WHAT IS THEOSOPHY?

 

The word theosophy comes from a Greek compound meaning ‘god wisdom’ or ‘wisdom of divine things’. It was first used in ancient times, notably in the 3rd century AD by the disciples of Ammonius Saccus in connection with his ‘eclectic theosophical school’ in Alexandria, Egypt. There he attempted to show the common truth behind many of the systems of thought of his day and how to reach essential unity. Later the word was used by medieval European Alchemists, Cabbalists, Rosicrucians, Hermeticists, Freemasons, and by 18th century ‘Theosophers’. Essentially, however, theosophy transcends these particular movements: it is the reality of the universe, things as they actually are, as far as human consciousness can encompass them. In this broadest sense, theosophy has been expressed countless times throughout the ages by individuals and the many religious, scientific, and philosophic systems of mankind. All of us must discover this aspect of theosophy ourselves – in our life and thought.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE MAIN IDEAS OF THEOSOPHY?

 

Among the basic ideas are: the oneness and universality of life, consciousness, and substance;  brotherhood as a fact in nature; reincarnation; karma; the many facets of our being – material, psychological, and spiritual – and what happens to them after death; evolution as an unfolding from within of divine potential; spiritual development as opposed to psychism and the occult arts; and the path of altruism and compassion. These ideas can be found in all the world’s major religions and form the spiritual heritage of mankind. The key of the modern theosophical movement is the oneness of all life. The cosmos, the solar system, planets, and all earth’s inhabitants are essentially spiritual beings. They have the same divine source, and are in the process of evolving forth their inner potentials. All human beings are inwardly one, forming together an integral part of the Earth’s being.

 

WHAT ARE THE THREE FUNDAMENTAL PROPOSITIONS OF THEOSOPHY?

 

In her masterwork, The Secret Doctrine, HP Blavatsky sets forth three ‘fundamental propositions’ of theosophy as follows:

 

1/ There is an ‘Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception…” This Infinity – referred to as Space, the great Void or Fullness – contains, and indeed is, everything which exists, past, present, and future. It cannot be described or limited in any way or it would no longer be infinite.

 

 

2/ This boundless space is the field for the cyclic appearance and disappearance of numberless worlds, “like the regular tidal ebb, flux, and reflux,” pointing to duality and periodicity as fundamental in nature.

 

 

3/ All beings originate from the same divine source and are in essence identical with it. Further, each of these sparks of divinity evolves by embodying, according to cyclic and karmic law, in every “form of the phenomenal world”, developing its individuality at first instinctively and later by its own efforts till it has “passed through all the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest” – through sub-mineral, mineral, plant, human and beyond. This last axiom indicates that the universe is an organism composed of countless lesser organisms, all evolving towards divinity.

 

 

 

WHERE DID THEOSOPHICAL IDEAS COME FROM?

 

Rooted in nature itself, they were experienced and formulated long ago by human beings advanced far beyond the average – the Masters of Wisdom, and shared by these sages  with their fellows and disciples. Some of these great people are remembered as mythic figures or as founders of schools of thought; most, however, remain unknown. These more evolved human beings not only existed in the past, but exist today and exert an influence on the rest of mankind through their lives, thoughts, and teachings. It is to several of these modern sages or advanced human beings that HP Blavatsky, principle founder of the modern theosophical movement, traced the main outline of the teachings she transmitted to the world.

 

 

IS THEOSOPHY JUST FOR THOSE PEOPLE INTERESTED IN DEVELOPING PSYCHIC POWERS AND THE OCCULT ARTS?

 

Many people view theosophy as a school for the occult arts. Many of our discussions mention the invisible worlds or aspects of the inner constitution of man and how these worlds impinge and relate to the outer world that we know. This can be disturbing and even frightening to many people, and so the impression can be that Theosophy is a body of knowledge for those interested in ‘freaky’ subjects such as ghosts, clairaudience, clairvoyance, reading people’s thoughts, etc. Certainly, one of the aims of the Theosophical Society is to study the powers innate in man, but, is Theosophy just another school for the study of the more spectacular aspects of occultism? No, Theosophy recognizes the reality of the invisible worlds and their inter-relation with ours, but it is principally interested in developing our true human potentials for understanding, patience, tolerance, and love as we come to understand our place in the oness of the living universe through the spiritual knowledge and practice Theosophy teaches.

 

 

IS THEOSOPHY JUST COMPARATIVE RELIGION?

 

Many of the ideas and certainly the language of much of theosophy seem to be based on concepts from ancient religions and philosophies, especially Hinduism and Buddhism from ancient India. Many of the basic ideas of Theosophy seem to come right out a textbook on Buddhism with concepts like Karma and Reincarnation that we usually associate with Indian religion being major topics of conversation in theosophical meetings. This impression is reinforced by the widespread use of complex technical terms in Theosophy which come from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. Terms such as ‘Swabhava’, ‘Linga Sarira’, ‘Nirvana’, all have a strong Indian flavour to them and many technical theosophical discussions sound like they are half in a foreign language! This has lead many people to think of theosophy as an amalgam of Eastern, especially Indian, religions made palatable for a Western audience rather than a vibrant and living philosophy in its own right with truths relevant to a Western audience of the here and now. Many theosophical discussions often degenerate into discussion of where ideas appear in the different cultures and religions of the world rather than recognizing that Theosophy is really an attempt at revealing the core spiritual knowledge whence these religions arose.

 

 

IS THEOSOPHY JUST ANOTHER SET OF BELIEFS THAT I MUST ACCEPT?

 

No! The theosophical philosophy is not just another set of beliefs that must be accepted or adhered to blindly; rather, it is a group of ideas from which a person may take what seems correct and useful to him. As with all ideas, the meanings received depend largely on the background and attitudes we each have when looking at these ideas. As we feel out what we each believe, we can test our findings by putting them into practice in our lives. Thus we begin to work more closely with the patterns of nature, gradually harmonizing with the whole to which we belong and in doing so we are better able to serve our fellow human beings.

 

Theosophy will be meaningless to us if we have not proved the validity of the ideas to ourselves individually and this process is going to be different and take longer or shorter depending on each one of us. It is like a student at high-school trying to learn maths – it is no use just looking up the answers to maths problems in the back of the textbook – if we do that, we’ll never be able to work out the next maths problem for ourselves! We need to prove to ourselves whether theosophical ideas have any meaning to us so that we may become more self-aware and spiritually self-reliant – like the Masters of Wisdom who searched for these same truths ages before us. We then may be able to help others with these powerful ideas which have the capacity to change people’s behaviour for the better. Thus we can do our bit to relieve suffering in this troubled world.

 

IS THEOSOPHY JUST FOR INTELLECTUAL DISCUSSION, OR CAN YOU APPLY IT TO DAILY LIFE?

 

One of the many popular misconceptions of Theosophy and the work of the Theosophical Society, is that Theosophy is just a form of ‘ivory tower’ intellectual discussion remote from actual application to daily life.  On the contrary, Theosophy is rather a form of character-building. That is that we should take seriously the teachings of Theosophy and simply put them into action in our lives and this will automatically strengthen and build our characters and have a beneficial affect on those who come into contact with us. Instead of looking at Theosophical teachings just as fascinating theories and concepts, try for a few hours every day to see them as realities and change your behaviour to conform to these realities. For example, think of Karma and Reincarnation as realities. There are many things we would do, and more we would not do, if we seriously thought of these teachings as actual realities. This is putting Inner Theosophy into Outer Action, or simply practicing what we preach, or as the Buddhist saying goes: “It is necessary to live the life to understand the doctrine.” Theosophy, along with all the major religions of the world, encourages us to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves – to sincerely try to live the ‘Golden Rule’ in our daily lives.

 

In this way we begin to self-direct our spiritual evolution. By this I mean we seriously take hold of the possibilities that await us in this and future lives. Instead of being blindly blown around by the winds of fate, we understand the basic laws of the universe from what we are told in Theosophy and put them into action. By so doing we can contribute toward a more spiritually enlightened future for ourselves and others. Other people will observe our actions and how we behave in certain, especially stressful and demanding situations, be impressed by what they see, and be attracted to what we have to offer them philosophically, and as warm and helpful human beings. As the Buddhists would say: “The flowers come into bloom when the sage walks through the garden’ or, as they say in India: “The bees come of their own accord in search of honey when the flower is in full bloom.”

 

 FURTHER READING

 

         WHAT IS THEOSOPHY? Charles Ryan – from the series of manuals on basic theosophical teachings.

 

         THE OCEAN OF THEOSOPHY: William Quan Judge: a succinct overview from one of the principle Founders of the Theosophical Society

 

         EXPANDING HORIZONS: James A. Long: questions we all ask about the Ancient Wisdom simply explained.

 

         TO LIGHT A THOUSAND LAMPS: Grace F. Knoche: a modern introduction to Theosophy.

 

         Also available: EXPLORING THEOSOPHY– a collection of articles on basic theosophy offered free of charge to seriously interested enquirers.