Revelation or Realization: The Conflict in Theosophy

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So far I have dealt with the causes of the decline of the Theosophical Movement in its relation to the world at large. Now we must consider the more serious causes of disintegration within the movement.

From its very beginning the Society has suffered from an internal conflict which I characterized as that between realization and revelation. In its historical meaning theosophy means realization, the experience of the Divine within man. In that sense, it was used in Neo-Platonic philosophy and by mediaeval philosophers. This conception of Theosophy has been present in theosophical teaching from the beginning. A man was to find the higher self within him and thereby come into conscious unity with the Life in all things. At the same time, however, theosophy is characterized as "the archaic system of esoteric truth in the keeping of a brotherhood of adepts." Here Theosophy is not a truth to be experienced by man in himself, it is a body of doctrine possessed and guarded by a group of Adepts in whose power it lay to reveal it to others. Thus the way of knowledge became one of discipleship; only by becoming a pupil of one of the Masters could man hope to partake of the esoteric truth. The aim was to gain initiation into the Brotherhood, to enter the Hierarchy that guarded the esoteric wisdom. This way of knowledge is one of revelation; the divine Wisdom is received by the pupil from his Master and handed on again by him to those less enlightened than himself. Thus a hierarchic system of revelation arises in which the authority of superiors is not being questioned and the slightest hint is an order not to be criticized but to be obeyed. The spirit is that of a spiritual army where obedience and efficiency are greater virtues than individual creative activity and genius. The way of realization is the way of the individual; its highest product is the creative genius. The way of revelation is the way of the group; its highest product is the perfect channel, obediently transmitting orders and power from above.

We must sharply distinguish revelation from authority. Authority is a fact in nature; where a man is superior in wisdom or power he will automatically have authority over others. That this authority can lead to abuse of power or to tyranny and impede the freedom of others does not invalidate the fact that superiority in any respect means authority.

But when I speak of revelation, I mean all information claiming to come from an unseen source, from an inaccessible authority. Primitive man looked upon some few as being intimately related to the gods he feared and being able to reveal their will and power. Thus the priest was a channel through whom the will, the knowledge and the grace of the deity could be transmitted to the masses. Man sought for guidance of his own life by the revelations coming to him through the appointed oracle. The priesthood thus gained power over men's souls and were able to enforce their own will by clothing it in the garment of revelation from above. Therefore, revelation in the meaning in which I use it here, is a message from an unseen authority coming through an appointed channel.

In ordinary speech, we sometimes talk of things being "a revelation to us," but that is not the sense in which the word is used here. I can say that the Einstein theory is a revelation to me, but it will be clear that no scientific work ever partakes of the element of revelation. It does not speak in the name of an unseen authority, the scientist speaks in his own name and what he says can be questioned, criticized, proved or disproved. The authority is always available, the source of knowledge is accessible and, even though not every man has the means to prove whether the Einstein theory is true or not, he knows that Einstein's brother scientists have done their utmost to discover a flaw in it.

The bulk of our theosophical literature does not partake of the element of revelation. If a theosophist writes a book describing his experiences in this or other worlds, or expounding his ideas on life and its problems, there is no revelation in such a work. The one who wrote it is available, can be questioned and criticized, the argument of the book can be discussed and contradicted; the entire subject remains within the realm of reason. Yet even in the time of H.P.B. the element of revelation was present in the Theosophical Society. Thus, in the Mahatma Letters we find messages coming from an unseen authority through an appointed channel. Later on, when letters were no longer forthcoming, messages came directly through certain recognized theosophical authorities. In these messages, the Masters would express their desires as to what should be done or not done, what activities undertaken or opposed, and give hints guiding the lives of prospective pupils. Here we find real revelation: messages from an unseen authority, inaccessible to others. Theoretically, of course, the unseen authority is accessible to all who succeed in raising their consciousness to its level; practically it is not, and should any claim to have come into touch with the same authority from whom messages were previously received through another, that authority usually speaks through him with a very different voice. We only need to compare the letters from the Master K.H. produced in the time of H.P.B. and written in her Bohemian manner interspersed with French expressions, often somewhat racy in style, with the messages revealed as coming from that same Master in recent years. They breathe an utterly different spirit; where the former denied the existence of God in any form, seen or unseen, personal or impersonal, the latter have reintroduced him in a very personal way indeed. Where in the Mahatma Letters the Master K.H. speaks of religion as being the greatest evil in human civilization, and denounces all churches, priesthoods and ceremonials in definite terms, his more recent messages speak with great reverence about religion and church and endorse ceremonial and priesthood most vigorously. One is therefore inclined to think that the source of unseen authority for each is a strictly individual and subjective one, an exteriorization of thp/peir own unconscious motives. This is still more evident with regard to all messages revealed as coming from the World Teacher during the last fifteen years.

When Krishnamurti began speaking in his own authority, and in his own name as the World Teacher, the things he said were widely different in spirit and purpose from all messages thus received. First of all, he emphatically denied being the vehicle of another consciousness or being used by anyone who spoke through him or inspired him. He claimed to be the World Teacher, not because some other intelligence possessed or used him, but because he had gained liberation and become one with life, which is the only Teacher. He utterly denied having any apostles or even disciples and rejected ceremonial, however and wherever used, as an obstacle on the path to liberation. Neither would he have anything to do with the occult path of discipleship and initiation, characterizing all these as "inessentials." It was therefore inevitable that theosophists all over the world should have begun to doubt all previous revelations and to suspect that these were more in the nature of subjective opinions.

It takes the mental acrobatics of trained theosophical students to reconcile the contradictory facts contained in the earlier revelations and the subsequent teaching of Krishnamurti. Even though he himself strongly denies being used by another consciousness, they claim to know better than he does what is actually taking place in his own consciousness, and still maintain that there is another person, the "real" World Teacher, living in the Himalayas, who occasionally speaks through Krishnamurti. This real World Teacher entirely endorses all previous revelations; he has apostles and approves the ceremonial movements, especially the Liberal Catholic Church. The fact that Krishnamurti denies the value of all these is then explained by the fact that he, being "only a vehicle", cannot express fully the "glorious consciousness" which they, the speakers, know so much more intimately than he. Thus it means nothing that he should contradict things previously revealed, it only shows that at that time, it was not the World Teacher speaking - but only Mr. Krishnamurti. The interesting situation arises that a few people are to be credited with the ability to tell us when Krishnamurti speaks and when the World Teacher is speaking. The result would seem to be that when the opinions agree with their own, it is the World Teacher speaking, while otherwise it is Mr. Krishnamurti. The only one who evidently is not to be believed, when he says the World Teacher is speaking, is Mr. Krishnamurti himself.

It is needless to expound further the length to which theosophical casuistry can go; the tragical fact remains that there appears to be less desire to understand what Krishnamurti says than to fit it in with revelations previously given. It would be far simpler to recognize the previous revelations to have been erroneous. But this, of course, would discredit the cause of revelation.

Enough, however, has been said to show how fatal the effects of revelation are in any movement. The fact that revelation is a message coming from an unseen authority, inaccessible to others, places it beyond the realm of reason and makes it impossible to criticize or discuss its value. In all discussions which I have ever had on the subject the adherents of revelation would always end by saying, "Well, all I can say is that the Master told me to do this, and so I do it." This ends any discussion, and puts the question beyond reason. Thus I maintain that the evil effects of revelation are caused by the fact that revelation can only be accepted or denied, but never criticized in the light of reason. I know that theoretically this can be done, and whenever the subject is brought up, we are told that theosophical leaders have always urged their disciples to judge for themselves and not accept anything because they said it. This, however, is theory; in practice, one who ventured to criticize or doubt a message coming from the Master, would suffer the silent excommunication of the heretic, and be made to feel that he was unfit to be of the elect. Of what value is the freedom to criticize and to judge for oneself when, in the rare cases, where some brave soul has ventured to do so, we are told that "in incarnations to come, he will, through untold suffering, grope in vain for the light which he thus willfully rejected"? This is but Eternal Damnation in another form. It is the threat and fear of punishment to come which terrorizes the would-be critic back into an attitude of obedient submissiveness. In the Mahatma Letters and the correspondence between H.P.B. and Sinnett, we can read what is said about those who do not take a hint once given, or who dare to argue about an order coming from above. Even Sinnett himself was repeatedly threatened with the breaking off of all further intercourse with his Master if he did not follow the orders given. And there is no doubt that, if a theosophist at any time criticizes or rejects a message coming to him from the Master through an appointed channel, he will thereby be said to have cut himself off for a long time to come from any further such privileges. Where simultaneously discipleship and a drawing nearer to the Master are held up as the goal of life, it is clear that the theoretical freedom of criticism means the giving up of all that is held dearest and highest in the life of theosophists.

I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am in no way denying the existence of the Masters or the possibility of communion with them. If I think that the Master has spoken to me, this fact implies no revelation, but only experience: I have an experience which may or may not be of value to me. Revelation only begins when I transmit to others the messages thus received as coming from that unseen authority. I should like to suggest that anyone who thinks he or she has received a message or order from a Master or higher authority should first see whether he himself agrees with it, whether it awakens a response in his own soul. If so, let him, when speaking about it to others, speak in his own name and say, "I think this, and I will this". But never let him say, "The Master thinks this or the Master wills this". Should he himself not agree with the communication thus received, let him say nothing at all. But let him never speak in the name of an unseen authority. Revelation is still more fatal when it interferes with the life of the individual and attempts to guide his life, to tell him what to do or where he stands. It has been the custom in theosophical centers to look to a few as being able to tell others where they stand in their spiritual evolution, whether they have taken a step forward or not. Thus spiritual progress is made to depend on revelation, and power is given to a few to tell others where they stand. The consequences of this are always fatal. The absurdity of the situation becomes clear when we consider that if these few people, supposed to be able to tell us where we stand, were to die, we should be lost in uncertainty. Again, if the appointed channels should disagree, as has happened before, we have to choose whom we are going to believe and whom not! It is inevitable that where such power is placed in the hands of the few, their own personal likes and dislikes will unconsciously influence the occult standing they confer on others. These, on the other hand, may be afraid to contradict or oppose one who has the power to bestow or withhold steps, but will try to keep in good standing, and do what they are asked to do. Thus a host of spiritual inquiries are born, detrimental to the individual and to the cause he serves. But above all, the fact remains that it is impossible at any time for anyone to tell another where he stands in spiritual progress. No one can reveal that to you but the life that is in you. Each individual is as a ray going forth from the centre of the circle; he can only enter the centre of life along the ray that is his own being, never along another. Life expresses itself in each one of us in a way which we alone, and no one else, can know; there is a sanctuary of life in each of us where we alone can enter and hear the voice of. We cannot enter that sanctuary by the backstairs of revelation; there is only the royal road of our own daily experience of life. No one can tell you what to do in life, what work to serve but the voice of life that is within you, your own inner vocation, your individual uniqueness. To go to another, and to ask him what you should do or where you stand is to violate the life that is within you, and to shut yourself off from it.

I wish to emphasize that I do not deny the existence of the occult path or the steps on it such as discipleship or initiation. Their existence or non-existence lies outside the subject I am dealing with. The element of revelation only enters where any one, in the name of an unseen and inaccessible authority tells others where they stand and what steps they have taken, so that no one is supposed to have taken a step unless one of the few acknowledged channels of revelation has affirmed him to have done so.

Nothing would be lost if this practice with all its fatal consequences were discontinued. If the taking of a step means an expansion of life within, that expansion will be there and show itself whether anyone else says you have taken a step or not. What would it avail you if everyone acknowledged you as having taken a step and the expansion of life were not within you, and on the other hand, what do you lose if everyone should agree in saying you have not taken a step and the expansion of life is in you and shows forth in your daily life? The telling or not telling is wholly unessential and wholly mischievous in its consequences. It makes for a spiritual snobbery in which the elect sit in the seats of honor, while the common herd is despised.

Though the results of revelation are always fatal, and opposed to the spirit of theosophy, which is realization, it is most dangerous where it interferes with the individual lives of people and attempts to make them cease from work they are doing or undertake work they have no intention of doing. Especially where young people are concerned such interference is inexcusable. I know cases where, on the basis of revelation, young people have been taken out of their university studies in order that they might dedicate themselves to "the Work." As if the Work for each one were not that which the life within him urges him to do, instead of the revelation coming from another! In modern education, especially in the Montessori method, it is fully recognized that the way of life is the way of realization. The child is surrounded by didactic material, the only purpose of which is to draw out its faculties and to enable it to learn by experience. In this way the child will spontaneously grow into that which the life within it means it to be.

Opposed to this spirit of life is the army spirit where orders come from above and have to be obeyed without argument or delay. It is this spirit which inevitably accompanies revelation; a spiritual hierarchy is like a spiritual army where orders are obeyed and not questioned. In this army-spirit individual uniqueness and creative genius are crushed out. We cannot therefore wonder why there has been so little creative work in the Theosophical Society; it is because the ideal of the "band of servers" has been obedience to revelation, and not self-expression through realization.

There is no reason why anyone should not occasionally seek the advice of those wiser than himself, and discuss with them his difficulties. There is no reason why we should not try to learn as much as we can from teachers and books, so long as we realize that we have to make our decisions in our own name and that it is weakness to shift the responsibility on to others. We must have no fear to guide our own lives. Better to perish in the attempt than go safely along the way of another.

There is no future for the Theosophical Society unless the evil of revelation be shaken off, never to return. It is wholly incompatible with Theosophy which is essentially experience of the Divine, or realization. It is not another "path" or "aspect"; superstition is no path, but an error. There is a pseudo-tolerance which agrees with the most conflicting views, admiring them all impartially, and trying to get "some good out of each one." This tolerance is in reality a lack of backbone, an absence of vigorous life.

Let no one say that in my address I have denied occultism. There is a future for occultism if it will conform to strictly scientific methods, and submit to tests and proof. It can only develop if it renounces entirely all spiritual or religious claims; it has as little to do with these as ordinary science. Just as science could not develop until it shook off the mystical and spiritual glamour with which it was enveloped in the Middle Ages, so the condition of progress for occultism as a science is that it should likewise discard the halo of mystery in which it is enveloped.

When the question is asked: Has the Theosophical Society a future? I can only answer that I do not know. But what I can say with utter certainty is that it has no future unless it breaks free from the outworn mentality that still permeates it and is born anew in the spirit of the new age. That spirit is one of love of life instead of fear of life, one in which life is welcomed even though it may destroy the beliefs in which we found refuge hitherto.

Theosophy must cease to be a philosophy of the Beyond; it must conquer the duality in which it is still rooted and realize that the open door to reality lies in the here and the now, in man's actual daily experience and not in some higher world or some distant future. None can open this door for us and none can close it. It is no mystical experience for the few alone; it is for all and it is only our fear of life that makes us incapable of seeing it.

Theosophy has to realize that its claim of being a philosophical system, explaining the problems of life, has no appeal to modern man who knows that life is not a problem to be solved; to whom it is a search and an ever increasing experience.

The Society must cease to be a brotherhood with the exclusion of less desirable brethren; it must break down the barriers which make it possible to speak of an "outside world", and create a new form of membership which does not involve sectarian allegiance.

Above all, theosophists must learn to recognize the conflict that has been inherent in theosophy from the beginning: that between realization and revelation. Theosophy, as the realization of life by each man in his own consciousness, is incompatible with a hierarchic system of revelation where truth and enlightenment come to us through others and where the guidance of our life rests on orders received from superiors.

Modern man no longer desires a shelter or a refuge, consolation or security. Rather than stagnate in the false repose and happiness which these can give, he will go out alone and face the storm of life in his own strength.

The aim of Theosophy is to breed, not weaklings, but strong men. 

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