Catalina Isaza Cantor Agnihotri – Colombia and India
[Note from the editor: this series of articles is a "follow up" of an editorial that appeared on Theosophy Forward in July 2021, entitled INTERNATIONAL THEOSOPHY CONFERENCES ... ALAS .... . TO READ ALAS CLICK HERE ]
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement, gave to the world, through her writings and her life itself, invaluable teachings of which the fundamental value is their application in daily life. One of these compendiums of wisdom is the Golden Stairs, the second step of which reminds us of a point of great importance for life and for those who seek to tread the path of self-transformation: "open mind". Since the foundation of the Theosophical Society (TS), the Masters have warned against two things that should not be indulged in: selfishness, which prevents Universal Brotherhood, and dogmatism, which is contrary to an open mind. But what is an open mind?
Perhaps, to give us an idea, we can begin by clarifying what a closed mind would be. We can say that it is a limited mind, to which conditioning, external traditions and values, public opinions, fears, selfishness, etc., have imposed a kind of fence that prevents it from going beyond to question and experience a true relationship with the world. In contrast, an open mind would be one that has no fence and no limits to this relationship, which allows one to examine new ideas and alternatives. The open mind is one that is able to respond with truth because it is free from all hindrance and conditioning, from all impurity. It is able not only to grasp knowledge more directly, to apprehend, but becomes a vehicle for the perception of a deeper wisdom: that which is present in the simplicity of everyday life and which is accessed through intuition rather than intellect. It is the kind of mind that allows us to approach unveiled spiritual perception which is nothing other than the removal of veils through the discernment in which buddhi finds its expression.
Open-mindedness is thus the basis for a fundamental premise within the TS: freedom of thought. Such a principle should be the fundamental attitude of one who claims to be a student of Theosophy. Both, open-mindedness and freedom of thought, are closely linked. The very study and understanding of theosophical literature helps us to open our minds. If we engage in serious study and practice, our mind naturally opens as it gradually frees itself from socially and culturally imposed conditioning, in order to be able to understand what is being studied and to be able to apply it. The understanding and practice of the theosophical teachings as a path of self-transformation necessarily involves a stripping away, an unlearning. Let us remember the words of the Master K.H.:
You have much to unlearn. The narrow prejudices of your people bind you more than you suspect. They make you intolerant (...) they predispose you to lose sight of essentials. You are not yet able to appreciate the difference between inner purity and “outer culture" (Daily Meditations, K. A. Beechey-May 2).
Unlearning involves emptying our mind and rethinking what has hitherto been considered immutable. If we go deeper into this question, we can even see that both open-mindedness and freedom of thought have to do with the realisation of the objectives of the TS. An open mind allows us to examine in depth and comparatively the different religions, sciences, philosophies (second objective). Such a study, in an attitude free of prejudices and conditioning, leads us, through careful and considered examination (with discernment), to realise that there is a common ground.
Realising this on the intellectual plane is a first step and can lead to a realisation, through intuition, that this fundamental unity and common principle is something present on the different planes of existence and that therefore, in a similar way and beyond the outward manifestations of each culture, religion, race, social status, etc., all beings are united by the thread of the One Life. This is a practical realisation of unity in the midst of diversity. This allows us not only to experience universal brotherhood (the first objective), but makes us more inclusive and considerate of the vision of the other. If we are willing to embark on such a journey, it will soon become evident that a learning process has to emerge in order to understand and reduce our prejudices.
In the midst of a fraternal atmosphere it is possible to accept that our point of view is not necessarily conclusive, hence the relationship between fraternity and freedom of thought. Theosophy involves research and intelligent criticism. Having an open mind and a fraternal heart gives us the possibility to transform ourselves in a profound way and to inspire our environment in order to become agents of transformation.
For this reason, it is essential to understand that any attempt to impose one truth upon another or to limit one corpus of study over another within any stream of what we know as the Modern Theosophical Movement limits the freedom of thought that is essential to it, the open-mindedness that its inner founders, the Masters of the Wisdom, warned us to maintain as a guiding principle. Since each of these streams of theosophical thought represents a ray of the shining sun of that Gupta Vidya, it is impossible to say that there are any texts, authors, streams of thought, etc., which are 'more pure theosophy' or 'nearer to the truth' or to the 'original source'. It is up to each serious student of theosophy, with an open mind and through discernment, to find his or her own path to the light.
From this point of view, to limit the possession of Truth to one author, one stream of thought, one book, etc., limits and can become an entrapment which places the mind in a situation contrary to openness and freedom of thought. Madame Blavatsky herself, in the message sent to Judge in 1888, emphasises the following:
Orthodoxy in Theosophy is a thing neither possible nor desirable. It is diversity of opinion, within certain limits, that keeps the Theosophical Society a living and a healthy body, (...) If it were not so, (...) such healthy divergences would be impossible, and the Society would degenerate into a sect, in which a narrow and stereotyped creed would take the place of the living and breathing spirit of Truth.
If any of the several streams or currents having their origin in the modern form of the Divine Wisdom known as Theosophy, which expressed itself materially through the Theosophical Movement initiated by HPB, states that their interpretation or understanding is the only correct one, while limiting themselves to the study of one type of literature or carefully selected authors is dangerous.
On the one hand, it ignores the richness and immense range of possibilities in the writings and thoughts of so many freethinkers and theosophical workers who have tried to contribute from their own experience and living to the contents of Divine Wisdom. On the other hand, it implies a disregard for the principle of freedom of thought which goes hand in hand with the creation of the Modern Theosophical Movement and on which HPB deeply insisted. Her life itself was a living example of this premise:
Valuing freedom of thought above all things, as the only way of reaching at some future time that Wisdom, of which every Theosophist ought to be enamoured, we recognise the right to the same freedom in our foes as in our friends (H.P. Blavatsky. Lucifer, 1890, v. vii, n. xxxvii, pp. 1-9).
I would even go so far as to say that, beyond the texts and currents of thought directly related to the theosophical world and its different streams, it is possible to find gems of wisdom and texts, ideas and authors whose content draws from the direct source of fundamental and transformative spiritual teachings.
As students of Theosophy, we must maintain a dynamism and open-mindedness, we must always be ready to examine, study, question and dialogue: to step out of the comfort zone that a specific corpus can provide. This is the only way in which the Theosophical Movement, society, the individual and the world itself can evolve. Let us remember that everything in the universe is in constant motion, in everything there is life and constant activity. To limit ourselves, then, to a single doctrine, implies stagnation and the impossibility of being an active part of the plan of Evolution.
The attitude of openness, dialogue, dynamism and exchange has been aptly expressed by the term "cross-pollination" which represents possibilities of encounter and growth in all aspects. In fact, this pollination system, when applied to plants, allows for greater genetic diversity and adaptability, a fundamental mechanism in the evolution of systems. And this is valid not only for the plant kingdom, but also for more complex human systems, in which this practice of creative exchange allows the system itself to advance. This is why it is necessary to provide spaces where members of different streams of the Theosophical Movement can meet for a real exchange that takes into account different positions and does not limit itself to only one view, and become dogmatic. Cooperation is essential for growth.
In this sense, it is also interesting to see how even within the theosophical movement itself there are people who profess different religions without this implying a "clash" with the theosophical vision, quite the contrary. Theosophy urges us to be better Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc., because it enables us to understand the common principles they share, it enables us to unveil the profound teachings contained in religious texts, and it urges us to foster fraternity, which, ultimately, should be the true goal of religions.
The very creation of the TS and its expansion and strengthening took place in this spirit of respect and openness. Let us recall the attitude of the founders of the TS when they arrived in India. The first public lecture Olcott gave had as its theme the common ground of religions. From the beginning, the TS had an attitude of unification, study and open-mindedness. If the TS simply remained closed in on itself, not encouraging exchange, cross-pollination, the impact of the Theosophical Movement would not have been so strong for the world and, perhaps, it would have crystallised as just another dogma or would have simply disappeared. Let us recall the words of the master:
It is a universally admitted fact that the marvellous success of the Theosophical Society in India is due entirely to its principle of wise and respectful toleration of each other's opinions and beliefs. Not even the President-Founder has the right directly or indirectly to interfere with the freedom of thought of the humblest member, least of all to seek to influence his personal opinion (The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett n. 85 / Chronological Sequence n. 120).
The influence of the theosophical movement in the 20th century is immense, as Silvia Cranston points out in her wonderful biography of HPB, in the arts, literature, science, philosophy, education and politics. We could say that there is no field that has been untouched by such influence, and we owe this to the attitude of openness, of inclusiveness, of deep examination of ideas, of the Theosophical Movement. If this is to continue, from any of the rays or streams through which that Divine Wisdom shines, without limiting ourselves to identification with one or another institution, author, corpus or authority, it is essential to apply what Annie Besant tells us when she reminds us that any institution that has existed for many years is in danger of crystallising and that this can happen when dogma prevails over free thought and adds:
We must everywhere, in our influence upon the world and our influence over our young members, remember that the life of the Society depends on its remaining a Society in which thought is entirely free, and frank discussion is encouraged. We must en- courage the expression of new thought, the open expression of any new idea (1930).
The fundamental thing, if we really want to live Theosophy, is to serve humanity in a respectful way and to cooperate with whomever it takes to do so, trying to overcome our own limitations. It is in the encounter, from an open and free-thinking mind, that we can access Wisdom in order to realise fraternity and transform our own existence with the aim of transforming the world and building a new humanity.
Beechey, K. (1949). Daily Meditations. Extracts from the Letters of the Masters of the Wisdom. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House.
Besant, A. (1930). The Future of the Theosophical Society. Public Lectured delivered at the Adyar International Convention.
Blavatsky, H.P. (188-1889). Collected Writings. X, P.127. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House.
Blavatsky, H.P. (1890). The Dual Aspect of Wisdom. Lucifer. v. vii, n. xxxvii, pp. 1-9.
The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett. (1923). n. 85 / Chronological Sequence n. 120