Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood (16): The Importance Of Comparative Study

The Second Object of the Theosophical Society
(Chapter XVI of the work “Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood”)

176 – “It is only by studying the various great religions and philosophers of humanity, by comparing them dispassionately and with an unbiassed mind, that men can hope to arrive at the truth. It is especially by finding out and noting their various points of agreement that we may achieve this result.” (The Key to Theosophy, p. 58)

Let us open this chapter recalling briefly the path we have walked so far. First of all, we have tried to stress the crucial role played by the Mahatmas in the foundation of the TS, i.e. the influence of Adepts, who, according to the founders, had reached a very advanced level in the evolutionary process. According to the founders, these Adepts permanently attained the Temple of Divine Wisdom to use the image of “The Golden Stairs”.

Quoting I.K. Taimni, we have pointed out that Divine Wisdom, or Theosophy, is a state of counsciousness that of necessity encompasses at the same time the perception of truth, impersonal love or Altruism, and the realization of transcendental Happiness, Bliss or Ananda.

This is a key point, basic to the understanding of this book, since we state that, due to the reasons given above, the denomination “Theosophical” Society stands for altruistic society – i.e. a society utterly devoted to the fostering of the integral welfare of humanity. This point is even more important considering the fact that, as we saw in a previous quotation from Jeanine Miller, Theosophy is often taken as a synonym of a certain doctrine, i.e a certain intellectual revision of truth. When this happens, the Theosophical Society is immediately seen as a sect, and thus enormous obstacles are placed in the way of the accomplishment of its first and greatest Object: the formation of a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF CREED, etc.

The First Object Should Grant the Moral Right to Teach

After this (in view of the great importance this book attributes to the law of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, which is the main idea of the TS as well as its first Object), we have devoted several chapters to an attempt to clarify the meaning and relevance of the law of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, as well as the importance of the creation of a society that might  give to the world a concrete example of the “general plan” and organizational structure based on the secure foundations of the principle or law of the Universal Brotherhood.

As we have read in a passage by Annie Besant, the main work of the TS is, in short, “to live and to teach Brotherhood.” The two words “live” and “teach” are important, since teaching without living is apt to turn into hypocrisy and always leads to results that are not nearly as effective.

Thus, the accomplishment of its first Object entitles the TS to the right to theoretical preaching the teaching of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, for this accomplishment implies that this law has been practiced before being preached. As we have seen in previous chapters, this teaching is decisive to the understanding or the elaboration of a correct diagnosis of the great problems facing mankind in our times, as well as to the process of providing “consistent solutions” to these problems. These seem to be some of the reasons for the clear guidance found in the passage mentioned earlier:

177 – “The Chiefs want a ‘Brotherhood of Humanity,’ a real Universal Fraternity started; an institution which would make itself known throughout the world, and arrest the attention of the highest minds.” (K.H., ML, L. 6, p. 24)

It is useful to remember that the Maha-Chohan said that humanity will not be able to avoid terrible cruelties and enormities, “if not through the soothing influence of a brotherhood, and of the practical application of Buddha’s esoteric doctrines.”

With this in mind, let us examine the other two Objects of the TS and the way in which they relate to this first and major Object. In this chapter and in the next one, we will examine each of these two other Objects.  Let us remember the words of the second Object:

To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.”

As we see, the second Object is centrally related to the search for truth through comparative study. The third is related to the search for the inner Truth (or Theosophy), not only, as in the second, in theoretical but also in practical terms, which would result in the awakening of the latent powers of man, especially those of his inner spiritual nature.

The Second Object: the Proper Way for the Spreading of the Message

This second Object clearly indicates the way in which we can efficiently teach or give to the world the crucial knowledge of the principle or law of the Universal Brotherhood, as well as other basic religious and philosophical principles that are also of great importance, partly because they clarify the law that reveals humanity as a Universal Brotherhood. This fact was already pointed out in a passage by Annie Besant quoted previously, from which we recall an excerpt:

178 – “But to understand Brotherhood, we must remember that evolution proceeds by reincarnation under the law of the karma.(…) As the ideas of reincarnation and karma make their way in the western world, which has the habit of applying principles to practice, I think we shall find that this Ideal of Brotherhood under the law of reincarnation and karma will solve many of the problems under which the western world is groaning, in our time.” (A. Besant, The Ideals of Theosophy, p. 21)

Here we can see the need for teaching (along with the principle of the Universal Brotherhood) true basic knowledge – not only in the fields of philosophy and religion, but also in that of science – which is in harmony with, and gives support to, the law of the Universal Brotherhood.

It is especially important to present this knowledge in a proper form, one that permits these principles to be molded to  apply in our daily lives, and, consequently, in the main institutions that organize society as a whole. The point that the knowledge must be presented in a proper form is crucial and can be better understood if we remember a passage by I.K. Taimni, where he states that the general aim of the TS is:

179 – “(…) changing the thougths and attitudes of people in the world, so that humanity may be able to take the next step in evolution (…) Anyone who is in touch with the urgent problems facing humanity at the present time can see at once, if he goes deep into these problems, that the chief difficulty in the way of solving these problems and bringing about better conditions lies in the wrong habits of thought and perverted attitudes prevailing all round.” (Principles of Theosophical Work, p. 18)

And to enable this knowledge  to promote such changes, it must be presented in a proper form.   First of all, the knowledge of these principles (Universal Brotherhood, Reincarnation, Karma etc.) must take proper form in our minds. Quoting Taimni’s words:

180 – “Not only should the ideas in our mind be of high quality but we should make sure that they are in the proper form – clear, precise and classified. It is only then that we can use them easily and most profitably. Vague ideas and unclassified facts, even when they are of great value, cannot be used in thinking of a high order or in the solution of the real problems of life. They are like uncut and unpolished precious stones which may be very valuable but still cannot be used in making jewellery.” (Self-Culture in the Light of Occultism, p. 105)

This book is an attempt to explain, relate and organize these concepts and to link them to the problems of the world, showing how one explains the other etc. As we have said, the use of a proper form also demands the process of relating the knowledge to real problems and, consequently, its modelling in order to be used in practical life. This task of adapting the knowledge so that it may be used practically has the utmost importance, as we can see clearly by the emphasis given by one of the Adepts in the following passage:

181 – “The problem of true Theosophy and its great mission is the working out of clear, unequivocal conceptions of ethic ideas and duties which would satisfy most and best the altruistic and right feelings in us; and the modelling of these conceptions for their adaptation into such forms of daily life where they may be applied with most equitableness… Such is the common work in view for all who are willing to act on these principles.” (LMW, 2nd Series, L. 82, p. 158)

But what basic principles are these that must be modelled to fit the solution of the ethical and material problems of our lives? Although mentioned above, we think they are worth repeating. We are dealing with subjects such as the knowledge of a law of absolute justice (the law of Karma), which shows that it is man who is  the absolute creator of his glory or gloom; or of the law of Reincarnation, that opens in front of us a life much greater than one single bodily existence (for, without the notion of a series of incarnations the great law of Karma becomes unintelligible). Others, still, are the lessons regarding man’s endless possibilities for spiritual evolution, a common heritage of all humanity. Finally, these principles demand the teaching of a common Fatherhood, or of a Unity of Divine Conscience underlying all the manifested world.

Let us read what HPB wrote on this subject:

182 – “Student – Are there any causes, (…) which may operate to reverse the present drift towards materialism?

Sage – The spread of the knowledge of the laws of Karma and Reincarnation and a belief in the absolute spiritual unity of all beings will alone prevent this drift.” (CW, Vol. IX, p. 103)

In another passage HPB stresses the same idea:

183 – “(…) if the doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, in other words, of Hope and Responsibility, find a home in the lives of new generations, then, indeed, will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now suffer and are outcast.” (CW, Vol. XI, p. 202)

The Comparative Method: from the Known to the Unknown

Having thus made it clear that the general purpose of the second Object is the diffusion of these basic principles, let us now look at the reasons that make the comparative approach the most effective way of sharing these principles with the world. If we take into account the reality of the current stage of evolution and the profile of the human counsciousness as a whole, examined earlier, we perceive that the following quotation from I.K. Taimni’s  “Principles of Theosophical Work,” summarizes one of the main reasons that make the comparative approach so effective as a tool for the spreading of these teachings in the world:

184 – “The sudden impact of a new set of ideas confuses the average man and he feels automatically repelled from those ideas however true, reasonable or beneficial they might be.” (Principles of Theosophical Work, p. 171)

In the same text, Taimni goes into this subject in greater detail and mentions an aspect directly related to the importance of comparative study – which is the importance of teaching starting from what is already known.

185 – “But there are a large number of people (…) who can be made to appreciate the truths of the Ancient Wisdom provided we present them in the right way. It makes a great deal of difference in their case how we contact their mind. Taking into consideration their needs, and leading them from the known to the unknown are two factors in the technique of presentation. Introducing an element of attraction for arousing their interest is a third important element in this technique.” (Principles of Theosophical Work, p. 173)

Thus, these passages summarize with great accuracy the need to proceed from the known to the unknown, always at a gradual or step-by-step pace, especially when the knowledge is new or conflicts  with the receiver’s conceptual world. And that is exactly what the comparative approach allows us to do. It reduces to a minimum the sudden impact of ideas, concepts, or of a new terminology, since it incorporates something of what is familiar to that particular public.

This familiar factor may be people’s professed religion or philosophy, or the corroboration through scientific information (when we are dealing with a more intellectualized public), or any other kind of knowledge with which the public is already familiar. We can find many warnings about this in the letters from the Mahatmas such as  the one reporting the views of the Maha-Chohan:

186 – “Yet it is absolutely necessary to inculcate it gradually, enforcing its theories, unimpeachable facts for those who know, with direct inferences deduced from and corroborated by modern exact science.” (LMW, 1st Series, L. 1, p. 2)

Nowadays, educated people usually regard scentific corroboration as something acceptable, something that lies within the boundaries of their familiar, reliable world. The reason for this is that they suppose the statement to have been verified through some kind of controlled experimentation, and that it is logically intelligible.

A great part of the serious investigation that should distinguish the second and third Objects of the TS does not differ from the common scientific proceedings, and this also reinforces the importance of the comparative method in the process of serious investigation in the search for truth. The reason for this is that the comparative method is also a powerful tool in scientific research which is familiar to many college-educated people. However; since this book is intended mostly for members of the TS, our purpose here is to stress the great adaptability and  consequent remarkable effectiveness of this method in the transmission of knowledge – an effectivenes that arises from the fact that it takes the known into account and compares it with something unknown. This need of an adapted diffusion was also clearly stated in a number of passages in the letters from the Adepts, such as the following:

187 – “The only object to be striven for is the amelioration of the condition of MAN by the spread of truth suited to the various stages of his development and of the country he inhabits and belongs to. TRUTH has no ear-mark and does not suffer from the name under which it is promulgated – if the said object is attained.” (K.H., ML, L. 85, p. 399)

The Comparative Method: The Need for Cautious Diffusion

Similarly we can find several passages in the letters from the Adepts that enphatically call our attention to the fact that such adapted promulgation implies the need for  this true knowledge to be given out in a cautious, step-by-step way, as we can read in the following examples:

188 – “…we cannot consent to over-flood the world at the risk of drowning them, with a doctrine that has to be cautiously given out, and bit by bit like a too powerful tonic which can kill as well as cure.” (K.H., ML, L. 34, p. 245)

189 – “In common with many, you blame us for our great secrecy. Yet we know something of human nature for the experience of long centuries – aye, ages – has taught us. And, we know, that so long as science has anything to learn, and a shadow of religious dogmatism lingers in the hearts of the multitudes, the world’s prejudices have to be conquered step by step, not at a rush.” (K.H., ML, L. 1, p. 3)

Those statements also clearly reinforce the idea previously given that the overall purpose of this second Object is to give to the world the basic principles, or a basic knowledge, of the Perennial Philosophy. And these principles must be spread in a proper way through the comparative method.  They must be adapted to the various populations (different cultures, different levels etc.), as well as for their practical use in our daily lives and in the social institutions that organize and rule the life of society as a whole, i.e. as consistent solutions to the world’s problems.

The comparative study must take into account not only  different religions but also philosophies and sciences, favoring a multidisciplinary and integrated approach whenever possible. And the needed adaptation must take into account, as we saw in a previous quotation, both the different levels of consciousness of the individuals to be reached and the socio-cultural characteristics of different regions and countries.

It is interesting to remember that HPB wrote in her Secret Doctrine that:

190 – “The  Neoplatonic School of Alexandria, founded by Ammonius, is the paradigm proposed to the Theosophical Society.” (Doutrina Secreta, Vol. V, p. 294)

This is, in fact, a valuable indication of the importance of the comparative method suggested by the second Object, since Ammonius Saccas and his disciples were called “Analogeticists”.  HPB, in her The Key to Theosophy wrote that:

191 – “They were called so because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends and narratives, myths and mysteries, by a rule or principle of analogy and correspondence. (…) The chief aim of the Founders of the Ecletic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely to reconcile all religions, sects and nations under a common system of ethics, based on eternal verities.” (The Key to Theosophy, pp. 1-3)

Although we may be indulging in repetition, this point is so important that it is worth commenting it further. The “common system of ethics” that HPB mentions in the above quotation is clearly to be achieved through the use of the comparative method among different schools of thought, religions etc.

This “common system of ethics” also implies its adaptation to the different levels of individual evolution that we mentioned before. This is clearly so because we cannot have a system of ethics without duties, and duties imply the consideration of how the same universal principles apply or relate to the different individuals in their different levels of evolution. This point (of duties) was already quoted from LMW (2nd Series, L. 82, p. 158) – see quotations n. 93, 116, 181 and 201.

Those quotations also mention that the necessary adaptation of these principles and duties of the system of ethics demands their being molded into forms of daily life, which affect the way we earn our lives, the way we work, the way we relate to our spouses or children, the way we choose our leaders, the way we vote etc., i.e. the main social institutions, laws and attitudes that organize the whole of our social lives. And it would be very difficult to teach these things if we did not live in harmony with this system of ethics and its consequent social institutions, both individually or as a group (the TS group). It would be hypocrisy even to suggest these teachings to the public if we did not truly live in harmony with them.

HPB also mentions that this system of ethics (ideally common to all religions, schools of thought etc.) should be “based on eternal verities.” Which eternal verities are these? They are exactly the basic principles of the Perennial Philosophy of which we have been speaking, such as the Universal Brotherhood of all mankind, Reincarnation, Karma, the fundamental unity of all things and the glorious destiny that awaits all human beings, and indeed all beings.

Therefore, the quotation above from The Key to Theosophy gives support to the fundamental points of view defended in this chapter, i.e. the importance of the comparative method; the vital task of passing on to the world in an intelligent manner some basic principles of the Perennial Philosophy; the need for a cautious and gradual diffusion (which is greatly facilitated by the comparative method); and the necessary link to be made among the principles, the system of ethics and life’s real problems, both the individual and social ones. In reality, individual and social problems are but the two sides of the same coin. One side does not exist without the other, and the solution of one, if real, results in the solution of the other, whatever side we look at.

Perhaps some readers may say: – very well, but what shall the  lodges of the TS do in practical terms? It is easier to criticize than to point out concrete lines of action; if there is room for improvement, what is it and how do we achieve it?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, it is not desirable or possible to have the same design of programs everywhere. Different lodges, with different resources (human and material), and different environments require different programs. That is clearly implicit in the need for an adapted spreading of principles, ideas and solutions.

But if we grasp the abstract notions, then we can at least see what it is we should not do. We can see that we should not work in a dogmatic or catechistic way – never. We can see that this is the ruin, the failure of the TS. And unfortunately that is what we see almost everywhere, in the TS centers, both large and small. We see courses and schools of Theosophy almost everywhere – and, of course, to complete the ruin, Theosophy seen and preached as a doctrine. This is just one example of a general misunderstanding of the three great Objects of the TS.

We also see the law of the Universal Brotherhood of humanity preached as a synonym of a true spiritual regeneration of the human mind, and not as a natural law.  Because of this we hear great TS leaders saying that the first and third Objects make practically the same statement, failing to understand our first and major Object, and  many of the  other key concepts of the TS. With all those misunderstandings dominant in the TS, we might truly ask with Taimni: – “Is it to be wondered at, that so few really efficient workers are available in our ranks, and the work of the Society is, in consequence, suffering everywhere?” (Principles of Theosophical Work, p. 47)

Basically, as far as the second Object is concerned, what we are suggesting (as something to be tried in an experimental attitude) is that we should really promote COMPARATIVE studies, and through this method first investigate and then share with the public the results of our studies. Especially our public activities should as far as possible give priority to this method of presentation – always comparing something of the dominant culture of our country (whether linked to religious, philosophical or scientific subjects) to something in another school or area of knowledge.

We can compare science with religions, as Capra did in The Tao of Physics, or attempt several other combinations, such as one religion with another; religions with philosophies or with the arts; and so on, remembering that science generally has an almost decisive part to play in these times – particularly where an educated public is concerned. And we should always bear in mind that our goal is to extract from these studies some relevant basic principles of the Perennial Philosophy or, as HPB wrote, “eternal verities.”

In other words, whenever possible, we should make bridges or correlations between the lack of those basic principles in our age, the wrong ethical systems (ideas and duties) arising from the prevailing wrong principles (denial of the eternal verities), and their consequence in the form of world problems in all areas, individual and social.

All this is pointed out by our second great Object. And not to preach “Theosophy” in a sectarian, dogmatic or catechistic way – which is not in our second Object, nor even in any of its words, ,let alone in its spirit. It is understandable that we should miss the spirit, but to misinterpret the very words of the Object is something really serious a real failure of the work of the TS a failure that unfortunately we can see today in many, or to be more precise, in most branches and sections of the TS. To conclude this chapter, let us take another quotation by HPB, in the same The Key to Theosophy, where we find another statement about the crucial role of the comparative method:

192 – “It is only by studying the various great religions and philosophers of humanity, by comparing them dispassionately and with an unbiassed mind, that men can hope to arrive at the truth. It is especially by finding out and noting their various points of agreement that we may achieve this result. For the sooner do we arrive – either by study, or by being taught by someone who knows – at their inner meaning, than we find, almost in every case, that it expresses some great truth in Nature.” (p. 58)

Therefore, in short, the second Object of the TS provides us with a method to be followed not only through the research of the aforementioned basic principles of the Perennial Philosophy, but also in their transmission to the world. As an example of the effectiveness of this method, we should always remember Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics. This is a text where the comparative approach is used to relate aspects of contemporary Physics to their counterparts found in Eastern religions and philosophies. The book has become an international best-seller, thus proving that people are ready to accept new knowledge with much greater ease when the comparative approach is used.