Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood (3): Theosophy And The Name Of The Theosophical Society

(Chapter III of the work “Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood”)

9 – “For real Theosophy is ALTRUISM, and we cannot repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to Truth.” (HPB, CW, Vol. XI, p. 202)

Having introduced the question of the influence of the Adepts on the foundation of the TS, we shall now examine the relationship existing between the enlightened Sages and Theosophy. This relationship can be examined in a manner that perhaps will make its understanding easier when analyzed together with the choice of the name of the TS. For this reason we shall show in this chapter how the name “Theosophical Society” was chosen and what it means. We shall therefore analyze the name of the TS to try to reveal the true conceptual meaning of the word Theosophy, which, obviously, is centrally related to the Theosophical Society.

The Choice of the Name of the Theosophical Society

The manner in which the name of the TS was chosen is narrated by Olcott in his mentioned work, Old Diary Leaves, from which we quote:

10 – “The choice of a name for the Society was, of course, a question for grave discussion in Committee. Several were suggested, among them, if I recollect aright, The Egyptological, The Hermetic, The Rosicrucian, etc; but none seemed just the thing. At last, in turning over the leaves of the Dictionary, one of us came across the word Theosophy”, whereupon, after discussion, we unanimously agreed that that was the best of all; since it both expressed the esoteric truth we wished to reach and covered the ground of Felt’s methods of occult scientific research.” (H.S. Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, p. 132)

It was in this manner, apparently almost by chance that the word Theosophy became of central importance in the philosophical-religious life of the organization proposed by the Adepts. As we saw, Theosophy originally represented the esoteric truth that the founders sought to attain.

A more thorough examination of the meaning of the word Theosophy and the name derived from it (Theosophical Society) is something that becomes invested with special importance when one tries to explain the Objectives of the TS in a proper wayThe reason for this is that through time the word has been invested with different meanings, some of which confer a sectarian aspect on the organizationWe shall try to show that this is something that has represented and still represents a serious problem in the life of the TS.

Theosophy is Altruism

We would like to show that in respect to the interpretations of the very name “Theosophy” there are great differences, which are related to the success as well as to the failure of the Theosophical SocietyIn short, we will try to show in this text that if Theosophy is defined as a state of being that has attained Truth, Altruism and Bliss (three aspects in the same state of being), in other words, a true living Wisdom, then Theosophy is a part of the success of the TS.

However, when Theosophy is seen only as a given doctrine, or even when Theosophy is seen as also meaning a certain doctrine (which, in this interpretation, would be the superficial aspect of Theosophy) – then, in both cases, it is part of the failure of the TS.

The quotations from the writings of HPB that follow are examples of the first hypothesis of the conception of the word Theosophy (as a true living Wisdom):

11 –  “Without truth and justice there can be no Wisdom.” (CW, Vol. XII, p. 310)

12 – “Wisdom and Truth are synonymous terms, and that which is false or pernicious cannot be wise.” (CW, Vol. XII, p. 316)

13 – “THE WISDOM, Theosophia – the Wisdom ‘full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy’. (James, 3:17)” (CW, Vol. XII, p. 320)

14 – “Let them know at once and remember always that true Occultism or Theosophy is the ‘Great Renunciation of SELF,’ unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is ALTRUISM.” (Practical Occultism, p. 43)

Mere Intellectual Knowledge Is Not Theosophy

We can clearly see that, in the case of this interpretation, Divine Wisdom or Theosophy can never be totally disassociated from truth, from a way of being, or from a compassionate, beneficial and just life. It could never be confused, in this instance, with a mere intellectual knowledge, which may always be used to build as well as to destroy. More than this, often purely intellectual knowledge is much more an impediment than an aid to the spiritual evolution of the human being, as is affirmed in the quotations below:

15 – “Spiritual faculties demand instruction and regulation even more than our mental gifts, for intellect imbibes wrong far more easily than good.” (K.H., LMW, 1st Series, L. IV, p. 150-151)

16 – “To spiritual evolution, purely intellectual growth is often more an impediment than a help.” (HPB, CW, Vol. V, p. 145)

This dual possibility of interpretation, which, on the one hand, stands for a glorious conception of Theosophy and, on the other hand, for a conception which is, to say the least, mediocre, was alluded to by the Adepts who inspired the foundation of the TS, as we can read below:

17 – “I am sorry to find you comparing Theosophy to a painted house on the stage whereas in the hands of true philanthropists and theosophists it might become as strong as an impregnable fort.” (M., ML, L. 38, p. 251)

An example of very clear testimony with respect to the possible differences and the problems brought by them into the life of the TS appears in the following extract from an article by  Jeanine Miller, published in The American Theosophist:

18 – “The fountain of the spiritual truth is not contained in any book, but it is extrated through the soul of man.

“The crucial aspect of theosophy, the divine wisdom, was expressed by H.P. Blavatsky thus:

‘Real theosophy is altruism. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving devotion to truth.’ (Lucifer, 1889)

“This note of devotion to truth, not to any personality or set of doctrines or concepts, sounded by Mme. Blavatsky is far too often overlooked.(…)

“Our international president in her article on ‘Krishnaji’s Challenge’ in the Fall 1987 issue of The American Theosophist, gave us a similar emphasis:

‘Theosophy is in reality the living wisdom which comes into being through observing and understanding the process of life, not merely at the physical level, but also at the psychological and subtler levels of existence. Wisdom is born when the mind casts aside its preconceptions and limitations and moves into a different dimension.’ (p. 346)

“She adds, and this is of fundamental relevance to us here and now:

‘The Theosophical Society can continue to be a force for the good, only to the extent that theosophy does not become another set of concepts or beliefs.’ (p. 345-6)

“In my experience of members of the Theosophical Society – I have traveled round the world – theosophy has become just another set of concepts and beliefs. Far too often members equate theosophy with the set of doctrines given out at the end of the nineteenth century through HPB’s major works and the other writers, and not with divine wisdom. (…) What a terrible crippling of the mind! Some of us have in the past decades made the nineteenth century reformulation into a dogma which is offered as the pure fountain of spiritual truth. The danger of the Theosophical Society becoming set in a particular pattern of thought which centers around certain reformulations of age old truths is all too painfully with us here and now and most of us are not even aware of it.” (J. Miller, “Theosophy for the Future”, in The American Theosophist, Jan-Feb/1989, pp. 3-4)

For Jeanine Miller, therefore, when Theosophy is seen as a given doctrine, there will always be a problem of the Theosophical Society becoming set in a particular pattern of thought. Another example of testimony regarding the possible differences and the problems they cause in the life of the TS is the following excerpt from an article by Ariel Sanat, published in the American Theosophist, (May/1988):

19 – “Another implication in all this is that anyone who believes in or presents Theosophy to others as if it were a series of fixed teachings, would be, despite good intentions, most lamentably misrepresenting the truth and likely to be doing a disservice to the esoteric teaching.” (The Secret Doctrine, Krishnamurti and Transformation, p. 143)

For many people this allusion of danger by Jeanine Miller and Ariel Sanat perhaps can appear to be a merely terminological question and thus of little significance.  Therefore, it is helpful if we try to explain this a little more thoroughly.  And which is the central aspect of the question that can turn Theosophy into the part of the success of the TS instead of its failure, like an “impregnable fort” in the Mahatma’s quoted words?

In the first place, we should like to state that this question will be considered again in the chapter dedicated to the second Object of the TS, at the end of the text. At that point, it will be possible to consider this question more closely since we shall be assisted by what has been established all through the text.  However, at least some general idea of these problems should be given at this time as we analyze the definition of Theosophy.

The Problem of Theosophy when Defined as a Doctrine

The way we see it, one of the principal aspects of the gravity of this problem is related to the fact that it has a damaging effect on the central mission of the TS, which one of the Adepts referred to in the following terms:

20 – “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)

The damaging effect on this mission is due to the fact that in our day and age the highest minds tend to be conditioned by the predominance of scientific thought and react negatively to all forms of religious sectarianism. A few years after the foundation of the TS, Damodar K. Malavankar, one of the great and dedicated individuals in the early years of the TS, wrote:

21 – “A general impression appears to prevail that the Society is a religious sect. (…) By placing the facts before the unprepared general public (…) we have made ourselves in a measure odious in the eyes of the public.” (D.K. Mavalankar, ML, L. 142a, p. 486)

This must have been one of the reasons that led the Maha-Chohan (mentioned as a great Chief among the Adepts) to make the following statement in regard to the doctrine that They had proclaimed:

22 – “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)

In his work Principles of Theosophical Work I.K. Taimni also comments on the great need for adaptation in the work of the TS, for example, when he writes:

23 – “But there are a large number of people belonging to neither of these extreme classes 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.” (Principles of Theosophical Work, p. 173)

In this way, the meaning we attribute to the word Theosophy is not merely a terminological question. It is a point that can reinforce the tendency already widely spread – and not without reason – that the TS appears to be a religious sectThis might fundamentally affect and damage all the work done by the Society, in the measure that it provokes a negative reaction which tends to repel rather than captivate “the attention of the highest minds”.

Theosophy is Wisdom, It is Illumination

The quotation from HPB below on the one hand attests to the existence of mistaken, and therefore problematic, conceptions of the word Theosophy from its beginning especially because of the name of our Society. On the other hand it also confirms that which, we believe to be its correct conceptual meaning:

24 – “However insignificant, and however limited the line of good deeds, the latter will have always more weight than empty and vainglorious talk, and will be theosophy whereas theories without any practical realisation are at best philosophy. Theosophy is an all-embracing Science; many are the ways leading to it, as numerous in fact as its definitions, which began by the sublime, during the day of Ammonius Saccas, and ended by the ridiculous in Webster’s Dictionary.” (The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, p. 44)

In view of these facts, and since we are dealing with a point which is of importance in attempting to understand a Society denominated “Theosophical,” we shall give closer attention to the meaning of the word Theosophy. Let us see how HPB herself defined it conceptually in her book The Key to Theosophy:

25 – “Enquirer: Is Theosophy a religion?

Theosophist: It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.

“Enq: What is the real meaning of the term?

 “Theo: ‘Divine Wisdom,’ Theosophia or Wisdom of the gods, as Theogonia, genealogy of the gods. The word Theos means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not ‘God’ in the sense attached in our day to the term. Therefore, it is not ‘Wisdom of God,’ as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.” (The Key to Theosophy, p. 1)

Let us examine some other passages that illustrate this, such as the following quotation from HPB, where she goes deeper into the analysis of the meaning of Theosophy:

26 – “To fully define Theosophy, we must consider it under all its aspects. The interior world has not been hidden from all by unpenetrable darkness. By that higher intuition acquired by Theosophia or God-knowledge, which carries the mind from the world of form into that of formless spirit, man has been sometimes enabled in every age and every country to perceive things in the interior or invisible world.

“Hence, the ‘Samadhi,’ or Dyan Yog Samadhi, of the Hindu ascetics; the ‘Daimonion-photi’ or spiritual illumination, of the Neo-Platonists; the ‘Sidereal confabulation of souls,’ of the Rosicrucians or Fire-philosophers; and, even the ecstatic trance of mystics and of the modern mesmerists and spiritualists are identical in nature, though various as to manifestation. The search after man’s divine ‘self,’ so often and so erroneously interpreted as individual communion with a personal God, was the object of every mystic, and belief in its possibility seems to have been coëval with the genesis of humanity each people giving it another name.

“Thus Plato and Plotino call ‘Noëtic work’ that which the Yogis and the Srotrya term Vidya. ‘By reflection, self-knowledge and intellectual discipline, the soul can be raised to the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty that is, to the Vision of God – this is the epopteia,’ said the Greeks. ‘To unite one’s soul to the Universal Soul,’ says Porphyry, ‘requires but a perfectly pure mind. Through self-contemplation, perfect chastity, and purity of body, we may approach nearer to It, and receive, in that state, true knowledge and wonderful insight.’” (CW, Vol. II, p. 92)

In the above quotation from HPB we can clearly perceive that Theosophy is explained, in essence as something very great, or of a higher quality than a mere system of intellectual knowledge such as ordinary scientific knowledge or the knowledge of any philosophical, or even religious, doctrineIn other words, Theosophy is defined as being essentially a state of consciousness vastly superior to any intellectual knowledge, whether it is of facts, ideas or currents of thought.

As we have seen, HPB conceptualized Theosophy as the infallible light of spiritual consciousness, of true wisdom and illumination, which is, according to our firm conviction, the correct intellectual conception of the meaning of Theosophy.  Would there be something new about this conception? No, as there is nothing new below the sun. In this sense we can read in a letter that expresses the Maha-Choan’s views as follows:

27 – “For as everyone knows, total emancipation from authority of the one all-pervading power or law (Note: the law of Karma) called God by the priests – Buddha, Divine Wisdom and enlightenment or Theosophy, by the philosophers of all ages (…).” (LMW, 1st Series, L. 1, p. 5)

“Theosophical Society” Means “Altruistic Society”

Thus, since it is clear that the word Theosophy stands for the state of a truly knowing mind, whose essential attributes are “Altruism” and “the true spiritual illumination,” and that this is the meaning of “genuine wisdom” the fact that our Society is called “Theosophical Society” means an “altruistic society” or a society that exists to promote the integral well-being of humanity, or better yet, a society inspired by genuine wisdom.

The name “Theosophical Society”, therefore, does not have the meaning generally attributed to it of a society linked to a given reformulation of the Truth, i.e., a given philosophical-religious doctrine (which would be Theosophy)It really stands for a society whose nature and whose objectives were inspired by the light of spiritual consciousness, or by minds that were wholly altruistic and, therefore, truly wise.

For some, this last fact may not be immediately understood, or have been made sufficiently clear. In other words, that the truly Wise (Theosophical) state of mind must at the same time have as its essential attributes the realization of Truth on the one hand, and pure Altruism on the other. In this context, it will be helpful for us to examine the passage below by I.K. Taimni, in which he explains why Truth and Love are, in fact, two fundamental attributes of a Wise mind, a mind that is illuminated spiritually (whose light is Theosophy):

 28 – “Love, Wisdom and Bliss are names of the different aspects of the same state of Consciousness in which the individual is aware of the Whole. The perception of the Whole in which everything is seen in its proper perspective and true nature is Wisdom. The attitude towards the Whole and its different parts which results from the awareness of this unity and harmonious relationship is Love. The reaction in consciousness which is the joint product of this awareness of oneness and completeness on the one hand and the attitude of love on the other is Bliss or Ananda. It will be seen therefore that Wisdom, Love and Bliss are different aspects of the same state of Divine Consciousness (…)”  (I.K. Taimni, Glimpses into the Psychology of Yoga, p. 308)

However, as we saw before, this inspiration of Theosophy in relation to the TS as a whole inspiration that is expressed in the name “THEOSOPHICAL Society,” refers only to its objectives in abstract terms. And this does not mean, of course, that the TS and its members always maintain this theosophical nature in their politics and actionsThis being so, in abstract terms, the denomination “THEOSOPHICAL Society” stands for an organization that seeks to promote the integral and universal well-being of humanity, as otherwise it would not be an expression of Divine Wisdom or of true Altruism.

This attribute implicit in the denomination of the TS must, if it were true, necessarily be reflected in the motto and in the Objects of the TS, a fact we shall be examining in the next chapters.

Even at the risk of becoming repetitive, it seems advisable to emphasize that this nature of a truly altruistic society, at least in respect to its objectives, is also linked to the fact that the TS was founded through inspiration and even, as we saw earlier, by order of the spiritually enlightened and, therefore, wholly altruistic Sages.

As we emphasize what we have already said, it also becomes necessary to repeat that the existence itself of the Mahatmas is NOT a compulsory belief in the TS, as is clearly stated in the first Object of the TS, which proposes the formation of a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF CREEDTherefore, the only point on which an acceptance by all the members must necessarily exist is the great principle or law of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, as well as the will to form a nucleus of this universal brotherhood.

It must not come as a surprise, however, that in the face of the numerous declarations left behind by the founders, as well as of the testimony of their self-denying lives for the cause of the welfare of humanity the majority of the members accept the plausibility of the existence of the MahatmasIn the case of these people, it is clear that the relation (between the implicit altruistic character in the name “THEOSOPHICAL Society” and the fact that it was been founded under the inspiration of the Adepts) is accepted quite effortlessly, at least as a very probable hypothesis.