William Quan Judge and the Theosophical Society – part one

Dara Eklund – USA

[Based on a talk given by Dara Eklund at Krotona Institute of Theosophy in April 2010.]

Annie Besant wrote the following in the October, 1922 [p. 351], issue of the Theosophist: “William Quan Judge [was] a much loved friend and pupil of H.P.B.’s, and the channel of life to the American Branch of the T.S. A highly evolved man, with a profound realization of the deeper truths of life, he built up the Society in America from small and discouraging beginnings. No difficulties daunted him, and no apparent failures quenched his fiery devotion. . . . He was beside H.P.B. through those early days, saw the exercise of her wonderful powers, and shared in the founding of the Theosophical Society. And throughout the remainder of her life on earth, the friendship remained unbroken, and during the later years she regarded him as her one hope in America, declaring that, if the American members rejected him, she would break off all relations with them, and know them no more. . . .His real work, the spread of Theosophy in America, was splendidly performed, and his memory remains a lasting inspiration. . . . William Quan Judge must ever have his place among Theosophical Worthies.”

William Quan Judge

William Quan Judge, son of Frederick H. Judge and Alice Mary Quan, was born in Dublin, Ireland, on April 13, 1851. His mother died in giving birth to a seventh child. At the age of thirteen, Judge emigrated with his bereaved father and family to New York City, arriving via the City of Limerick steamship on July 14, 1864. Very little is known of William’s early years prior to coming to America. At age seven he survived a major illness, ordinarily fatal, which changed him entirely. Boris de Zirkoff’s biography states that the doctor pronounced him dead. Under her pen name Jasper Niemand, Julia Keightley wrote: “During convalescence the boy evinced aptitude and knowledge which he had never before displayed, exciting wonder as to when and how he had learned these things, these rudiments of art and of literature . . . and from his recovery in his eighth year we find him interested in religion, magic, Rosicrucianism, and deeply absorbed in the Book of Revelations of the Christian Bible, trying to settle its meaning. He also devoured the contents of all the books he could lay hold of relating to mesmerism, character-reading, phrenology and so on, while no one knew when he had so much as acquired the art of reading at all. The emigration to America . . . broadened his thought and experience as the era of definite work and training came on” (Irish Theosophist 4.5 [February 15, 1896]: 91). Julia Keightley also relates an incident of the boy’s will power, in spite of his frail health, when some playmates jeered at Judge because he could not swim across a stream to an island. He determined to walk across the river’s bed; when out of his depth, periodically rising for breath, he was finally drawn out half-conscious by his astonished playfellows.

Read more: William Quan Judge and the Theosophical Society – part one

Truth: The Limitless Horizon – part one

John Algeo – USA

[This article is a revision of two earlier publications: “Truth: The Limitless Horizon,” American Theosophist 72.11 (December 1984): 413-25; and “Theosophical Truth Is a Many-Splendoured Thing,” Theosophist 127.5 (February 2006): 167-74.]


The motto of the Theosophical Society should be well known to all its members. It is “There is no religion higher than Truth,” from the Sanskrit "Satyan nasti paro dharmah." The word “dharma” in that motto has as one of its several meanings “religion.” But the word “dharma” is what linguists call “polysemous,” that is, “having many meanings.” Semantically speaking, “dharma” is a complex, if not limitless, thing.

According to John Grimes’s Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy, “dharma” literally means “what holds together.” So, in a sense, the Theosophical motto might be paraphrased as saying that the things which hold us together—including our ideas about what is real and important—are not more important than Truth. Truth in Sanskrit is “satya,” meaning “that which is.” And it is not possible for anything to be higher or more important than what is. If “dharma” is a semantically complex word, Truth is an even more complex reality.

A recent book, Just Trust Me: Finding the Truth in a World of Spin, by G. Randy Kasten (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011) distinguishes various kinds of truth: relative, probable, potential, consensus, temporary, contextual, and implied. Without going into that much detail, we might recognize just three kinds: factual (based on documentary evidence), personal (based on an individual’s belief system), and absolute (which is the ultimate reality of the cosmos, or of things as they are, and which is only approximated by human understanding).

Read more: Truth: The Limitless Horizon – part one

God Incarnate – part two

Nicholas Weeks – USA

[This article is based on a talk given in April 2010 at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California by the author.  References to Echoes of the Orient are from the revised version, 2009-2010.]   

The second chapter begins to teach philosophy, but in such a way that Arjuna is led on gradually step by step to the end of the dialogue; and yet the very first instructions from Krishna are so couched that the end and purpose of the scheme are seen at the beginning.

Although philosophy seems dry to most people, and especially to minds in the Western world who are surrounded by the rush of their new and quite undeveloped civilization, yet it must be taught and understood. It has become the fashion to some extent to [reject] careful study or practice and go in for the rapid methods inaugurated in America. In many places emotional goodness is declared to exceed in value the calmness that results from a broad philosophical foundation, and in others astral wonder seeking, or great strength of mind whether discriminative or not, is given the first rank. Strength without knowledge, and sympathetic tears without the ability to be calm -- in fine, faith without works -- will not save us. And this is one of the lessons of the second chapter.

The greatest of the ancients inculcated by both symbols and books the absolute necessity for the acquirement of philosophical knowledge, inasmuch as strength or special faculties are useless without it... So, whether our strength is that of sympathy or of astral vision, we will be confounded if philosophical knowledge be absent.

But, so as not to be misunderstood, I must answer the question that will be asked, 'Do you then condemn sympathy and love, and preach a cold philosophy only?' By no means. Sympathy and emotion are as much parts of the great whole as knowledge, but inquiring students wish to know all that lies in the path. The office of sympathy, charity, and all other forms of goodness, so far as the effect on us is concerned, is to entitle us to [be helped]. By this exercise we inevitably attract to us those souls who have the knowledge and are ready to help us to acquire it also. But while we ignore philosophy and do not try to attain to right discrimination, we must pass through many lives, many weary treadmills of life, until at last little by little we have been forced, without our will, into the possession of the proper seeds of mental action from which the crop of right discrimination may be gathered.”


Arjuna asks Krishna:

As I am affected by compassion and yet fear doing wrong, my mind is bewildered. Tell me truly what may be best for me to do! I am thy disciple, wherefore instruct me in my duty...

Krishna, now the guru -- or spiritual teacher -- of Arjuna, makes a reply [in verses 11-25] which is not excelled anywhere in the poem; pointing out the permanence and eternal nature of the soul, the progress it has to make through reincarnation to perfection, the error of imagining that we really do anything ourselves, and showing how all duties must be performed by him who desires to reach salvation...

Read more: God Incarnate – part two

The Voice of the Silence 1 (Verses 1-5)

John Algeo – USA

[This series is revised from a National Lodge Study Course published by the Theosophical Society in America in 1997.]

The Voice of the Silence is one of many spiritual guidebooks, works intended to provide signposts for living and especially for inner development. Such works tend to be relatively short and aphoristic or poetical, examples from around the world being the Analects of Confucius, the Tao Te Ching of Lao-tzu, the Dhammapada of Buddhism, the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus, the Imitation of Christ of Thomas a Kempis, and the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila.


In the Theosophical tradition, three such well-known works are Light on the Path by Mabel Collins, At the Feet of the Master by J. Krishnamurti, and The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky. The Voice was one of the last two books HPB wrote (the other being The Key to Theosophy) and so is part of her final legacy to us. As the essence of her views on the Theosophical life, it has a special value. All such guidebooks, and especially The Voice, can be approached in a variety of ways, no single way being uniquely right. Readers should use this book in a way that is pertinent to their particular interests and background. Those interested in its historical background can read the very rich and informative introductory essay “How The Voice of the Silence Was Written” by Boris de Zirkoff in the Quest Book centennial edition (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1992).

Read more: The Voice of the Silence 1 (Verses 1-5)

God Incarnate – part one

Nicholas Weeks – USA

[This article is based on a talk given in April 2010 at the Krotona Institute in Ojai, California by the author.  References to Echoes of the Orient are from the revised version, 2009-2010.]   

The second idea is, that man is a being who may be raised up to perfection, to the stature of the Godhead, because he himself is God incarnate. This noble doctrine was in the mind of Jesus, no doubt, when he said that we must be perfect even as is the father in heaven. [Mt 5:48] This is the idea of human perfectibility. It will destroy the awful theory of inherent original sin which has held and ground down the western Christian nations for centuries.”

Whether our True Nature is called Tathagatagarbha, the One, Parabrahm, Ain Soph, God or simply That; the path of perfection leads to it.

Read more: God Incarnate – part one

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