was remembered and written by their followers sometimes generations later. In the case of Theosophy, we have the literature actually uttered by the Masters through H. P. B. as an amanuensis, and that in itself makes it unique. From the start some Indian pundits opposed the writing of The Secret Doctrine (see S. D. I, Introduction, by de Zirkoff, pp 45-96). This may have had Karmic results, for example, is it not significant that The Secret Doctrine has not been translated into an Indian language and so cannot be studied there in the vernacular? There are no doubt initiated Brahmans but they are under a vow of secrecy so the the actual content of the 5. D. in many aspects is little known in the East.

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