Tim Boyd – India, USA
I would like to discuss the Theosophical Society, the organization that came into being as the vehicle for the communication of “Theosophy”, a word that has never really been defined. Sometimes it makes things a bit difficult for us when people ask what is Theosophy. On occasion I have thought that it would be nice to have a brief, concise answer. But we have not been given that, and probably, it is good that we have not.
This is not to say that certain definitions have not been put forward at different times, particularly by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (HPB). I am drawn to two in particular: the one where she speaks of Theosophy as being the “accumulated wisdom of the ages, tested and verified by generations of seers”. That sounds very specific and concise. Certainly, it addresses the experiential nature of Theosophy, because it is verifiable and can be tested. But then, the question arises, what is this “accumulated wisdom of the ages”? If we are not calling it “Theosophy”, we are calling it by some other name, but still leaving it undefined.
HPB also made the comment on one occasion that Theosophy is “altruism, first and foremost”. This takes it to a more practical level. The practice of conscious, compassionate activity, which we identify as service, might come close to defining applied “Theosophy”. By its very nature, Theosophy is limitless, not bound by time, by particular concepts, or the language by which it has been expressed throughout time. To some extent it is easier to speak about what Theosophy is not, than what it is.
When the Theosophical Society (TS) was founded in 1875 it was the occasion at which Theosophy, in our contemporary sense, was reintroduced to humanity. It had never gone anywhere, nor disappeared, but the particular form in which we now encounter it was introduced as an elaboration on that which existed before. It has always been present, never diminished, but mostly unseen, unrecognized, and necessarily limited in order for us to grasp some measure of what it might be. When you experience it, you know it, but trying to put into words what it is, is a problem. HPB had that problem; the Buddha himself had the same problem.
The legend has it that the Buddha, at the moment of his enlightenment, had a profound realization that he could not possibly communicate the nature of what he had experienced. Initially, his decision was not even to try, because he thought we would not be able to understand it. Obviously, he changed his mind, and attempted for the next fifty years of his life to engender the experience of enlightenment through various means, geared toward a variety of human temperaments. This Wisdom Tradition has been periodically reintroduced to address human capacity as it develops, and to address human need at various different times in our unfoldment. We find ourselves in one of those moments when Theosophy, in its fullest form yet, is available.
During her lifetime HPB was plagued with the realization that the world was not ready for the Wisdom Teachings that she came to share. In fact, she said that it would be 100 years before it would be possible for us to grasp these teachings. She spent the last years of her life in London, where she wrote her master works with which we are familiar: The Secret Doctrine, The Voice of the Silence, The Key to Theosophy — an explosion of writings about Wisdom.
At that time she gathered around her-self an inner group of twelve people that she began to teach with the hope that the theosophical message could find a true home within their hearts, where it could be experienced and then expressed. She commented in her initial writings about the founding of what was then to be the Esoteric Section (which later became the Esoteric School), that the TS was two diametrically opposed things: a “stupendous success” in terms of popularizing theosophical ideas, but also a “dead failure” in terms of the Theosophy that was the intent of those who sent her to share it – a lived and experienced expression of a universal kinship, or brotherhood.
When The Secret Doctrine was published, a regular and growing group of inquirers gathered around HPB in question-and-answer sessions about the meaning of this work. Years after her death, the notes that one of the participants, Robert Bowen, had taken during those meetings were found among his papers by his son. Over the years they have become familiar to most theosophical students. Sometimes they have the title “Madame Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy”, and other times “The Secret Doctrine and Its Study”. These are very short notes, fascinating comments, less than ten pages in length.
HPB was very much aware that what she had come to bring could not be understood during the brief span of her lifetime. When asked about The Secret Doctrine, one of the things that she said was that it is just a small fragment of the greater Wisdom Teaching that is known to those of a higher level of development. She also said that it was “as much as the world is capable of receiving through the next century”. This is profound, seems to be very direct, clear, and understandable. If she had said this to us, we would have probably let it go at that, but somebody raised the question: “You say that this is all that the world is capable of receiving, but what do you mean by ‘the world’?”
Her answer was: “The world is Man [humanity] living in [its] personal nature.” The world is that amalgamation of the minds of all of us living in our personal nature. That perhaps is clearer. “Personality” being the body, the emotional nature, the lower mind, the desire realm, kâma-manas, all those terms are used to describe the ordinary level of conscious-ness within which we function.
The progression of Theosophy as we have come to know it has passed through a variety of ways in which it has been expressed. To many, it began and ended with HPB. But the fact is that, as things moved along, Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater arose. This second wave of Theosophists made the sincere attempt to link these teachings to contemporary science, and to make the teachings more accessible. So you had Occult Chemistry, Thought Forms, the various ideas related to evolution, and the growing influence of Darwinian evolutionary thought.
Some of these links that were attempted were excellent, some of them, with time, did not hold up as well. But still, the ideas, concepts, language, that did not exist previously, were being developed and elaborated. This is the trend from Blavatsky, Olcott, Sinnett, Judge, and the group that first appeared, moving on to Besant, Leadbeater, Krishnamurti, Sri Ram, Taimni, and others. In every case there has been some, not addition to the teachings or understanding, but the addition of another way of viewing what we call Theosophy, of expressing how it might be of value and capable of being practiced within the Theosophical Society.
One of the great regrets of HPB’s life as a teacher was that she was the one who first introduced the idea of the Masters of the Wisdom to the Western world. It was a foreign concept to Western minds, and by virtue of its seemingly exotic nature it was almost universally misunderstood. This led to the desecration of the names and import of the Mahatmas. In our times we can see how it has even progressed to a commercialization available on the internet. The names of the Mahatmas and concepts related to them have been so bandied about today as to become distorted and trivialized. For one whose esteem and experience with them was so great, HPB’s regret is understandable.
The last letter that was received from the Mahatmas came in 1900 to Annie Besant, in which he wrote: “The cant about the Masters must be silently but firmly put down.” This was because all of the uninformed, hypocritical, and sanctimonious talk was throwing up a cloud of confusion, glamor, hypocrisy, and distorted ideas that deformed any potential benefit.
In thinking about the arc of the TS’s work since its founding, it is worth remembering a clear statement that HPB made regarding a periodic strengthening of the theosophical impulse. The language HPB used was that at the last quarter of every century there would be “an outpouring or upheaval of spirituality”. I had been a member of the TS for one year at the time of the World Congress held in New York City in 1975, the centenary of the founding of the TS.
Many people had come to the Congress from all over the world and, this being the beginning of the last quarter of the century, there was a great anticipation of what direction this new impulse and spiritual upheaval would be coming from. Because HPB had been so emphatic about the nature of the last quarter of the century, many different, sometimes strange, ideas were circulating. Depending on who one talked with, one would hear about everything from a reincarnation of Blavatsky herself, to the appearance of one of the Masters.
One of the luminaries attending the Congress was Geoffrey Barborka, author of a number of significant theosophical books. One of his books was titled HPB, Tibet, and Tulku. The Tulku idea is the one that I would like to consider. Tulku is the process in which an expansive over-shadowing consciousness expresses itself through an individual, or individuals. A familiar example is the Dalai Lama tradition. In that tradition it is said that the consciousness of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) has expressed itself now in fourteen in-carnations of the Dalai Lama. Time after time it incarnates, or expresses itself through its chosen vehicle. Barborka’s contention was that the Tulku process was also in effect with respect to HPB — that her work was an expression of such an overshadowing consciousness.
So in 1975 the question for many was, “where will this overshadowing consciousness be coming from?” Looking back to that time, people were trying to discern who were the individuals bringing this heightened spiritual impulse, or who was the person that came to bring this greater presentation of occult knowledge, as HPB had said. Even now it is difficult to say. However, if we look a little more deeply, think a bit differently, then it might be apparent, for, in every case, this overshadowing consciousness necessarily exceeds any individual. In fact, one of the statements of the current Dalai Lama has been that the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama may appear as multiple individuals. Obviously, consciousness is not limited to any single body or form.
There is a quote from The Mahatma Letters that is worth thinking about. It was written to A. P. Sinnett and, as often was the case, it was an attempt by one of the Mahatmas to get Sinnett to look more deeply, broaden his view, and help him think differently: “There is more to this Movement than you have any inkling of. The work of the TS is linked with similar work going on secretly in all parts of the world.” So when we think of the TS work, it might be a mistake on our part to try to limit it to this organization. As was said to Sinnett, perhaps there is more going on than we have an inkling of.
What was happening toward the close of the 20th century? A short list would include such things as the declaration of “Earth Day” that occurred first in 1970 as a national event in the US. Very quickly it became a globally recognized occasion, now taking place in more than 193 countries and coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. Another powerful idea that took root was The Gaia Theory, in which a group of scientists from varied fields put forward that the Earth is more than a staging ground for a multiplicity of biological processes, but, in the same way that a human being is a greater whole comprised of countless lesser lives (cells, bacteria, and so on), the Earth (Gaia) is a living being, a yet greater life and consciousness within which all the other life forms participate. Out of it came this exploding influence of the ecological movement and environmentalism. The chief characteristic of all of these movements was their grasp and elaboration of the fundamental idea that life is One.
At the closing of the last century there was also the growth of spiritual psychology and transpersonal psychology. A spiritualized feminism came into being with a deeper focus than the difference in bodies that we occupy, but which addressed the suppression of qualities of consciousness which gave rise to oppressive social and relationship structures. So consciousness, and the inner causes which then led to outer effects, became the focus. During the same time the worldwide web came into being — an agency which for both good and ill has had a linking effect on humanity. All of these developments and more were being fed and growing right in front of our eyes. But most missed this “spiritual upheaval” because it was a person that we were anticipating.
This is a brief description of the trajectory of contemporary Theosophy. So, where do we stand now? In the letter from the Mahachohan there are a number of profound statements. In talking about Theosophy, he says: “The true religion and philosophy offers a solution to every problem.” The contention was that theosophical teachings, being true, ultimately will triumph, but the solution to every problem is what he proposed as the expression of a realized Theosophy. The question for us, and it should probably be a question that we ask our-selves daily, is: Where do we stand in relation to this type of radical expression of what Theosophy is intended to be? Has Theosophy solved every problem for us? It is a question worth asking, be-cause “the true religion and philosophy”, the true Theosophy, offers the solution to every problem.
Those who have come before us have passed on something wonderful, unique, of quality, because to the extent that we have been able to test it, it has been verified for us. If this were not the case, we would not be here now. Why bother if the principles have no recognizable effect? It is this aspect of demonstration that is central to the idea of a “solution to every problem”. We have been given vital concepts and ideas that are profound. This forms the initial basis of our study, the initial focus of our meditation.
However, whether they are theosophical concepts, scientific, Christian, or atheistic, there are no concepts with the capacity to solve every problem. If concepts had the capacity for universal solution, then those who are the best read, the most fluent in quotation and reference, would be the enlightened ones. Experience does not bear this out.
So what is it that will point us in the direction that is suggested by the quotation from the Mahachohan? Probably it is not a mystery to anyone that there are a variety of issues around the globe causing enormous suffering for the human family. We do not need to go down a list; we see it all around us. Over 143 years now, we have had the opportunity to gradually inculcate these profound ideas and teachings into the consciousness of our world. However we may conceive of it, the focus of the work of the TS has always been related to Unity – the expression through various means of the oneness of life, the wholeness of being.
The following is something that has been my experience, but I would ask you to consider it for yourself. For anyone who embraces and explores these teachings with sincerity, who allows for a deepening of self-awareness, who engages in the work of coming to know oneself in a non-superficial manner, the unavoidable outcome is that such a person necessarily becomes a healer. By this I do not mean that we take on the practice of some specific form of the healing arts, even though that may be the choice for someone of that temperament. What happens is that our very presence becomes some-thing that heals – the restoration of wholeness occurs effortlessly through our words and thoughts, through who we have become.
When we talk about the unity of all life, it is an expression. We can perhaps describe it, talk about what we mean, but for many people the unity or oneness of life is more than an expression. It is an experience – one which in a partial sense is familiar to almost everyone. Although it may be only momentary, it is often what propels us unto a spiritual path, because such a path is what aligns most closely with our memory of that moment of wholeness. “Unity” and “Oneness of life” are phrases, ideas, which represent something. Behind those words and language there is something else waiting for us. If the Theosophical Society is to be meaningful in this particular moment, it is not going to be because we have a better set of concepts than others. Even though I feel that we do, what is that going to do for us? A gradual inculcation has been taking place. Theosophy, from the point of view of HPB, was something for a time beyond her stay in this world – for tomorrow. I believe that this is that time.
Wherever we come from in the world, the rising challenges that we face today speak to a need for healing, for a consciousness that does not divide, but that can unify. Wherever we see suffering coming into the world, if it is at the hands of someone who is claiming Theosophy, that is not Theosophy. It is not something that divides or separates. The “great heresy of separateness” is what we are here to address, first within ourselves, then it can be communicated outwardly. But until it is in fact addressed, our efforts will be superficial at best.
So this is the arc. We have this history, the blessing of many great individuals who have lived, died, and moved on to make this moment possible. We are in that same process. All of us are here just for a moment. In this brief span we will do what we can for those who are yet to come. But at this particular time, it is well for us to recognize a need and a possibility. To ignore it, does harm to the opportunity that we have been given. This moment calls for healers in the world. There is no teaching or context broader than the one with which we have associated ourselves.
Dig into it! Allow it to dig into you, and watch what happens.