Nicholas Weeks – USA
[This article is based on a talk given in April 2010 at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California by the author. References to Echoes of the Orient are from the revised version, 2009-2010.]
Many ideas have been presented by both the modern and ancient Theosophical Movement. Yet there are three which should stand out in the thought-life of this world. Since these three ideas are radiant with goodness we must continually rescue them from oblivion. Here is how William Q. Judge described them:
“The first idea is that there is a great Cause — in the sense of an enterprise — called the Cause of Sublime Perfection and Human Brotherhood. This rests upon the essential unity of the whole human family, and is a possibility because sublimity in perfectness and actual realization of brotherhood on every plane of being are one and the same thing. All efforts by Rosicrucian, Mystic, Mason and Initiate are efforts toward the convocation in the hearts and minds of men of the Order of Sublime Perfection.
The second idea is that man is a being who may be raised up to perfection, to the stature of the Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate. This noble doctrine was in the mind of Jesus, no doubt, when he said that we must be perfect even as is the Father in heaven. This is the idea of human perfectibility. It will destroy the awful theory of inherent original sin which has held and ground down the western Christian nations for centuries.
The third idea is the illustration, the proof, the high result of the others. It is, that the Masters — those who have reached up to what perfection this period of evolution and this solar system will allow — are living, veritable facts, and not abstractions cold and distant. They are, as our old H.P.B. so often said, living men. And she said, too, that a shadow of woe would come to those who should say they were not living facts, who should assert that 'the Masters descend not to this plane of ours.' The Masters as living facts and high ideals will fill the soul with hope, will themselves help all who wish to raise the human race.
Let us not forget these three great ideas.” [Echoes of the Orient II, 12; Irish Theosophist III, Feb. 1895, 73]
In this article the focus will be on the first idea, the deep purpose our human existence has - spiritual evolution – or as Judge put it – “the convocation in the hearts and minds of men of the Order of Sublime Perfection.”
For most of the human race a purpose or meaning to life is dwarfed by self-cherishing and limited to this lifetime, this family, this body and the current ethos.
As the poet Dowson wrote:
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Nowadays, hostility to any sublime aim to our life is strong amongst many thinkers and so-called philosophers. Why is it that so many very smart folks require a mental life defined by the five senses? Perhaps it is a correct insight, that fear of the unknown realm of spirit or soul is not the problem, but it is a fear of losing this known, sensory, personal world. As support for this insight, based on fear of losing our humanity, here is John Passmore at the end of his historical survey called The Perfectibility of Man:
“Men, almost certainly, are capable of more than they have ever so far achieved. But what they achieve, or so I have suggested, will be a consequence of their remaining anxious, passionate, discontented human beings. To attempt, in the quest for perfection, to raise men above that level is to court disaster; there is no level above it, there is only a level below it.”
Let us now see what the “friend of all creatures” (as Judge was called) offers as seed-thoughts which will not only reduce attachment to our “discontented” lower nature, but also foster this great Cause. Such thoughts and ideas that will help unfold an understanding of each person's profound, vast and divine nature. That godly nature gives our lives a powerful and noble meaning. These ideas were not original with Judge, but neither is Theosophy original.
“The first object of our Society is the formation of a nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood. This is a practical object and at the same time a fact in nature... When the Theosophical philosophy shows that there is a unity among beings not only in their better natures but also on the physical plane, our first object becomes most practical. For if all men are brothers in fact, that is, joined one to another by a tie which no one can break, then the formation of the nucleus for the future brotherhood is something that has to do with all the affairs of man, affects civilizations, and leads to the physical as well as moral betterment of each member of the great family.
This first object means philanthropy. Each Theosophist should therefore not only continue his private or public acts of charity, but also strive to so understand Theosophical philosophy as to be able to expound it in a practical and easily understood manner, so that he may be a wider philanthropist by ministering to the needs of the inner man. This inner man is a thinking being who feeds upon a right or wrong philosophy. If he is given that one which is wrong, then, becoming warped and diseased, he leads his instrument, the outer man, into bewilderment and sorrow.”
By “right or wrong philosophy” I do not think Judge meant there is only one “right” and many “wrongs”. As long as the inner man is nourished by noble ethics and spiritual ideas, that is, thoughts, words and deeds that are selfless and uplifting, then whatever philosophy, religion or path provides them, they will lead away from suffering.
“As Theosophical theories...are still quite strange, fascinating, and peculiar,... very many members have occupied themselves with much metaphysical speculation or with diving into the occult and the wonderful, forgetting that the higher philanthropy calls for a spreading among men of a right basis for ethics, for thought, for action. So we often find Theosophists... debating complicated doctrines that have no present application to practical life. At the same time other members and enquirers [are] breathing a sigh of relief when anyone directs the inquiries into such a channel as shall cause all the doctrines to be extended to daily life and there applied.
What we most need is such a Theosophical education as will give us the ability to expound Theosophy in a way as to be understood by the ordinary person. This practical, clear exposition is entirely possible. That it is of the highest importance there can be no doubt whatever. It relates to and affects ethics, everyday life, every thought, and consequently every act.…”
We Theosophists need not and should not explain, nor attempt to explain or expound, to most ordinary inquirers, the highly metaphysical and obscure, though important, basis of our various doctrines. We need to touch people in their daily life.
“High scholarship and a knowledge of metaphysics are good things to have, but the mass of the people are neither scholars nor metaphysicians. If our doctrines are of any such use as to command the efforts of sages in helping... their promulgation, then it must be that those sages — our Masters — desire the doctrines to be placed before as many of the masses as we can reach. This our Theosophical scholars and metaphysicians can do by a little effort. It is indeed a little difficult, because slightly disagreeable, for a member who is naturally metaphysical to come down to the ordinary level of human minds in general, but it can be done. And when one does do this, the reward is great from the evident relief and satisfaction of the enquirer.
It is pre-eminently our duty to be thus practical in exposition as often as possible. Intellectual study... of our Theosophy will not speedily better the world. It must, of course, have effect through immortal ideas once more set in motion, but while we are waiting for those ideas to bear fruit among men a revolution may break out and sweep us away. We should do as Buddha taught his disciples: preach, practice, promulgate, and illustrate our doctrines. He spoke to the meanest of men with effect, although having a deeper doctrine for greater and more learned minds. Let us, then, acquire the art of practical exposition of ethics based on our theories and enforced by the fact of Universal Brotherhood.” [“What Our Society Needs Most”, The Path, Vol. VII, September 1892, pp. 185-7; Echoes I, 279-81]
End of Part one -- To be continued