James LeFevour – USA
Modern Theosophy would not exist without Occultism. Not only were many of its most influential members in the early formative years occultists, most notably being the co-founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky herself, but the very foundation of most of its teachings comes from occult knowledge.
The intention of the early members was that the Theosophical Society would not always rest upon any charismatic authority of occult ideas by blind faith, but that those original ideas would spur the public into using their own sense of logic, and even the scientific research available, to create their own opinions regarding the greater questions in life. The occult platform which the early Theosophical Society used to counteract dogmatism and popular spiritualism was taught as a starting point for the freedom of thought. Even if new members were to completely disagree with all occult ideas put forth, giving the public those true teachings would compel them to reflect and either agree or disagree. The hope remained that with the information the Society encouraged everyone to study, they could come to the willing conclusion that we are all brothers and sisters. The central influence early Theosophists wanted to impregnate all Western minds with was the idea of Brotherhood. We all belong to each other and should treat each other as such. If one were to disagree with that simple idea of connectedness and equality, regardless of one’s non-dogmatic methods, most T.S. members would conclude that person as misguided.
The Understood Greatness of True Occultism
The inherent problem with learning occult teachings as a backbone, or even just a starting point, toward open-minded inquiry is that, as the odds might indicate, the inquirer is not an occultist. To be more forthcoming, that hallowed achievement is likely not going to happen in this lifetime or the next for the average person. In the colorful phrasing of the “Old Lady”, Helena Blavatsky, “Some imagine that a master in the art, to show the way, is all that is needed to become a Zanoni...Will these candidates to Wisdom and Power feel very indignant if told the plain truth? It is not only useful, but it has now become necessary to disabuse most of them and before it is too late. This truth may be said in a few words: There are not in the West half-a dozen among the fervent hundreds who call themselves ‘Occultists,’ who have even an approximately correct idea of the nature of the Science they seek to master.” (from Occultism vs Occult Arts)
Thus the question: Why should the average person learn of it at all? Wouldn’t all Theosophical students be better off having never heard of Occultism in the first place?
H. P. B. conveys that the occult sciences provide much for the simple student of ethics and causality, even though they may not become a practitioner of the higher occult arts. It is the same as when a Westerner learns about the laws of karma or comes to a basic comprehension of thought power. After coming to any deep understanding about how the universe works, it brings about changes in every action and premeditation for the responsible adult. And hopefully, understanding such higher truths changes one’s behavior and approach to life towards a much more altruistic direction.
Occultism is not about siddhis, and it is also not just about spiritual perfection. Occultism is about causality. It is about learning that pushing one domino leads to the last domino also falling over. That is necessary knowledge for anyone in a human skin. When the population of the world is capable of learning that they are much more powerful than they think they are, choicelessness is no longer an option, and the correct choice is altruistic Brotherhood. That is Theosophy.
In an article by H. P. B., entitled Practical Occultism, she directly addresses “the essential difference between theoretical and practical Occultism; or what is generally known as Theosophy on the one hand, and Occult science on the other...” The majority of the article is a listing of Occult laws and practices, and the purpose of writing such an article to Western audiences has a great amount of subtext to any who are paying attention. Not only do those (again, about six or so) occultists that are in practice not need for her to spell out the rules to them, but least of all would they learn it from an English periodical. She lists these rules for the theoretical Occultist, synonymous as she mentioned, with a Theosophist. She states them in plain language so that those with the acumen and accountability can follow the golden rule a little further, or at the very least follow a more Hippocratic one so that we do not unintentionally harm others.
To distinguish Theosophy from Occultism more clearly, she explains, “Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the meta-physical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbour than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer--is a Theosophist.”
To elucidate the definition of Occultism she explains, “It should never be forgotten that Occultism is concerned with the inner man who must be strengthened and freed from the dominion of the physical body and its surroundings, which must become his servants. Hence the first and chief necessity of Chelaship is a spirit of absolute unselfishness and devotion to Truth; then follow self-knowledge and self-mastery. These are all-important; while outward observance of fixed rules of life is a matter of secondary moment.”
And as a warning, she describes the consequences of prematurely approaching the study of Occultism. If one is not entirely pure, or has not conquered the lower self with the higher it will only exacerbate ones base desires and intentions. What should come from a place of spiritual altruism degrades into astral attachments. Black magic and sorcery, even unintentionally executed selfish willpower, often becomes the result. And so the student sees a much broader necessity for Theosophy in human evolution. All spiritual beings over the course of their evolution, lifetime to lifetime, will learn the universal tenets of Theosophy one way or another. Organizing the tenets into a system and a doctrine is a way to get everyone to grow up spiritually more quickly and benevolently.
To Imagine a Theosophical Society without Occult Teachings
Even though the Theosophical Society is not even 140 years old at the time of this writing, it could be said that the keeping of history and historical records is a fervent pastime for some of its members at all stages of its development. And what good fortune this is so, not only because twists and changes occur so frequently in the Theosophical Society’s progress, but because much of what is advised by its leaders requires a great deal of context to actually apply.
The Theosophical Society, for example, exists independent of the divine philosophy known as Theosophy or any of its doctrines and teachings. In fact, the only requirement besides the membership fee is the belief in the objects, in existence since the inception of its Original Programme. Without proper historical context, this has led some members to think that since a belief in any specific teaching is not necessary for Theosophical Society membership, the organization may as well be viewed as entirely separate from the doctrines of Theosophy and their practice.
However, if the Society were truly viewed as separate from Doctrine, what would be left? There would be little forward momentum keeping the heart of the Theosophical Society beating at all. Imagine an international organization with many quaint yet well stocked libraries of rare volumes, but no one ever applied the knowledge beyond writing ontological articles or giving lectures for the sake of discourse. They would host occasional interfaith ceremonies and prayer services featuring a variety of local religious leaders. It would be very much like a town activites center only for anything loosely spiritual, and the members would have little in common as far as motivation beyond the fact that they all have a similar affection for the atmosphere.
It sounds nice in a way, except that the Universalist Unitarian church does something similar, and the Theosophical Society has a purpose which is very different. For the Theosophical Society, something like this would represent a slow death. Or perhaps not death, if there are still three good working Theosophists in the world, but it certainly would come to lack productivity. The common goal necessary, with which every lodge can work independently of each other and yet still know they are all working for the same thing, is the means toward achieving Brotherhood. The means to get to that goal could have been any number of things, but for the TS it has become the education of Theosophy. There are many organizations that work toward Brotherhood, like the Peace Corps for example, or the Girlscouts, or as mentioned the Unitarian Universalist Church. The Theosophical Society teaches Theosophy, and those who choose to may apply those teachings to their lives, but it is not a requirement to be a member.
The Theosophical Society must always encourage the study of Theosophy, and must only encourage the study of the Theosophy. Dogmatism is nothing more than a presumption of authority, and Theosophists can be just as guilty of it as the rest of the world if they are not careful. However if a member of the Society can come and go through its hallways without ever hearing about the laws of Occultism, being encouraged to peruse Isis Unveiled, or encountering some ideas from The Secret Doctrine or The Mahatma Letters, then the Society has failed that member. If its members believe it is only a house for the study and comparison of other faiths, then they have missed the point of this approach. That being stated, almost all spiritual practices and studies have a place within the Society. Even astrology, movie watching, or a cooking class could be considered Theosophical practices if they are done with the right spirit in the hearts of the practitioners.
From a certain perspective, the entire “experiment” that is known as the Theosophical Society could be paraphrased with the axiom “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.” In this case, the horse is humanity and the water is an understanding of Brotherhood. Perhaps a better motto would be “You can lead a TS member to Theosophy, but cannot make him awaken.” No one can force humanity into a recognition of its many faces. Not even Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Krishna, or the Buddha. A belief in Jesus only yields one with a wonderment of Jesus, and even though the disciple cannot understand what his messiah is explaining, he will bow down and mimic the words. Even the right answer, without allowing a person to work out the conclusion for themselves, is not the right answer. And so we have the Theosophical Society - a house where people can study in the name of Brotherhood, until they realize that all religions are pursuing the same thing, which is an experiential Oneness.
Theosophy proposes that human beings can understand what Brotherhood means, and they are capable of realizing its implications, if those who are teaching it have a little patience. The Theosophical Society shows its members the water and waits for that aha moment where they realize that Cosmogony and Anthropogenesis are fascinating studies on their own, but they are only functional in the capacity that they are glowing neon arrows pointing to the revelation that we are all One!
A Theosophical Society without Fear
“But if the two Founders were not told what they had to do, they were distinctly instructed about what they should never do, what they had to avoid, and what the Society should never become. Church organizations, Christian and Spiritual sects were shown as the future contrasts to our Society.”
This quote from The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society very well embodies many devoted members’ greatest fear. That being the fear of having its principles and teachings used to create an actual church or cult, and misusing the doctrines entrusted to its members by twisting them into some form of misguided dogma. The idea of calling it an actual fear may seem like a very strong word, but a spade is a spade, and a fear is a fear.
When the Liberal Catholic Church was being formed and promoted by members of the TS Adyar, it had many critics insisting that they had created the very anathema to what the founders intended. The voice of the critics was that of fear talking. It is viable to assess whether or not it was a good idea, or even whether it was entirely necessary, but to accuse it of being antithetical to the purpose of the Theosophical movement? Flapdoodle.
“The Theosophical Society was chosen as the corner stone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity.” This well-known phrase was not stated idly, nor scribed by any common person. There is no reason not to believe the Liberal Catholic Church to be the first of many future religions, each conducive to Theosophy in its own way. As long as there is no dogma, and each member is free to interpret the esoteric meaning of liturgy, symbol, or allegory in any way - that faith does fulfill the intention of the Theosophical movement.
In the article Is Theosophy a Religion?, H. P. B. explains that Theosophy cannot be a religion because Theosophy is religion. “It transmutes the apparently base metal of every ritualistic and dogmatic creed (Christianity included) into the gold of fact and truth, and thus truly produces a universal panacea for the ills of mankind... Because Theosophy can be practiced by Christian or Heathen, Jew or Gentile, by Agnostic or Materialist, or even an Atheist, provided that none of these is a bigoted fanatic, who refuses to recognize as his brother any man or woman outside his own special creed or belief.”
The problem with her logic, in regards to practitioners of other faiths being able to practice Theosophy, is that most of those religions are dogmatic. To put it another way, if someone is at first a dogmatic Christian (as many Westerners are) before they come to study Theosophy, then after they find the inner meaning of their own faith they will reject the dogmatic aspects of their original religion. They then become what could be called a Christian Theosophist, and would no longer be in harmony with whatever branch of dogmatic Christianity they originally claimed to be. From a Western religious definition, this makes Theosophy a competing religion.
In H. P. B.’s time the pendulum of public understanding was in a different place. There was no Western popularization of the Bahai faith or a Unitarian Universalist Church, and the nuances of Buddhism were still being introduced (mostly by Theosophists); in fact, the definition of religion at that time was more accurately synonymous with the word dogma. However, now there are many non-dogmatic faiths in public view. The West is moving forward, and in no small way in thanks to the efforts of the Theosophical Society.
One modern public definition of religion is as follows: “A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
The only part of that definition not applying to Theosophy is in regards to devotional observances, and that seems to be flexible in this context. Of course, this is just one definition. And this article is not suggesting that “non-dogmatic religion” is a perfect term fit to define Theosophy, but neither is the word “philosophy” because no philosophy has built within its teachings doctrines on Cosmogony or Anthropogenesis. It is more accurate to say there is no word yet in the English language that could acceptably define what Theosophy is to the public understanding. But the Theosophical Society should not be so wary of being defined as a religion when it is done so; there is no reason to fear it, because by some more modern definitions it is accurate.
Theosophy has been accused of being a “pseudo-religion” by its attackers, and ironically that seems to now be a closer term describing it than the one it gives itself. Blavatsky said, “Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning is that which binds not only all MEN, but also all BEINGS and all things in the entire Universe into one grand whole. This is our Theosophical definition of religion; but the same definition changes again with every creed and country, and no two Christians even regard it alike.” And so the definition of “religion” will continue to change as the human race progresses. Do not let the Theosophical Society be the one obstinately against this change, for it is a manifesting result of the seeds so diligently sown by the Society’s own efforts. It is a success!
One thing the Theosophical Society should have great concern for is to never become irrelevant. In order to accomplish this it is important, in the information age, to clearly define what it is here for, and what it provides that is different from the many altruistic organizations that have become our allies since its foundation in 1875. While some of the founders’ goals have been achieved, like that of an appreciation for the wisdom of India and a dispelling of the Spiritualist misteachings, the world still needs the Theosophical Society just as much as ever.
The surest bridge between Brotherhood and Occultism is still made by Theosophy. And the Theosophical Society, among being many things, is still an excellent vehicle through which to spread those divine teachings to a much more open-minded public than in the past. Should they call it a religion is of no consequence, as long as they walk away knowing that there are many methods toward Brotherhood, and that Theosophy is very much an encouraged practice to attain that goal.