John Vorstermans – New Zealand
Our world today
Theosophy is not new to the world. Some say there have always been those amongst us seeking the divine wisdom or theosophia. However history shows that the term Theosophy was used as far back as the third century by Ammonius Saccas and Plotinus who founded the Alexandrian school of Neoplatonism. The modern-day Theosophical Society was founded in 1875. Its declared three objects are:
1. To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
2. To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science.
3. To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.
The Society presents for consideration ideas, distilled from the study and experience gained from exploring these objects over the last 140 years. Some of these ideas came from the founders of today’s Theosophical Society, while others are based on a study of the Sacred Texts of the world, from modern science and philosophy. The Theosophical Society does not require its members to accept all or indeed any Theosophical teachings. The motto of the Society is “There is no religion higher than Truth.” The term “religion” in that motto refers not only to churches, but to any system of belief or ideas – including the Society’s own statements on Theosophy.
Most Theosophical members agree generally on the basic ideas and ideals of Theosophy, but they are free to reject any of them and to interpret all of them according to their own worldviews. Yet the Society does offer a view of life that is remarkable for its comprehensiveness, coherence and timelessness, a contemporary formulation of an ancient Wisdom Tradition that is the basis for a satisfying, productive life that enables those who follow it to discover their own inner nature and to contribute to the welfare of the world.
Although this Wisdom has been offered throughout the ages under various names and in many languages, its essence is fundamentally the same, however much its outer aspects and manner of presentation may vary. It especially points to the reality of an underlying unity and brotherhood and the imperative necessity of practising it; but it also gives insight into the unexplained around us and helps the development of our latent powers; it is the inner harmony of religion, philosophy, art and science.
The Philosophy of the Theosophical Society
The Society not only promotes an underlying unity of life but also fosters religious and racial understanding by encouraging the study of religion, philosophy and science and enquiry into the spiritual aspect of life. The Society stands for a complete freedom of individual search and belief while promoting a willingness to examine any concept and belief with an open mind, and respect for other people’s understanding.
In the modern Theosophical movement the word ‘Theosophy’ has been used with different meanings:
It is frequently used to describe the body of teachings that were given through Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB) and other Theosophical writers. This body of knowledge is frequently called "modern Theosophy" (with a capital T).
It is also used to refer to the universal Ancient Wisdom underlying all religions, which can be found at their core when they are stripped of accretions, deletions and superstitions. This is sometimes referred to as “ancient” or “timeless” theosophy.
These two usages refer to a body of teachings transmitted by different sages, in different parts of the world and at different times.
It is important to note that the intellectual study and daily practice of Theosophy is only a means to reach the real theosophia or inner enlightenment. As we become more mindful of this, we open the door to a flash of insight that comes from the part of us that is Divine. The process of becoming more and more receptive to these theosophical insights is the spiritual path or journey.
Some Theosophical Ideas
Modern Theosophy postulates that the field of existence embraces more than this material world and the passing reality we perceive through our senses. In fact, a lack of knowledge about higher aspects of reality makes us see things from an incorrect perspective, which is the root cause of suffering. We can gain knowledge of the Real, both in the universe and in human beings, by means of a holistic spiritual practice that includes study, meditation and service.
The Theosophical Society does not ask its members to adhere to the basic ideas that the Theosophical literature offers for consideration or any ideas in particular. Members are only expected to be in agreement with the Three Objects of our organisation. Here are some basic ideas of Theosophy:
Ultimate reality is a unified whole – absolute, impersonal, unknowable and indescribable.
The universe in which we live is manifold, diverse, constantly changing, relative (which means that each part has meaning and value only in relation to others), and illusory or ‘mayavic’ (that is, its reality differs from its appearance).
The ultimate reality is the source of all consciousness, matter and energy, which are its three mutually necessary aspects in the manifest universe and are present in every being and every particle. There is no dead or unconscious matter.
The universe and everything in it are emanations or expressions of the ultimate reality, not creations out of nothing by a personal creator.
The universe is eternal, but with innumerable worlds periodically manifesting within it.
The physical universe of which we are normally aware is only one aspect of the total universe, which consists of multiple planes, fields, or dimensions of being – coexisting, interpenetrating and interacting aspects of the whole. Of the seven planes of our solar system, human beings function primarily on the lower three: physical, emotional and mental.
The universe and everything in it are orderly, following patterns of regular cycles, including alternating phases of activity and rest, governed by a universal principle of cause and effect or karma. In human life, this principle of cycles is expressed, among other ways, by repeated rebirths or reincarnation.
Evolution, which is the result of an inner and intelligent guidance expressed through personal effort, is good, has purpose and follows a plan.
Our material forms are evolving, but so is our conscious knowledge of the universe and our spiritual awareness of our basic unity with all life.
We are composite beings; we have a number of independently evolved principles or faculties whose development is a purpose of evolution. In both the universe and us, there are seven such principles.
We are threefold beings: (1) a temporary, single-lifetime personality, (2) an abiding, evolving individuality that reincarnates, and (3) a spark or direct emanation of the ultimate reality. The integration of these three aspects is the driving force of our evolution.
The process of evolution, which begins by unconscious impulse, must eventually become a conscious process directed by the free will and ever increasing self-awareness of the evolving entities. The conscious participation by human beings in evolutionary change is symbolised as walking a path.
The key to the advancement of human evolution is a dedication by the individual to the service of others, that is, altruism – an awareness of brotherly unity and a forgetfulness of personal separateness.
The pain, cruelty and frustration we experience in life are the result of ignorance, unbalanced actions, relative dislocations, or change; they are not independently existing evils.
It is possible, as a result of individual effort in this life, for human beings to come, by intuitive knowledge or mystical experience, to a full awareness of their non-separateness from the ultimate reality.
Correspondences, analogies, meaningful connections and patterned repetitions exist among all things in the universe. By using those correspondences, we can use what we know to discover the unknown.
Behind the exoteric or public forms of all religions and religious philosophies there exists an esoteric or inner teaching that holds such concepts as those listed here.
In The Key to Theosophy, Section 4, the Relation of the TS to Theosophy. HPB wrote:
“Theosophy is the shoreless ocean of universal truth, love and wisdom reflecting its radiance upon earth... The Theosophical Society was formed to show mankind that it exists.”
To be sure, this “shoreless ocean” is not the exclusive possession of the Theosophical Society; it exists everywhere and has always been available to the fearlessly questing mind. Some of the central concepts of this universal truth have, however, been formulated more specifically in the literature of Theosophy, and their totality is coherently set forth in Theosophy, which has a special relevance to our times.
Blavatsky has also been reported as saying that the study of the great universal principles of Theosophy requires a special kind of mental effort that involves “the carving out of new brain paths.” It is not always easy for us, with our conditioned minds, to submit to so rigorous an undertaking, but once we have overcome our reluctance and inertia, we may find it the most exciting adventure of our lives.
[This article appeared in the December 2015 issue of TheoSophia, the official magazine of the TS in New Zealand.]