Theosophical Encyclopedia

PYTHAGORAS

TE 6 Pythagoras

A pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived circa 582-507 B.C. Although the neo-Platonists Proclus (circa 232-304) and Porphyry (410?-484) both wrote biographies of him, little is known historically about his life. He was born on the Greek island of Samos, but migrated to Italy (called Magna Graecia in his day) and founded a school at Krotona, which taught an esoteric doctrine to a group of disciples who revered Pythagoras as a demigod. He and his ideas appear frequently in Theosophical literature, such as The Secret Doctrine and Isis Unveiled by Helena P. Blavatsky, The Masters and the Path by Charles W. Leadbeater, and The Lives of Alcyone by Leadbeater and Annie Besant. In the last two books, Pythagoras is identified as a previous incarnation of Mahātma Koot Hoomi, one of Blavatsky’s teachers.

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PLATO

 

TE 4 Plato

An ancient Greek philosopher (circa 428-348 or 347 B.C.), one of only two whose writings are still extensively studied today (the other being his pupil Aristotle). He is referred to more frequently in Helena P. Blavatsky’s writings than any other philosopher and is identified, as is Confucius, both there and in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, as a “fifth Round man,” far advanced “psychically, mentally and spiritually” of the average person today (SD 1:162; Mahatma Letter 66 [Barker, 14]). His philosophical ideas are presented in a series of twenty-four dialogues, in most of which the main character is his teacher, Socrates. Thirteen letters are also attributed to him, though scholars believe most are forgeries, except the largely autobiographical seventh (and, some believe, at least parts of the third, eighth, and thirteenth). Plato also wrote a funeral oration, Menexenus, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. The speakers are Socrates and Menexenus, who is not to be confused with Socrates’s son of the same name (Wikipedia). The literary quality of his dialogues, especially from the early and middle periods, are unexcelled by any other Western philosopher, although some (notably Berkeley and Hume) attempted to write philosophy in that style.

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ARISTOTLE


TE 2 Aristotle

An ancient Greek philosopher who lived 384-322 BCE, one of only two philosophers from that period whose works are still extensively studied today, the other being his teacher, Plato (427?-347 BCE). In fact, throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Aristotle’s ideas, especially in the realm of political philosophy, predominated. He was born in Stagira, Ionia, so is sometimes referred to as “the Stagirite.” His father, Nicomachus, a court physician to Amyntas II, king of Macedon, died when he was just a boy; he was raised by a guardian, Proxenus, who sent him to Plato’s Academy in Athens when he was seventeen. After his studentship, he joined the faculty of the Academy and taught there until Plato’s death. When Plato’s nephew, Speusippus, succeeded as head of the Academy, Aristotle and several others left. During the next few years, he made zoological investigations in various places in the Grecian world.

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Biblical Criticism

The study of issues surrounding the texts, composition and history of the Bible.

TE 2 Biblical Criticism Gutenberg Bible
Gutenberg Bible

A meaningful interpretation and study of the Bible must assume that the texts are correctly identified, dated, copied, transcribed, and translated. How do we know, for example, that the Gospel of Luke is actually written by Luke and not by someone else? How do we establish the dates when the various books were actually written? Which one is more accurate – the modern Hebrew Tanakh or the Greek Septuagint Old Testament (which added books not found in the present Hebrew Bible)? Are some Bible verses interpolated by scribes and which were not in the originals? Are the meanings of certain words understood differently twenty centuries ago as compared to their meanings many centuries later? Are the historical accounts in the Bible accurate?

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Evolution and Involution

EVOLUTION. The changes in the properties of organisms or systems in time. The word is commonly associated with biological evolution, based on the theory proposed by Charles Darwin in 1859 regarding the observed mutation of living organisms due to “natural selection.” The theory was simultaneously propounded by Alfred Russel WALLACE after years of investigation on the flora and fauna of Indonesia.

TE 4 Evolution and Involution

Theosophical literature uses the word to refer to a process that refers not only to biological development but also to cosmic systems such as galaxies or solar systems, as well as to the progressive unfoldment of consciousness in organisms.

Biological Evolution. Darwin formulated the theory of evolution as a result of his observations of the apparent mutation of animals and plants in adapting to different environments mainly through a process that he termed natural selection. In each succeeding generation of any species, there are genetic variations that result in different characteristics from the previous generation. Some of these variations survive, others do not, depending upon their ability to cope with the environment as a result of these changes. For example, some moths whose coloration changed that enabled them to look similar to their environment are able to elude their predators better. Thus, according to Darwin, evolution follows the principle of “survival of the fittest.”

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Philalethians

The group of mystics and philosophers founded by Ammonius Saccas in 193 CE. The term means “lovers of truth,” and the school became known as the Neo-Platonic school. The group included Plotinus, its most famous exponent. It was also called the Eclectic Theosophical School, which Helena P. Blavatsky considered to be the precursor of the modern Theosophical Society (TS).

TE 6 Philalethians
Ammonius Saccas

The Philalethians had their division into neophytes (chelas) and Initiates or Masters; and the eclectic system was characterised by three distinct features, which are purely Vedantic; a Supreme Essence, One and Universal; the eternity and indivisibility of the human spirit; and Theurgy, which is Mantricism. So also, as we have seen, they had their secret or Esoteric teachings like any other mystic school. Nor were they allowed to reveal anything of their secret tenents, any more than were the Initiates of the Mysteries (CW 14:309).

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Mythology

From the Greek mythos meaning tale, talk, fable. All ethnic groups have mythology or folklore enshrined, some in writings, some in oral tradition and some in both. From the Australian Aborigines to the Zulus of Africa tales of heroes and villains are told around campfires that have been handed down for hundreds, in some cases, thousands of years. The universality of myths suggests that they perform an essential function in all nations. Plato states in the Phaedon and the Gorgias that myths are the vehicles of great truths well worth the seeking. Rudolf Steiner, a nineteenth century German mystic and Theosophist, stated that “myth is the collective dream of the people.”

TE 8 Mythology

Scholars have interpreted myths in many contrasting ways, as allegories, as the romanticized stories of long dead kings, as the “seeds” of the religions and as the personifications of human traits. Max Müller described myths as a “disease of language”; a somewhat untenable view that contributed little to the debate (quoted in the E.B. ed. 1970, p. 1133). Mircea Eliade suggests that, “The myth defines itself by its own mode of being. It can only be grasped, as a myth, in so far as it reveals something as having been fully manifested, and this manifestation is at the same time creative and exemplary since it is at the foundation of a structure of reality as well as of a kind of human behavior. A myth always narrates something as having really happened as an event that took place, in the plain sense of the term — whether it deals with the creation of the World or of the most insignificant animal or vegetable species” (Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, 1960, p. 14/15).

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