THEOSOPHY IN THE MODERN WORLD by Lo Guest Perhaps

It would be a good idea and the best way to start this article for me to define a few expressions which we use constantly. For instance, what do we mean by the vague expression ‘the modern world’? Do we intend to convey that it is an age different to every other age? Or perhaps that people are different? Or, that suddenly the world itself has changed and with it our surroundings? Perhaps we all tend to think that way a little bit. However, if we take a slightly closer look at the ages preceding ours, we find that every generation prior to ours has thought of itself as the ‘modern ones’, the ones living in “the new age” which was exciting and destined to change the world in one short generation.  In all the different “modern times” which have occurred over the millennia our globe has seen peaceful times, turbulent times, and evil times. It has seen times of total destruction, times when people were despairing of the future and believed that doomsday was just around the corner, a matter of a few short weeks, months, or at the most years away. From legends surviving from ancient times, we know that humanity has managed to destroy its civilizations and the bulk of humanity by steeping itself into evil practices, which caused natural upheavals of immense proportions, as told in the story of the Deluge in Genesis and in the legends of every other civilization in existence on this globe today. Legends however also tell us that humanity survived these upheavals, and started to build again and go forward in its evolution. Little has survived from the ancient times of the things that man built for himself or fashioned, except one thing: the age old wisdom of truth, which has been taught to mankind over and over again particularly at times when it stood in danger of forgetting it and by forgetting it, became capable of destroying itself. But always, as it is to this very day, the choice of accepting the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom or turning one’s conscience away from it, was a choice that each man had to make for himself. This brings me to another word that might need explaining once again, for we are all apt to get lost, lose track of what we say to each other simply by semantics, the way in which we use words to try to make ourselves understood. How often has it happened that we have meant the same thing as our neighbour, and simply by the fact that the words we used to each other were misunderstood, feuds have developed. This other word which I think needs an explanation once again is the word Theosophy. Where better can I go for an explanation but to the source, which tried to explain the meaning of theosophy to us in the last century. I am referring to Mme. Blavatsky and her book The Key to Theosophy. The name Theosophy is explained therein as ‘Divine Wisdom’, wisdom as possessed by the Gods. The term Theosophy, is many thousands of years old. It was perhaps recoined in the third century of our era by Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth, Philaletheians. Under whatever name Theosophy might have been known its ancient message which tries to bring to mankind great moral truths has not changed over the millennia. The words might have differed, the meaning has always been the same, sometimes hidden and obscured to avoid its misuse by the ruthless and unscrupulous ones, and at other times its words could be head loud and clear. 

I can hear many of you think: but we live now, not 130 years ago, so let us now take a look at our own time. We live in a turbulent, often violent age, when older values seem to crumble, and however desperately we search, we find little to put into their place. In many instances it is fear which motivates us, fear of the horror that our mind can conjure up for us, when we think about it that mankind once again has the power to destroy itself to a large extent. But surely fear is not the only thing that the modern world of today has brought to us. I am fully aware of the fact that there are many advances in the maintenance of the physical body, which allows many of us to live much longer. We have made technical advances in many fields. We know how to fly, we know how to walk on the moon, we can photograph the universe and even beyond our known universe and slowly our scientists are discovering for themselves the truth in some of the ancient scriptures that there exist, universes beyond universes as well as our own. We can even split the atom now and therefore have got the means to destroy ourselves.   How did the ancients know so many things which we are just starting to discover? It is possible that this modern age is the age when the time has come for man to start to think, to take stock of himself and try to understand himself and what life is all about?. There has been a growing interest in the ancient scriptures of the East in the Western world. Maybe the interest in them is so great because the Western world recognizes, perhaps unconsciously so, that it is rediscovering its own heritage, which it had forgotten and lost over the centuries in its search for power and material gains. This search was fostered by unscrupulous men who corrupted the ancient teachings to suit their own purposes. It is no use to blame those who are unscrupulous and power-hungry, for it is others, in their way just as corrupt and out for their personal gain, that give them the opportunity to gain power initially. If we look rationally and logically at the achievements in the physical and material world of the 20th Century, or as some like to call its second half, the Aquarian age, we can be proud of the discoveries we have made, for every one of these discoveries can be used to benefit humanity. If we chose to use them evilly and destructively, we can only blame ourselves. Now, that the ancient teachings are available again, the same thing is happening and people who are unscrupulous and thirst for power are trying to use the ancient teachings for their own use. They try to exploit the people who are looking for a change in lifestyle, a new set of values, for love and peace in this world. They are often exploiting the fact that on the material level we have become used to and expect to have instant happenings such as instant meals, instant cash, instant communications, etc. Many of the new sects now promise on the spiritual levels instant cures, instant enlightenment. This urge of ours to expect instant results if blinding us to the fact that the evolution and growth of humanity on this globe is taking many, many generations, and this generation, like all others before and after it, has to decide for itself how to deal with its Karma and remember that the world it helps to shape today might be the world it has to inherit tomorrow.            

Theosophy never has, and never will promise an easy way to understand what life is all about. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Theosophy in its original meaning has not got a great following of men, and yet serves as the source for many of the ideas current in today’s society. Theosophy in its quiet way, with its rejection of dogmas, is like a spring that continues to flow against all odds. Many of theosophy’s ideas have been distorted once again, partly because they are misunderstood, and partly because people are not prepared to think and read and study for themselves.   The ideas of Karma and Reincarnation have deep meanings. One of their most basic ideas is the idea of brotherhood of men. This is hard to understand in its full meaning and still harder to live by. We realize this, for our mind tells us that if we understood this concept properly, who would then want to hurt his brother?  Theosophy in this modern age has to be within us, in our dealing with people around us. Having the awareness of what Theosophy is all about puts a burden upon man which he must be willing to accept and try to abide by. There is nobody to tell him whether he has done right or wrong except his own conscience. He does not need to attend classes in self-analysis, for he does it himself by not allowing the excuses we make for the wrong we do to cover our conscience.   Theosophy in this modern world is a hard road to follow. There is nobody to praise you, the pitfalls are many but if our deeds and thoughts can be like the little stone that wanted its message made known. It dropped into a pond and created waves in thee still waters which then carried the message of the stone to the furthest shores of the pond. If we can be a bit like the little stone and quietly, without any dogma or force let people know about the ideas of theosophy, we have done a little bit about showing people what theosophy is all about.  Theosophy in this modern world serves the purpose of quietly, without power and glory, helping to keep alive the ancient truths without which humanity cannot life. There is nothing spectacular about Theosophy, there is no promise of instant enlightenment, of contact with other worlds etc. The teachings of Theosophy are there, more easily available today perhaps than for many centuries before, but it is up to each one of us to find them and once we find them to try and understand them for nobody can tell anybody else what is right for him. Each one of us has to be his or her own judge always remembering that life and Karma is cause and effect. One of the lessons theosophy teaches, and which is so sadly missing in this modern world, is to avoid excesses of any kind. The middle path is perhaps the hardest path of all to tread for it demands tolerance and understanding and above all love for our fellowmen. It also demands of us that we keep our equilibrium particularly under stress.  Perhaps there is no better way to finish this talk for me than to quote out of ‘Expanding Horizons’ by James long who concludes his book as follows:  “The present confusion of ideals has brought us to a dangerous pass – And I am not referring to the perils of missiles and rockets, satellites or bombs. Those are symptoms, and alarming ones in the hands of the wilfully destructive; but they are symptoms only and do not constitute Man. Should the much-feared destruction of civilization eventuate – which I very much doubt will occur – we will have to rely on the simple yet all-inclusive truth that you may destroy the body but you cannot kill life. Man will survive; he will face and surmount every cataclysm that may be in store, whether by flood, fire, outer space – or himself! Nations and races, as such have time and again passed out of existence, but the egos that once inhabited them incarnate anew, in other lands and in other racial strains. If we can grasp that larger vision as far as is humanly possible, this will not remove the dangers, but it will help us to meet whatever comes with fortitude. So let us take courage and join hands with those clear-sighted and strong individuals in every country who are quietly working to keep the wheels of progress moving forward.” Here in a nutshell, I think we have not only what Theosophy is in the modern world, but also a statement of its task, which is to quietly but sincerely give love, compassion and understanding to our fellowmen.             

This is the text of a lecture presented to the Theosophical Society Pasadena in Melbourne, Australia. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Theosophical Society Pasadena.