Theosophy and Its Evidences, Part II

Annie Besant

TE Besant

A contemplative Annie Besant

Taking up our investigation at the point at which we left it last month, we have to seek evidence for the statement that a body of doctrine exists, which has been secretly handed down from generation to generation, and has been the basis of the great philosophies and religions of the world.

As to the existence of such a Secret Doctrine, the ancient world no doubt felt. What were the famous "Mysteries," whether in India, Egypt, Greece, or elsewhere, but the unveiling to the selected few of the doctrines so carefully hidden from the outer world? As said Voltaire, "In the chaos of popular superstitions, there existed an institution that has ever prevented man from falling into absolute barbarity: it was that of the Mysteries." Dr. Warburton also, "The wisest and best men in the Pagan world are unanimous in this, that the Mysteries were instituted pure, and proposed the noblest ends by the worthiest means." These Mysteries, we learn from Cicero, were open only to the upright and the good, "An Initiate must practice all the virtues in his power: justice, fidelity, liberality, modesty, and temperance."

Originating in India in pre-Vedic times, the Mysteries were reserved as the reward of virtue and wisdom. Such were the virtues exacted from all candidates for initiation:

Resignation; the act of rendering good for evil; temperance; probity; chastity; repression of the physical senses; the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; that of the superior soul (spirit); worship of truth; abstinence from anger.

Later in the Institutes of Manu:

No one who has not practiced, during his whole life, the ten virtues that the divine Manu makes incumbent as a duty, can be initiated into the Mysteries of the Council.

In Egypt, the same strict rules of conduct were inculcated. Ere the neophyte could become a "Khristophoros" and receive the sacred cross, the Tau, he must know and observe the rules.

Never to desire or seek revenge; to be always ready to help a brother in danger, even to the risk of his own life; to bury every dead body; to honor his parents above all; to respect old age and protect those weaker than himself: to ever bear in mind the hour of death, and that of resurrection in a new and imperishable body.

The very names of the great Initiates of Greece are eloquent as to the intellectual and moral heights attained by these mighty men of the elder world: Pythagoras, Thales, Democritus, Euclid, Solon, Plato, and Archytas. With others like Apollonius of Tyana, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, these names give us some idea of the stature of the Initiate of old.

Now, it is beyond doubt that in ancient time the distinction between exoteric and esoteric teaching was strictly observed.

In Buddhism we find the "doctrine of the Eye" and the "doctrine of the Heart." We read how Gautama, the Buddha, entrusted the secret teaching to his disciple Kasiapa, and how Ananda preached abroad the doctrine of the Eye, while the "Heart" was left in the possession of the Arhats -- the Masters of the Hidden Wisdom.

Pythagoras divided his students into two classes, for the reception of his doctrines thus classified. Ammonius Saccas had his "higher doctrines," and those who received them were bound by oath not to divulge them to the outer world. The "Books of Thoth," in the keeping of the Initiates of Memphis, were the treasury from which Pythagoras and Plato gathered their intellectual riches, and Thales and Democritus culled their knowledge. At Sais, Lycurgus and Solon were trained in the principles of legislation, going back to their own land as Initiates, to lay the legislative foundations of ancient Greece.

In the Hebrew nation are manifold traces of the same traditional hidden wisdom. Abraham, its founder, was a great astronomer and arithmetician, according to Josephus, who also claims as a reference to him the passage in Berosus about a Chaldean "skillful in the celestial science." The great Jewish scholar Maimonides claims that the true meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures is esoteric: 

Whoever shall find out the true meaning of the Book of Genesis ought to take care not to divulge it. This is a maxim that all our sages repeat to us, and above all respecting the work of the six days. If a person should discover the true meaning of it by himself, or by the aid of another, then he ought to be silent; or if he speaks, he ought to speak of it but obscurely, in an enigmatical manner, as I do myself, leaving the rest to be guessed by those who can understand me.

Origen deals with the Old Testament in similar fashion: 

If we hold to the letter, and must understand what is written in the law after the manner of the Jews and common people, then I should blush to confess aloud that it is God who has given these laws; then the laws of men appear more excellent and reasonable.


What man of sense will agree with the statement that the first, second, and third days, in which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon, and stars, and the first day without a heaven? What man is such an idiot as to suppose that God planted trees in paradise, like a husbandman? ... I believe that every man must hold these things for images, under which a hidden sense lies concealed.

Paul speaks in like manner, saying of the two sons of Abraham, "which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants." He goes on to show that Hagar was Mount Sinai and Sarah "Jerusalem, which is above."

The Zohar denounces those who read the sacred writings in their literal sense: 

Woe be to the man who says that the Doctrine delivers common stories and daily words ... Therefore we must believe that every word of the Doctrine contains in it a loftier sense and a higher meaning. The narratives of the Doctrine are its cloak. The simple look only at the garment, that is, upon the narrative of the Doctrine; more they know not. The instructed, however, see not merely the cloak, but also see what the cloak covers.

The Essenes, we learn from Josephus, only admitted candidates into their order after a prolonged probation, and then bound the successful neophyte by "tremendous oaths" that he would not (among other things) "discover any of their doctrines to others, no, not though any one should compel him so to do at the hazard of his life." Jesus is said to have reserved his special teaching for his chosen disciples, "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables."

Paul, who, using a well-known metaphor, calls himself a "a wise master builder," says that he and his fellows "speak wisdom among them that are perfect," i.e., that are fully initiated, and describes this wisdom as "the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom." Clemens Alexandrinus says, "The mysteries of the faith are not to be divulged to all," and speaks of hiding "in a mystery the wisdom spoken, which the Son of God [the Initiate] taught."

Mme. Blavatsky says in ISIS UNVEILED: 

Among the venerable sect of the Tanaim, or rather the Tananim, the wise men, there were those who taught the secrets practically and initiated some disciples into the grand and final mystery. The MISHNA HAGIGA, second section, says that the table of contents of the MERCABA "must only be delivered to wise old ones." The GEMARA is still more emphatic. "The more important secrets of the Mysteries were not even revealed to all priests. Alone the Initiates had them divulged."

It would be easy to multiply testimonies to the existence of this body of doctrine, at least down to the fourth century A.D. The triumph of the illiterate exoteric side of Christianity then swamped it, as far as Europe was concerned, and we only catch glimpses of its continued transmission by the occasional divulging of secrets of nature -- "great discoveries" -- by wise and learned men who, by the ruthless persecution of the Churches, were compelled to hide their lights carefully under bushels.

In the Middle Ages, we hear of "alchemists," "magicians," "atheists," and "learned heretics," from whom impulses came towards rational learning, towards the investigation of nature. We generally find, on investigation, that they have some connection with the East, whither had retreated for safety, under the tolerant rule of Buddhism, the guardians of the Hidden Wisdom, to be in security until the storm of Christian persecution had exhausted itself by its own fury.

The knowledge of physical nature was indeed part of the instruction received during preparation for the higher initiations. The wonderful astronomical calculations of the Hindus, their zodiacs, and their cycles are matters of common knowledge. In the fifth degree of the Egyptian neophyte, he was instructed in chemistry, including alchemy; in the sixth, he was taught astronomy. The knowledge of Pythagoras on the globular form of the earth and on the heliocentric system was imparted to him during his preparation for full initiation. So were the secrets of alchemy to Democritus of Abider.

The extraordinary life of Apollonius of Tyana, called the Pagan Christ, is familiar to all students. He also passed through the discipline of the Mysteries, the supposed "journey to India," related by Philostratus, being but an allegorical account of the neophyte's experience as he treads "the Path." As "Master," he was at once teacher and healer, like others of the Brotherhood.

It is curious to find Justin Martyr, in the second century, asking: 

How is it that the talismans of Apollonius have power in certain members of creation, for they prevent, as we see, the fury of the waves, the violence of the winds, and the attacks of wild beasts? How is it that while tradition alone preserves our Lord's miracles, those of Apollonius are most numerous, and actually manifested in present facts, to lead astray all beholders?

This was a strange testimony from an opponent, although Apollonius worked no "miracles," but only utilized purely natural powers, which he understood, but that were unknown to the people around him.

Is it without significance that the disappearance of the Mysteries coincides with the beginning of the intellectual darkness that spread over Europe and deepened into the night of ignorance of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries? Is there nothing strange in the contrast between the literary, scientific, and philosophic eminence of Hindustan, Persia, Chaldea, Egypt, and Greece with the arid waste of the early Middle Ages?

The dead letter triumphed over the living spirit. The crust of dogmatic religion hardened over philosophy and science. The exoteric symbol took the place of the esoteric truth. The latter -- though hidden unregarded as is its image, the heart in the human body -- the very Heart of civilization and of knowledge, whose unfelt beatings alone circulated the life-blood in the veins of human society, that Heart was paralyzed in Europe. The paralysis spread to every limb of the body politic and social.

From time to time, a throb was felt. There was Roger Bacon, the marvelous monk who mastered mathematics and astounded Europe by his chemical discoveries. He made gunpowder and predicted the use of steam as a motor, drawing his knowledge from his study of the ancients.

Paracelsus came back from his captivity in Tartary a learned physician and "magician," curing, as at Nuremberg, "incurable" cases of elephantiasis, laying in Europe the foundations of the practical use of magnetism in curing disease, writing on medicine, botany, anatomy, chemistry, astronomy, as well as on philosophical doctrines and "magic." He was the "discoverer" in Europe of hydrogen, and it is asserted that knowledge of oxygen is also shown in his writings. Van Helmont, his follower and disciple, is described by Deleuze as creating "epochs in the histories of medicine and physiology." From Paracelsus, the great impulse came that started medicine, chemistry, and the study of electricity and magnetism on the lines along which such triumphs have been won in modern times.

Closely interwoven with his wonderfully suggestive theories on these sciences were his philosophic teachings, teachings fundamentally identical with Theosophy. His language and terminology, adapted to the conditions of his times, may often mislead and disconcert. If his ideas are studied, rather than the dialect in which he clothes them, it will be found that he was in possession of true knowledge and had been instructed by the wise, passing, as Madame Blavatsky says, in ISIS UNVEILED, "through the true initiation."

Some say the proof of the existence of a great body of philosophic and scientific doctrine in the past demonstrate nothing as to its existence in the present. Say it once existed. Say schools held in temples taught it and handed down for thousands of years from generation to generation of hierophants. Say we can catch glimpses of its continued existence in Mediaeval Europe. If so, it is not reasonable to suppose that it disappeared wholly in the course of a few centuries after enduring through millenniums. It is not reasonable to suppose that the long succession of faithful men suddenly ended leaving no inheritors, and that the vast mass of accumulated knowledge, so loyally guarded, so carefully cherished, suddenly went down into nothingness, all the garnered experience of humanity vanishing like the "baseless vision of a dream."

This body of doctrine in the hands of the Masters of Wisdom, heirs of the great Hierophants of the Past, is still reachable by those who are strong enough to take on themselves the old obligation of the Neophyte: TO KNOW; TO DARE; TO WILL; AND TO KEEP SILENT.

The study of comparative mythology has done much to prove the assertion of the Theosophist that the great world religions have, as basis, the same occult truths. The Kosmic Trinity, the "Father-Mother-Son," with its correspondence, the human trinity, Atma-Buddhi-Manas, and its reflection on the material plane -- so brutalized in the comparatively modern degradations of phallic worship -- is the "Church's one foundation," by whatever name the "Church" may be called. As Dr. Hartmann puts it:

The doctrine of the Trinity is found in all the principal religious systems: in the Christian religion, as Father, Son, and Spirit; among the Hindus as Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; the Buddhists (Vedantins) call it Mulaprakriti, Prakriti, and Purush; the Persians teach that Ormuzd produced light out of himself by the power of his word. The Egyptians called the first cause Ammon, out of which all things were created by the power of its own will. In Chinese, Kwan-shai-yin is the universally manifested Word, coming from the unmanifested Absolute by the power of its own will, and being identical with the former. The Greeks called it Zeus (Power), Minerva (Wisdom), and Apollo (Beauty). The Germans, Wodan (the Supreme Cause), Thor (Power), and Freia (Beauty). Jehovah and Allah are Trinities of Will, Knowledge, and Power. Even the Materialist believes in Causation, Matter, and Energy.

The subject is too familiar to enlarge upon. It is the stock in trade, these myriad trinities, of every student of religion. Note further how these trinities always spring from ONE, and mystically continue One. The Persian Trinity has as its forerunner Boundless Time-and-Space. The Hindu trinity is but aspects of the supreme Brahma. The Vedantin has Parabrahm, the Absolute, whereof Mulaprakriti is as a veil. The Greeks had Kronos, greater than was Zeus.

The trinity is ever the creative aspect of the ONE. Even in Christianity, with its uncompromising anthropomorphism, the Son "begotten" by the Spirit "proceeds" from the "Father." Although outside of time and space relations, there is yet a gleam of the idea of the original undifferentiated One.

Again, in all religions "God" incarnates. Theosophy teaches of the "Pilgrim" incarnating throughout countless cycles, the divine entity that is the human Self, learning its lessons of experience in the school of the universe. This Self was the Khristos, crucified in matter, and by its voluntary sacrifice redeeming the lower selves from animality, saving such part of the personalities as could assimilate themselves to it, and weaving these into its own immortality.

In the Mysteries, this pilgrimage was dramatically shown in the person of the neophyte passing his initiations, until at last, stretched cruciform on floor or altar of stone, he lay as dead, to rise as the Hierophant, the Sun-Initiate, the "risen Khristos" or Christ. In many a form, this story has been related as religious dogma, but whether Mithra, Krishna, Bacchus, Osiris, or Christ, the varying name has been but another new label for old truth. Whom they ignorantly worship, him declare we.

The symbols of the creeds are but esoteric glyphs, used in modern times without understanding. The tau, or cross; the waters of baptism; the ringed light round head of saint; the serpent, whether of light or darkness, image of God or devil; the virgin Mother, clothed in the sun and the moon about her feet; the archangels and angels; the recording angels and the book of life. From the Hidden Wisdom of the Sacred College, they are all legible in their entirety only to the trained eye of the Seer.

Whence arises all this similarity if there is no identity of origin? The Theosophist finds the ancient symbols decorating the sacred places of antagonizing modern creeds, each claiming them as exclusively its own. It is wonderful that he sees in all the creeds branches from a common stem, that stem being the truths taught in the Mysteries, known to have been once established and revered in all the countries now possessed by the rival faiths.

The evidence by experiment is chiefly valuable to those who have conducted or seen the experiments, but there is an accumulating mass of this evidence available second-hand to those who have no opportunity of carrying out direct personal investigations. There is the power of conveying a thought from one brain to another at a distance, without any of the ordinary means of communication. One might obtain knowledge by clairvoyance or clairaudience, which others can verify afterwards. Another power permits one making an object appear and disappear at will, as far as onlookers are concerned. There is the power of projecting a simulacrum to a distance, seen and heard by persons there present. One brings back information that subsequently found correct. One might move articles without contact. Another might render an object immovable. There are other powers, in well-nigh endless variety.

More easily accessible are the phenomena obtainable by the use of mesmerism and hypnotism, with the separation of consciousness from brain-action, the immense stimulation of mental faculties under conditions that would a priori negate any exercise of them, the reducing of brain-activity correlated to the augmenting of psychic activity.

Experiments of this sort are useful as helping to establish the independent existence of the Intellectual and Spiritual Self, as an entity joined to, but not the mere outcome of, the physical body. They are useful also as demonstrating that the consciousness of the individual is far wider and fuller than the ordinary consciousness of everyday life, that memory covers a far larger field than the remembered of our usual active mind.

The result of pursuing this line of study, the consideration of these obscure and little understood phenomena, will be a growing desire to find some theory that will draw them into rational relationship with the rest of a universe of law, which will correlate them, and present them as the normal working of natural causes. Theosophy does this great service to the intelligence. Accepted as a working hypothesis or temporary guide in experimentation, it will be speedily justify its acceptance, easily verified by its alignment with facts.

The evidence from analogy needs, of course, to be worked out in detail, step by step. It is impossible to do more here than hint at the use to which this tool may be put. Let us take as example the seven-fold planes of the universe and the doctrine of reincarnation.

In studying the material world of which we are a part, we find the constant emergence of the number seven. Split up a beam of white light, and we find the seven colors of the spectrum. Take the musical scale, and we have seven distinct notes in progression, and then the octave. Take the periods of gestation, and we find them occupying set numbers of lunar months, i.e., of multiples of seven. Take fevers that run a definite course and we find that course to be a multiple of seven. Crises of madness show this recurring seven. The moon marks its stages in sevens, and has served as the basis for our seven-day week.

All these sevenfold periods can scarcely be matters of mere chance, mere coincidence. In a universe of law, they are surely likely to be the outcome of some deeply seated principle in nature. Reasoning by analogy, the seven-fold division is likely to exist in the universe as a whole, even as in its parts.

Beyond this, for the moment, we may not be able to go, for the bearing out of the analogy by the observation of facts on the cosmic planes is beyond the faculties of the ordinary man as at present developed. There are men so highly evolved that they can observe on the higher planes as we on the lower, but we are not now concerned with proofs only obtainable by years, nay by lives, of patient endurance and study.

Once again, in studying the material world, we note the frequent correlation of the relatively permanent and the transitory. A tree will last for a century, putting forth yearly its crop of leaves, leaves that wither as the finger of autumn touches them. The leaves pass, but the tree endures. So the fern stem or the bulb will send up year by year its seasonal growth of frond or flowers. The seasonal growth perishes with the season, but the plant dies not.

Tree and plant live through their periods of manifestation, giving birth to innumerable lives, the outcome of the central individual. So is it, Theosophy teaches, with man. As an individual, he endures throughout his period of manifestation, putting forth the leaf-crop of innumerable personalities, which die while he remains. The leaves perish. They do not revive when the breath of the spring tide awakens nature. They are rotting in the ground, and it is their successors, not they, that cover the tree with its glory.

So is it with the personalities. They perish, and for them there is no resurrection. The leaves, living their life through spring and summer and autumn, gather from air and draw up from soil substances that they fashion into materials for the growth of the parent-tree from which they spring. The parent draws these elaborated materials from them. The virtue and the use of them are over ere the keen knife of winter's frost cuts them off. Likewise, the personality gathers knowledge and experience from its contact with the world, transmuting them into forms that the enduring individual can draw from it. When the knife of death severs it from the parent trunk, all that it has gathered of true materials for the growth of the Ego shall have passed over into its keeping, each life ere it perishes thus adding its quota of nutriment for the Man who does not die.

In this fashion, would time and space permit, I might continue, gathering hints of the unseen from the seen, catching whispers of the Eternal Mother, musical with the truths hidden beneath her veil. This paper intends to incite to study rather than to teach the student, to suggest rather than to convince, to win audience for Theosophy rather than to expound its doctrines.

Science tells us how a myriad cords may be stretched and mute, as a note of music comes pulsing through the empty air, making motion where there was stillness, sound where silence reigned.

Here and there as if in answer, the music swells past the many silent unheeded, sounding out a note in harmony, in rhythmic responsive to the master-tone. It comes from those few cords that have the same vibration-frequency, and are therefore set throbbing as the note peals by them, giving it back in music deep and melodious as its own. It is not the fault of the note as struck that some fail to answer, but rather in the incapacity of the strings to vibrate in unison.

Among human souls in every generation, many will remain dumb as the organ-note of Theosophy thrills out into the silence. For them, it will die away unheeded into empty air. One, here and there, will feel the throb of the music, and give back in clear full resonance the chanted tone. For such the note is sounded, the call is given.

Let those who can hear, respond.

[From LUCIFER, February 15, 1891, pages 481-89.]

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