Similarities and Differences of Theosophical Traditions

Jim Colbert – USA

[This essay was first published in the spring 2014 issue of International Theosophy Magazine. It is reproduced here in a slightly revised form.]


The article you are about to read does not portend to touch the depth and scope of all Theosophical traditions. It is meant to provide a platform for comparison and understanding. It is said by some that the act of recognizing the similarities and differences between traditions can help one to gain a firmer understanding of their own tradition. It is our hope that it will bring forth comments from all traditions with challenges and agreements. We will give focus to the Theosophical Society Point Loma, the Theosophical Society Adyar, and the United Lodge of Theosophists. We are aware there is a significant tradition associated with the Theosophical Society Pasadena. Although they possess an extensive Theosophical library, they do not seem responsive towards the possibility of a greater Theosophical unity at this time. There is also the Alice Baily tradition, Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy and the Liberal Catholic Church. However, rightly or wrongly from our perspective, these traditions appear to have blended with Christianity and it is hoped a separate article should give focus to these traditions. Possibly we will be challenged on this view. Finally, there are multiple other smaller traditions plus “independent Theosophists” that are deserving of recognition. We plan to offer a forum in the future for these views.

Read more: Similarities and Differences of Theosophical Traditions

Voice of the Silence 11 (verses 142-160)

John Algeo – USA

Theosophy The Voice 2

The metaphor of the “three vestures,” introduced in verses 140 and 141, is continued in the following verses.

A. Verses [142-149].

[142] The Shangna robe, ’tis true, can purchase light eternal. The Shangna robe alone gives the Nirvāna of destruction; it stops rebirth, but, O lanoo, it also kills compassion. No longer can the perfect Buddhas, who don the Dharmakaya glory, help man’s salvation. Alas! shall Selves be sacrificed to Self; mankind, unto the weal of units?

Read more: Voice of the Silence 11 (verses 142-160)

Mahatma Letter 120

[The text here is that from The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. and K.H, transcribed and compiled by A. T. Barker, arranged and edited by Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. (Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993).]

Letter Number 120 Received January 1884

[Introduction:] This letter is . . . one of the most important letters in the book so far as the Theosophical Society — especially in the West — is concerned.

The Mahatma has just ordered two telegrams to be sent, one to Mrs. Kingsford and one to Mr. Sinnett, to notify both that Mrs. Kingsford should continue as President of the London Lodge. The telegram to Sinnett is short and to the point: “Kingsford must remain president.”

Read more: Mahatma Letter 120

Gita Class

From a student

The Gita Class” and the Heart of Study

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”.]

The students at the Wednesday afternoon Bhagavad-Gita Class at the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT) in Los Angeles are links in a long chain. Started over 85 years ago, in this class there are no experts, authorities or leaders - only fellow students who consider the text together. How does this work? What is its value? Welcome to the Gita Class!

Theosophy Gita Class 2

Read more: Gita Class

L. Frank Baum and Theosophy — part one

John Algeo – USA

The term “theosophy” or “Theosophy” has two meanings, identified in Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary as “1: teaching about God and the world based on mystical insight [and] 2 often capitalized: the teachings of a modern movement originating in the United States in 1875 and following chiefly Buddhist and Brahmanic theories especially of pantheistic evolution and reincarnation.” Theosophists certainly accept the historical part of the second definition and generally subscribe to all three concepts of pantheism, evolution, and reincarnation. However, they generally regard Theosophical teachings, including the three specifically mentioned as by no means limited to Buddhism and Brahmanism, but rather as the common property of the more general sense of “theosophy,” that is, spiritual teachings about the divine and the mundane that can be found in diverse traditions all over the globe.

Read more: L. Frank Baum and Theosophy — part one

Human Regeneration – part two

The Nature of the Change

Radha Burnier – India

[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, The Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office-bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. The proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration.]

Theosophy - The Nature of the Change 2

Read more: Human Regeneration – part two

In The Light Of Theosophy - Eyes

[This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: ]

Theosophy - In the Light Of Theosophy 2

Eyes are the windows to the soul; they indicate the real you. Self-help gurus encourage us to look deeply into our own eyes. But looking deep into our own eyes, or of another’s can be uncomfortable experience because not all of us are prepared to face the truths revealed, writes Vinita Dawra Nangia. Eyes reveal the emotional state of the person at a particular time. The author writes that sometimes her eyes reveal the presence of a peaceful soul, at other times she saw a cynical old person with a world weary look, or a youthful person full of enthusiasm. She writes that it was like seeing a new person every time she looked into the mirror. The one who peeped from her eyes every morning gave an indication ofwhat she was really thinking and feeling behind the social mask.

Read more: In The Light Of Theosophy - Eyes

Compassion and the Golden Age of Heroes

Keith Pritsker – USA

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]

Why does [government] always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copericus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?

Henry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience

Heroic efforts can be contagious. Dr. Leander Starr Jameson led a raid against the Boars in South Africa’s Transvaal in 1896. The raid was covertly supported by the British Government only to be condemned publicly when it failed. Jameson was imprisoned for 15 months. Nevertheless he returned to South Africa after his release and became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1904. An Indian born writer met him, was inspired by his example, and wrote about the personal qualities that made him unique.

Read more: Compassion and the Golden Age of Heroes

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (an introduction)

John Algeo – USA

[This article was first published in the Friend’s Review of March 1992.]

She was the woman with the magic eyes. Piercingly blue, those eyes looked, not just at, but completely through, anyone she fixed upon. She seemed to see through the surface persona right to the innermost secrets of heart and soul.

Theosophy - Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 2
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Those magic eyes were set in a puffy face crowned with frizzy hair, atop the corpulent body of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, perhaps the most remarkable and influential woman of the last century. Descended on her maternal side from Russian nobility, she had a grandmother who was famous as a natural scientist and a novel-writing mother who was called the George Sand of Russia.

Read more: Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (an introduction)

Human Regeneration - part one

T.S. Work and the Fundamental Change in Man and Society

Radha Burnier – India

Radha Burnier Theosophical Society President

Radha Burnier

[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, The Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office-bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. The proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration .]

Read more: Human Regeneration - part one

The Voice of the Silence 10 (Verses 123-141)

The Voice of the Silence 10 (Verses 123-141)

John Algeo – USA

Continuing an exploration of “The Two Paths,” that is, the Path of self-perfection and the Path of service to others, verses 123 to 134 explore a theme that HPB made central to Theosophy: altruism — the willingness to live, not for oneself alone, but for others. This theme is central to the entire second fragment of the book, but is developed in these passages with special clarity.

Read more: The Voice of the Silence 10 (Verses 123-141)

The Eye and the Heart Doctrine

From a student

[The magazine Vidya, , edited by associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, USA, published in its summer 2013 issue the following article].

Saith the pupil: O Teacher, what shall I do to reach Wisdom?

O Wise one, what, to gain perfection?

Search for the Paths. But, O Lanoo, be of clean heart before thou startest on thy journey. Before thou takest thy first step, learn to discern the real from the false, the ever-fleeting from the everlasting. Learn above all to separate Head-learning from Soul-wisdom, the "Eye" from the "Heart" doctrine

from The Voice of the Silence

To a pupil seeking knowledge of the path to wisdom and perfection, the teacher responds with a distinction between Head-learning and Soul-wisdom and emphasizes the importance of cleansing or purifying the "heart". This distinction, central to the teaching in the sacred text, The Voice of the Silence, is expressed in the metaphorical terms of "the eye doctrine" and "the heart doctrine". Explanations of the two terms can be made at several levels of human development ranging from the highest choices of an enlightened being to the ordinary approaches to learning and the duties of human life.

Read more: The Eye and the Heart Doctrine

Reincarnation: the Evidence

John Algeo – USA

[Originally printed in the Quest 89.2 (March-April 2001): 44-50; here revised.]

Reincarnation has become as American as apple pie, the Super Bowl, and the American conviction that anybody can grow up to be president. In the 1980s, several Gallup Polls established that about a quarter of Americans believe in reincarnation. In early 2001, one of the main e-commerce booksellers listed 649 books for the keyword “reincarnation,” and another listed 836. The widespread interest in reincarnation is a result — to a large extent indirectly to be sure — of its promulgation by the Theosophical Society.

A book on “alternative” or “new” religious movements in this country (Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs, Oxford University Press, 2000) pointed out the disproportionate effect our small organization has had on general thought: “Though the U.S. Census in 1926 found fewer than seven thousand declared Theosophists in the entire nation, that movement had already succeeded in making its views a familiar component of religious thought” (p. 10). “We might for instance observe the spread of ideas of reincarnation and karma, together with associated traditions like meditation and yoga. In the early twentieth century, all of these were associated with Theosophy . . . [but now] the theories have entered the religious mainstream (p. 230).

Read more: Reincarnation: the Evidence

The Ingenious Nature of the Second Object

The Ingenious Nature of the Second Object, and an interview with LCC Bishop William Downey

James Andrew LeFevour – USA

The Liberal Catholic Church aims at being a gnostic church, not in the sense of reproducing certain extravagancies of early Christianity, but in the sense of helping its members to attain for themselves this certainty of knowledge which is the true gnosis of which St Clement of Alexandria wrote.”

- From the Statement of Principles of The Liberal Catholic Church

In the article “Our Three Objects” by H. P. Blavatsky, first appearing in September 1889 Lucifer, she gives an example of ideal success in regards to the Theosophical Society implementing its Second Object. The story she tells is about the younger generation of India, no longer regarding the value of the Hindu teachings as their ancestors, or even as their parents, did. In her own words: “The materialistic and agnostic attitude of mind towards religion in the abstract, which prevails in Western Universities, had been conveyed to the Indian colleges and schools by their graduates, the European Professors who occupied the several chairs in the latter institutions of learning. The text books fed this spirit, and the educated Hindus, as a class, were thoroughly skeptical in religious matters, and only followed the rites and observances of the national cult from considerations of social necessity.”

The cure, as she explains, was to “attack the citadel of skepticism, scientific sciolism, and prove the scientific basis of religion in general and of Hinduism in particular. This task was undertaken from the first and pursued to the point of victory; a result evident to every traveler who enquires into the present state of Indian opinion… Without exaggeration or danger of contradiction, it may be affirmed that the labors of the Theosophical Society in India have infused a fresh and vigorous life into Hindu Philosophy; revived the Hindu Religion; won back the allegiance of the graduate class to the ancestral beliefs…” (

Read more: The Ingenious Nature of the Second Object

In the Light of Theosophy

[This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: ]

We seem to be churning out thoughts all the time. The purpose of a thought is to create, to affect a change and produce a meaningful reality. The potential of a thought has a close and direct connection with its purity. A pure thought is not fragmented, distracted or ripped by doubt and so is powerful. Just like the pure extract of a substance is strong, so that just a drop of it is sufficient, so also, a few concentrated thoughts can produce significant results.

Read more: In the Light of Theosophy

Compassion is everywhere


From a student

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]

Compassionate elephants

We are beginning with trees, with the vegetable kingdom, since below that we do not know how to see the compassion that must be there. But we were able to find this:

Physicist Andrew A. Cochran, in Main Currents in Modern Thought, said scientists have come to realize that there is nowhere a sharp dividing line between living and non-living matter. There is instead an unbroken series of small gradations in complexity that bridge the gap.

Read more: Compassion is everywhere

Chronology of Theosophical Unity

Sally and Jim Colbert – USA


[Location Unknown] Albert E.S. Smythe attempted to bring about “rapprochement among various elements that had branched off.” He found Theosophy through William Q. Judge en route while on a passenger liner to the United States.

According to the history provided by James Santucci (“An Early Attempt at Fraternization, “Keeping the Link Unbroken, Michael Gomes) it was after he had been expelled from the Point Loma Society he contacted G.R.S. Mead, Archibald Keightley, Charles Johnson and Annie Besant calling for an extension of greetings between the societies. To Smythe there were indications that these prominent figures were willing but agreement for this did not come forward from the other groups. Smythe later was a leader in establishing the Canadian Section of the Theosophical Society and became the first editor of the Canadian Theosophist.

Read more: Chronology of Theosophical Unity

Chelas and Lay Chelas


H. P. Blavatsky

[This article was published in The Theosophist 4.10 supplement (July, 1883): 10-11, and reprinted in Collected Writings 4:606-614.]


As the word Chela has, among others, been introduced by Theosophy into the nomenclature of Western metaphysics, and the circulation of our magazine is constantly widening, it will be as well if some more definite explanation than heretofore is given with respect to the meaning of this term and the rules of Chelaship, for the benefit of our European if not Eastern members. A “Chela” then, is one who has offered himself or herself as a pupil to learn practically the “hidden mysteries of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man.” The spiritual teacher to whom he proposes his candidature is called in India a Guru; and the real Guru is always an Adept in the Occult Science. A man of profound knowledge, exoteric and esoteric, especially the latter; and one who has brought his carnal nature under subjection of the Will; who has developed in himself both the power (Siddhi) to control the forces of nature, and the capacity to probe her secrets by the help of the formerly latent but now active powers of his being—this is the real Guru. To offer oneself as a candidate for Chelaship is easy enough, to develop into an Adept the most difficult task any man could possibly undertake. There are scores of “natural-born” poets, mathematicians, mechanics, statesmen, etc., but a natural-born Adept is something practically impossible. For, though we do hear at very rare intervals of one who has an extraordinary innate capacity for the acquisition of occult knowledge and power, yet even he has to pass the selfsame tests and probations, and go through the same self-training as any less endowed fellow aspirant. In this matter it is most true that there is no royal road by which favourites may travel.

Read more: Chelas and Lay Chelas

Secret Doctrine Elements Enhancing Empathetic Healing

Richard Hiltner – USA

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]

The Secret Doctrine has three propositions: Boundlessness, Cyclic Appearance and Disappearance. As above, so below or the identity of all souls with the Universal Oversoul. Being a child of the Boundless, you carry boundless capacities in yourself.








Helena P. Blavatsky [H. P. B.] states in The Secret Doctrine that the elements are very important for our understanding of the Universe and in this paper emphasis is placed on human health.

In H. P. B.’s Collected Writings Volume 12, page 661 (the Esoteric Instructions), she states the seven elements, starting with the most divine Akaśa. It is stated very clearly that everything originates from the Boundless. There are no words that can express the Boundless; and, therefore, nothing can be specifically said in this context. However, when manifestation presents in whatever hierarchy, the Elements originate from the most divine, then the Divine Flame, followed by Ether. Since our senses or perception have no real experience with the preceding three, we will start with the lower four: Fire, Air, Water and Earth.

Read more: Secret Doctrine Elements Enhancing Empathetic Healing

Between Brotherhood and Occultism

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.

James Lefevour Between Brotherhood and Occultism

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)

Read more: Between Brotherhood and Occultism

East – West discovering Dharma

From a Student

Dharma is a Sanskrit word meaning righteousness, moral law, merit, and virtue.

east west dharma Theosophy

Dharma is a sacred law. Dharma is also the natural property of all things. The Dharma of fire is to burn, that of a dog is to bark when it “smells” a stranger. In the case of man, Dharma is a pursuit of one’s regular duty in one’s stage of life. As the man advances in life, the sense of duty progresses in a continuous process. As one takes up new responsibility, one discovers new duty towards the family, profession, and religious, social, national. At every stage, one makes choices with the best understanding within the limitation of one’s knowledge in the given situation.

As one advances in the understanding of Karma, one becomes more conscious and responsible to apply the right thought and action in accomplishing one's Dharma. In others words, there is a continuity from philosophical thought to the application of the correct action in the right way, in a given context, i.e. Dharma.

Read more: East – West discovering Dharma

H. P. B. and the Altruistic Heart

Ananya Rajan - USA

[This talk was given during 15th Annual International Theosophy Conference held in August 2013 in New York. The theme title of the conference was “How to Awaken Compassion? - H. P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine”]

HPB Altruistic Heart

The theme of this conference is “How to Awaken Compassion: H.P. Blavatsky and the Eternal Secret Doctrine.” Keeping the theme of the conference in mind, I think it’s important for us to realize that we are the “Eternal Secret Doctrine.” Within us resides everything we need to know. Our bodies are a living library of ancient cultures and traditions despite not remembering on a conscious level. We come from the Eternal and we will eventually return to the Eternal. All we need to do is look harder. As H. P. B. showed us from her writings, we cannot evolve without understanding who we are. I do not mean from the scientific, psychological or philosophical point of view. These are views from an outside intellectual perspective. To understand the Self is work that must only be done by the individual alone. It is up to the individual to press on, looking harder into their sense of who they are. This can be intimidating for many. We want to believe we know ourselves, but often times we don’t.

Through her life, H. P. B. lived the example of her teachings. She showed us who she was, never gave up when ridiculed, wasn't afraid as a woman to show her emotions---which even in today’s modern world and almost 140 years later is still a source of conversation. A man can lose his temper and be considered justified while a woman is considered emotional. Of course in H. P. B.’s time, women didn't raise their voices. Yet, she courageously stood against the majority, despite being ridiculed. All she wanted to do was to share with us what she was taught and she did that through her life and her life’s work. She lived theosophy and in turn showed us that theosophy needs to be lived. When we live it, it becomes a part of our life and practical. In The Key to Theosophy under the heading of “What is Practical Theosophy,” H. P. B. states that members best help the movement by Theosophy being an example in their lives.

Read more: H. P. B. and the Altruistic Heart

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