Why Study Theosophy?

Alfred Trevor Barker - England 


Theosophy ATB 2 Trevor Barker

The author

[Alfred Trevor Barker (b. October 10, 1893- d. July 17, 1941) was a Theosophist, writer, and lecturer. He is well-known in the Theosophical world for his transcription, compilation and publication of the The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett and The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett. For more details on him go to: ]

Before we can answer this question at all satisfactorily and present reasons as to why we should study Theosophy, we naturally ask ourselves, "What is Theosophy?"

Theosophy is not something new; it is not the invention of one or two men or women, either modern or ancient; it is not a progressive system which is subject to change from day to day, following upon experiments in the realm of science, where any morning we may wake up to find that that which we had thought to be Truth has actually had to be changed, modified, or altered. This is the difference between the Ancient Wisdom and scientific methods.

A passage from our teachings will show you in language much better than I could employ, just where Theosophy comes from:

Theosophy is the Primeval One Truth taught Humanity in the infancy of its Races by every First Messenger -- the Planetary Spirit whose remembrance lingers in the memory of man as Elu of the Chaldees, Osiris the Egyptian, Vishnu and the first Buddhas -- for there was a primeval revelation and it still exists; nor will it ever be lost to the world but will reappear. The Wisdom religion has been Esoteric in all ages; it was ever One and the same and being the last word of possible human knowledge was therefore carefully preserved. It is the substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies -- but its doctrines are the exclusive possession of none of them. They are the birthright of every human soul and pertain exclusively to man's knowledge of his own nature and the higher life of the soul. It was the universally diffused religion of the Ancient and prehistoric world. Proof of its diffusion, authentic records of its history, a complete chain of documents, showing its character and presence in every land, together with the teaching of its great Adepts, exist to this day in the secret crypts and libraries belonging to the Occult Fraternity.

This Ancient Wisdom, which was preserved by the elect of mankind literally from the birth of humanity on this planet, has been restated for us by one of that Brotherhood who was sent to the Western world, and whom we know as H. P. Blavatsky. It was she who founded the Theosophical Society and gave Theosophy to us. Now this does not mean that Theosophy is limited to the writings of Blavatsky. That is not true. You will find the literary records of Theosophy spread everywhere. For example, you will find traces of Theosophy amongst the writings of the early Christian Fathers; you will find it in the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament; you will find it in the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," and in the teachings, literally, of all the great Sages and Seers that the world has ever known. Take the teachings of Gautama-Buddha, for example. From our point of view as Theosophists, there is no difference between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Theosophy, though I must enter one little word of warning in case the record of what the Buddha taught may not be exactly as he gave it in all respects, any more than the record of the teachings of Christ is exactly as he gave them. Nevertheless, whatever we have of the real teachings of these great Masters of Life and Wisdom is Theosophy.

You will find Theosophy in the Upanishads of ancient India; you will find it in The Bhagavad-Gita; and in the writings of Confucius and Lao-Tse. So it is no narrow, sectarian idea of some kind of religious philosophy, but it is literally the essence, both ethical and philosophical, of all the world-religions.

And yet, strange as they may appear, the writings of Blavatsky were not the mere synthesis, if you understand me, of what those different religions contained -- and this is a very important point. If that were so, then you or I, if we had had the brains, could have merely gone through these different records and books and put them together in some kind of fashion, and said: "There, that is your Theosophy!" It would have contained possibly a great deal of Theosophy, but it nevertheless would not be the real thing. That is why I say that Theosophy is the mother-root, the essence, of all these great religions. It is the mother-root from which these great teachings originally came. I want to emphasize this because Theosophy is the Esoteric Doctrine, the real truth about man and the universe; the real truth about the human soul and its pilgrimage, and what we are here for, and what the whole universe is about. These Truths are preserved by a living Brotherhood of Holy Men, and it was that Brotherhood from whom the Great Teachers came. It is that Brotherhood which is the root from which all the great religions sprang -- a root imbedded in the consciousness of living man.

What is the great need of man today? It is not -- mind you -- something that is exclusively a need of our own times but it is particularly emphasized in this moment of the world's history. Every man sooner or later asks himself the question as to the nature of the universe. He comes in conflict with his environment, and he seeks an explanation -- as a rule outside of himself first of all, because we seem to be built that way. If we suffer, we tend to think that the world around us must be wrong, and therefore when faced with problems which to us are unfair, or which seem at a given moment to be insoluble, we start to ask ourselves about the universe!

Therefore the first great reason why we study Theosophy is because it gives us an explanation of the universe around us, an explanation that you will find nowhere else in modern literature. It gives us an explanation of the origin not only of our planet, but of the solar system of which the planet is a part -- aye, and the universe, which is full of solar systems. And by extending, as it does inevitably, our vision of the universe in which we live and move and have our being, we come -- as it were -- out of the little tight box in which -- we recognize after the event -- we were confined, all our life, up to that moment. That is why honestly I can sincerely envy the man or woman to whom at any moment -- perhaps the present -- Theosophy comes for the first time; because I remember what it meant for me when as a very sick man during the Great War. I was in the situation where, suffering very much in all sorts of ways, I sought an answer to the problems of my own life. Sooner or later I believe we all get into this position. Life drives us until we come up against some great enigma, then, if our longing is sincere and true enough, we find Theosophy. It comes as a revelation to the mind, as if one's whole soul were opened to the sunlight for the first time. The effect of this upon me was to get me in touch with the nearest Theosophical library, and no power on earth could have stopped me from taking an armful of books away, and then reading till I had dragged the inside out of them, and absorbed them. That is a wonderful experience, and any one of us can have it. It is part of the work of the Theosophical Society -- in fact, the main part of our work -- to bring to others these truths which have meant so much to us, and to ask them to take them in their turn to still others.

It is quite obvious that we cannot pass on these truths unless we know something about them ourselves. But one of the beautiful things about Theosophy is that one who hears its teachings for the first time reflects upon what he has heard; and then he starts to read for himself a few relatively simple manuals or books, and immediately the mind becomes quickened; the hunger for truth is aroused. The next step is that the longing which is bound to be present in a man or woman who is ready for these teachings must be satisfied, the longing to help all those around him who also are perplexed with the enigma of life, who suffer.

This is the background of experience, therefore, which every server in the Theosophic Cause goes through; because the way for the individual and the race to acquire this knowledge opens only when the human soul has been brought by suffering to the point where the teaching is received as a trust, as something more precious than earthly gold or jewels, something which is to him literally the breath of life. Every one of us has received these teachings from the work and efforts of others, and as we receive them we make of ourselves a chalice into which gradually the outpouring of the Life of the Spirit flows. But our life obviously has to be cleansed of its material propensities; we have to empty ourselves; the vessel in which we would hold the waters of life and give them to others must be made a clean vessel -- otherwise, we cannot give clean water to those who seek it.

One of the great reasons for the study of Theosophy is that in the process, in the effort -- and it demands an effort -- the psycho-mental, emotional, passional part of man's organization and being begins to be purified. You cannot study this philosophy unless in the process the mind becomes gradually purified of its dross. Then, like a bird, it begins to soar: rising out of the mire of the lower personal life, often indeed to sink down again into the mud, but nevertheless feeling its wings, rising with aspiration and devotion and hope. Little by little the doors of the soul are opened. As the student acquires a grasp of the whole religious, philosophic, and scientific range of thought that this wonderful teaching reveals to his vision, he finds that he no longer is dependent to the same degree upon the books from which he first started his studies. At a certain stage, if the metaphysical and ethical truths are allowed to enter his heart as well as his head, he will begin to find that he has a perpetual fountain of truth welling up from within, that literally enables him to give something unusual, if it is only an illuminated thought, to everyone that he contacts.

It is stated -- and here is another reason for the study of Theosophy -- that even one who is confined in a prison-cell could be a worker for Theosophy if he had the knowledge; for one of its great teachings is that the mind of man is linked by the dynamic quality of thought with every part of the boundless universe itself. And so we are united one with another. We see evidence of it around us today, brought to our attention by the great discoveries of modern science: how the universe or the planet on which we live daily becomes smaller, from the point of view of the speed with which we can travel through the air, or hear through the spaces by means of telephones and wireless operations, and so on. So that we realize today in a much easier fashion than was possible in the dark Middle Ages, that the peoples of other nations are very little different from our own people; that, for example, the so-called 'barbarian' is not so essentially different from us -- shocking as the thought may appear to some stiff-necked Europeans! They are human souls; they are here to make the same pilgrimage as we are. Therefore, we are indissolubly united into one living, breathing whole. This is the main principle of the structure upon which the whole Theosophical Movement is based. We have to come to an understanding, a realization, of what is meant by Universal Brotherhood. It is the sole prerequisite to becoming an Associate of the Theosophical Society. You do not have to accept any other principle, but it is a principle that is pregnant and significant.

It is a perfectly true thing to say that there is only one real Brotherhood on earth. We all know that the human family is one great Brotherhood and linked to it are all the kingdoms of nature higher and lower. But do we realize it? Obviously not. Otherwise, we would act brotherly. But what prevents such action by us? Simply this: there is a tremendous duality existing in nature, and particularly in man. When he comes into contact with the life-giving waters of Theosophy, if he is serious, sooner or later he will find that within him there is a beneficent force which is seeking entrance into his life, in the light of which he can love and serve his fellows. There is also a maleficent force, its direct antithesis. Man is really crucified between these two forces. If he follows the light, if he follows the higher dictates of his own soul and conscience, if he follows the way the ancient Teachings show, he will be the recipient of no other force in the universe than the one that flows from the Supreme Itself. But man does not. It is not that he cannot, but that he does not live on the heights all the time. When he stumbles and falls, then is the moment that the teachings of Theosophy are needed to explain his psychological and intellectual, his physical and spiritual, constitution.

We are very complex beings, and often what we feel and believe sincerely to be the reason why we behave in any given way, is not the reason that is hidden deep in some interior part of our psychological nature. Deep and mysterious is the nature of man, and nothing other than a study of the teachings of Theosophy will show you what this nature is. Actually Theosophical teaching tells you that the nature of man is sevenfold. That will show you that already you have seven great divisions or parts of your nature -- not divided into boxes, but rather inter-blending, interpenetrating, the different parts of your being. The simplest division of this sevenfold nature is the threefold one that St. Paul uses in the New Testament. He described it as spirit, soul, and body. You are the soul -- man, the Thinker, who has to win his immortality. It would be equally true to say that he is a divine, immortal entity, and that he always was, and that he is rooted in the great Universal Soul as an integral part of it.

Thus we get another of the great reasons why we study Theosophy: at first we seek the explanation of the universe; second, we seek a knowledge of our own being, because very soon we discover that knowing about the universe is not quite enough. No; it is not the universe that is wrong: we find that it is we ourselves who are wrong, and only a knowledge of our own being enables us little by little to adjust ourselves to the Universal Harmony. In the process of discovering ourselves we necessarily discover that at the root of our being is a Divinity, a God. The source from which flow those things in. our lives which are sweet and beautiful, those thoughts and dreams of a higher life, the love which we bear to our fellows, all aspirations that encourage one to lead a different kind of life, all deeds that are helpful in character and of a truly spiritual and divine nature: all that is eternal in our being -- these qualities flow from this Divine part of us. But, having discovered the existence of this spiritual pole of our being, we want to know how we are going to strengthen the Divine and vanquish the lower. That gives us another reason for the study of Theosophy: to find the way of life -- the ethics of conduct in our daily lives. We know in a vague sort of way what we ought to do. We have heard from our childhood the golden rule of not doing to others what we would not have them do to us -- a summing up of the ethics of all the great Teachers; but still we need something further.

Let me put it to you from another angle: what are you going to study if you do not study Theosophy? For example, you have the Christian Churches. There are some 320 varieties of Christian sects and what not. Why do so many people find that they still have an unsatisfied need and hunger? One of the reasons is that although the New Testament has sublime ethics -- you cannot find a better ethical standard anywhere than in the "Sermon on the Mount" -- what it lacks is philosophy. Men and women in these days want a reason why they should be better and do better. They are no longer satisfied with being told "Be good and you will be happy," even if you have a dull time of it! No, they want to know why they are here, where they came from, where they are going, and what it feels like to be in that state that all men must come to when their earthly life is finished. Have we not all asked ourselves these questions? And was there any orthodox religion in the world, with the noble exception of Buddhism, and to some extent Hinduism, that could answer you? I do not believe so.

You will find, in the teachings of Theosophy, once you understand them correctly, food of a religious nature for the spiritual part of your being; philosophy for your aspiring intellect; and a code of ethics for living your daily life.


You mentioned, in your article "Why Study Theosophy," that Theosophy was the basis of many religions. The majority of these believe in the existence of a personal God. Can you suggest the origin of the idea?


The origin of the idea of a personal God is a long story. It is stated in Theosophical teachings that this idea is not an innate one. The real origin of the personal God idea is found in the tendency of ignorant man to build a conception of Deity in terms of his own personal self, which is all he knows, and which is necessarily limited. So he merely builds a big idea of himself and calls that "God." The personal God means, according to our European conceptions, an extra-cosmic Deity -- that is to say, a being somehow outside of his universe (that is this universe), because he is said to be infinite, boundless, omnipresent, and at the same time somebody who can be prayed to, supplicated to save us from the effects of all the silly things that we have done in our lives.

I have always thought that the translation of the Latin word "persona," meaning a mask, is something that helps us particularly to understand our own -- what we call -- personality, the lower part of ourselves, that which hides the light. It is the external part which is the personality according to the Theosophical teaching, not the higher part, which is real; this lower, material part is the mayavic, the illusory part; and it may be helpful to some to look upon the personal God idea as essentially an illusory concept.

This personal God idea is one that the Theosophist does not countenance at all. I should make it clear that it is the limited, dogmatic concept, which gives such a very false idea of Deity, and which exhorts men and women to look outside of themselves for the source of their salvation. But the Theosophist comes in and directs men's attention to the Divinity within him, which in very truth is a personal divinity for each man; and whilst he takes away with one hand, he gives you something which is really far more sublime; for Theosophy teaches self-dependence; it follows the teaching of the Christian Avatara: that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. It is to that Deity that we appeal in every man. But this "personal" God that we aspire toward, and whose light radiates in the heart of every man, this Immortal entity, collectively the aggregate of all the Divinities in our Solar System or our Universal Cosmos together, makes up what is called the Universal World-Soul, and all men are rooted in That, have their being in That, and sooner or later can consciously raise themselves by their unity with that which It represents.

[From THE HILL OF DISCERNMENT, Theosophical University Press, 1941, pages 167-76.]

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