Theosophy and Universal Brotherhood (4): The Motto Of The Theosophical Society

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

29 – “The principle which gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard or seen or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception.” (M. Collins, The Idyll of the White Lotus, p. 114)

Let us now analyze the motto of the TS,There is no religion higher than Truth. It appears to be an arrow that is always pointed in the direction of Truth and Altruism, i.e., of Theosophy. Let us remember that the state of a truly wise mind, or Theosophy, is in essence much more than mere intellectual knowledge, even though the latter is still true and important. According to HPB, as stated earlier, Theosophy signifies: “Divine Knowledge, which carries the mind from the world of form into that of formless spirit;” “spiritual illumination;” “the vision of eternal truth, goodness, and beauty;” “To unite one’s soul to the Universal Soul;” “Altruism or the Great Renunciation of SELF.” Let us see whether the motto of the TS is not an arrow pointed in this direction.

The Motto of the TS: Example of Bad Translation

The motto of the TS “SATYAN NASTI PARO DHARMA” was borrowed,more than a centuryago, from the then Maharaja of Benares (Varanasi).  It literally means, “There is no Dharma higher than Truth”.  The word “dharma” is generally translated as “religion,” which is certainly one of the meanings of the Sanskrit word.  However, this does not seem to be a satisfactory translation of the sense or the underlying meaning of the motto of the TS.  In the Theosophical Glossary by HPB we can read this about the word “dharma:”

30 – “To this word are attributed several meanings, such as: law, religion, justice, duty, pity, virtue, merit, condition, attribute, essential quality or propriety; doctrine, creed; code, laws; knowledge, wisdom; truth; practice, custom; good; pious work, etc.” (Glossário Teosófico, p. 159)

HPB herself, in the introduction to her principal work, The Secret Doctrine, somewhat enlarges the view of the motto by adding the word “law” in its translation. So let us read further on:

31 – “THERE IS NO RELIGION (OR LAW) HIGHER THAN TRUTH” – “Satyan Nasti Paro Dharma”.(The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I, p. xli)

The truth, however, is that the ordinary religious knowledge is not the only one that limits and conditions the human mind and therefore must be transcended so that one can achieve the state that is called Theosophy, in which Truth and genuine Altruism are present at the same time.  This is clear because in our day and age philosophical knowledge and, above all, scientific knowledge are as or more important than religious canons.  In this case, it would appear that the word “doctrine” would be a more encompassing and fitting translation of the word “dharma” within the context of the motto of TS.  Because the doctrines (that are at best intellectual formulations of Truth, as in the case of the several religious and philosophical conceptions of God and of gods) belong as much to the area of religions as to those of philosophies and modern science.

“There Is No Dharma (Doctrine) Higher than Truth”

N. Sri Ram, past president of the TS, stated a view similar to this interpretation of the motto when he wrote the following:

32 – “The motto of our Society is: ‘There is no religion higher than Truth.’ In the original Sanskrit, of which this is a translation, the word used for ‘religion’ is Dharma, which has a much wider meaning. There is no Dharma – no doctrine, no given rule of conduct, nothing that we may rely upon for suppor – higher than Truth. The Society stands for that Truth, and Brotherhood.” (On the Watch Tower, p. 9)

The motto of the TS, therefore, seems to be always reminding us that there is no doctrine or intellectual formulation (concept) of Truth, whatever it may be, that is more important or higher than the attainment of Theosophy in our lives.

It is the truth, however, that it is possible to understand the motto of the TS in the light of a deeper interpretation.  In that case, the motto would mean that there is no mental perception, of whatever level, higher than Liberation (“Kaivalya” in the language of the “Yoga-Sutras” of Patanjali).  Nevertheless, considering the context in which the motto is used, which aims at communicating something to the people of the world, such a deep, however perfectly true, meaning does not seem to be the most appropriate one.

Besides this, as the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali themselves inform us, perfect mental perception at the level immediately higher than the lower intellectual one is already “Truth-and-Right-bearing.” (“On attaining the utmost purity of the Nirvicara stage (of Samadhi, at the level of the higher manas) there is the dawning of the spiritual light.” (I-47)  “There, the consciousness is Truth-and-Right-bearing.” (I-48))  Therefore, these two reasons, added together, show us that the meaning which seems to be both most complete and most appropriate is the one we saw above, that there is no doctrine (intellectual formulation, representation or conception) higher than the direct attainment of the spiritual light (of Truth and Right), i.e., there is no doctrine higher than the attainment of Theosophy.  HPB confirms the above interpretation, in which she links wisdom to the understanding of our Higher Selves:

33 – “Esoterically then, Job’s statement (28:12 and 12:12) must read: ‘With the Ancient (man’s Higher Ego) is Wisdom, and in the length of days (or the number of its reincarnations) is understanding.’ No man can learn true and final Wisdom in one birth; and every new rebirth, whether we be reincarnated for weal or for woe, is one more lesson we receive at the hands of the stern yet ever just schoolmaste – KARMIC LIFE.” (CW, Vol. XII, p. 313)

The Motto: A Signpost Pointing to the Attainment of Theosophy

The following passage from HPB regarding the relation existing among Theosophy and the TS, as well as regarding the reason for the existence of the TS, seems to be in perfect harmony with the spirit of the motto (as it was explained above):

34 – “Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent. Theosophy, finally, is the fixed eternal sun, and its Society the evanescent comet trying to settle in an orbit to become a planet, ever revolving within the attraction of the sun of truth. It was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it (…)” (The Key to Theosophy, p. 47)

Therefore, the motto is always reminding us that to the human being it is NOT impossible the development of a mind which is truly wise. And also that there is such a thing as Theosophy and that there is nothing superior, that there is nothing more glorious or more important in the human destiny than the factual realization of Truth and of Altruism. That is, there is nothing greater than the realization of the spiritual light (or Theosophy), although to the majority this realization may be related to a yet very distant future.

There is another very well known passage from HPB, which also declares very clearly that the Divine Wisdom or Theosophy is the goal to be reached, sooner or later, through the human efforts. This passage is known as “The Golden Stairs”:

35 – “A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one’s co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of TRUTH, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it; a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defense of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progress and perfection which the secret science (GUPTA-VIDYA) depicts – these are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom.” (CW, Vol. XII, p. 591)

This simple yet marvelous possibility of spiritual growth and elevation that exists in the human nature – which is the heart of the TS motto – seems to be, even at the level of mere intellectual knowledge, one of the teachings that the humanity of our days most badly needs. There is an important passage in the mystical literature of our age that seems to give support to this affirmation (that this knowledge about the possibility of spiritual growth is, indeed, one of the truths that humanity mostly needs).

This passage speaks of three perennial truths, with which we should feed humanity. It is part of the mystical novel The Idyll of the White Lotus, from Mabel Collins. And it also appears in her famous work Light on the Path, which is one the greatest classics of the esoteric literature of all times. Let us remember these three perennial truths:

36 – “There are three truths which are absolute, and which cannot be lost, but yet remain silent for lack of speech.
“I. The soul of man is immortal, and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendour have no limit.
“II. The principle which gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard or seen or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception.
“III. Each man is his own absolute lawgiver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to himself; the decreer of his life, his reward, his punishment.

“These truths, which are as great as is life itself, are simple as the simplest mind of man. Feed the hungry with them.” (The Idyll of the White Lotus, p. 114)

If we were able to accept, even as a hypothesis, the fact revealed by the above statement that these simple truths are as great as life itself and that they are what humanity lacks the most, then we might perhaps have a better understanding of the relevance of the motto of the TS. In the light of the comments made above, we can easily verify that the motto is closely linked to at least the first two of these truths.

The first truth speaks to us of an evolutionary process, or of a progress that has no limits and, therefore, through this growth, of a glorious capacity to attain Truth and Altruism.

The second truth states that Divine Wisdom is eternally beneficent; also, that it is not totally inaccessible to the human being, thus, that it may be attained by those who really wish for it. In perfect harmony with what was written by HPB (quoted earlier), they speak to us of the existence of a thing such as Theosophy (a state of Wisdom in which the mind “is Truth-and-Right-bearing”), as well as of the possibility of man’s perceiving it. In this way, the motto of the TS synthethizes these two first truths.

Concerning the third of these truths, which are simple though absolute or transcending in their greatness and importance, the motto of the TS is not directly linked to it. The motto affirms not only the existence of Truth and Altruism, but also of the possibility of their attainment by the human being, but it does not address the problem of how to do this. Nevertheless, this third truth has a connection to the Objects of the TS when they tell us “to investigate… the powers latent in man.” These powers, as HPB said in an earlier quotation, “are capable of making him a God on the face of the earth.” Thus, the third truth states that man has the power to rise to the glory divine by his own efforts.

Having analyzed the connection between Theosophy and the name and motto of the TS, in the next chapters we shall examine the way in which Theosophy is linked to its three Objects.