Theosophical Encyclopedia


[From Theosophical Encyclopedia; here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 8 Metaphysics

A branch of philosophy that includes cosmology and ontology. The term is derived from an untitled work by Aristotle called merely meta ta physica, i.e. “The book after the Physics.” In it Aristotle claimed to discuss Being in an abstract sense. Since his time, the term has been extended to cover cosmology as well as what types of things may be reliably said to exist, i.e. ontology.

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TE 8 Greek Philosophy

The beginning of Western philosophy is ascribed to Thales of Miletus (6th century BCE), who claimed that the basic element of the universe, from which all other elements were derived, was water. Exactly what he meant by this is unknown, since only fragments of his writings remain and we are not always sure that later philosophers, such as Aristotle who cited his ideas centuries later, interpreted them correctly. Contemporary historians hypothesize that Thales, observing that water was capable of various conditions: solidification (as ice) and evaporation (as steam or vapor) as well as noting the silting process of rivers, came to his conclusion by induction. But that is not at all certain. Mythology often identifies water (understood metaphorically) as the primary element of creation (cf. Genesis 1.2, Rg Veda x.129, verse 1, etc.) as Helena P. Blavatsky points out when mentioning Thales in The Secret Doctrine (SD 1:345 fn and 2:591 fn). Furthermore, she notes that he (and other early Greek philosophers) were initiates in the Mystery Schools (SD 1:117). If that is so, Thales had not abandoned a mythological account of the universe, as is sometimes believed. But certainly the fragments of his writings that we have do not cite myths as a justification for his belief, so this suggests at least a reasoned, rather than a dogmatic, approach to the creation stories of his day. In any event, cosmological speculation was the initial impetus for Western philosophy.



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.




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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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.

Read more: ARISTOTLE

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.”

Read more: Evolution and Involution

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