April 2005 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the April 2005 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Difficulties which Theosophy
MOST theosophists will probably agree that the teachings of modern Theosophy, when first presented to them in an acceptable form, burst upon their lives as a powerful illuminant, throwing light where previously there had been darkness, converting a little understood chaos into a fairly well-ordered cosmos. So many baffling problems resolved themselves in terms of reincarnation and karma: phenomena before incomprehensible now were easily explained. Secrets of our own nature now revealed themselves: the purpose of life at last became intelligible, life with its manifold experiences of pleasure and of pain, its problems of morality, its ethical puzzles, its troubles and its complexities.
There appear to be many who do not grow beyond this stage, who remain satisfied that the key to the mysteries of life and death is to be found in a few simple teachings, dealing with reincarnation, karma, man and his bodies, the mechanism of thought, the existence of the Path, and so on. For them Theosophy ‘explains so much’ that difficulties vanish and life becomes simple and easy. Their programme is plain: all they have to do is to ‘help evolution’, to work with that mysterious something glibly summed up in this comprehensive term ‘evolution’. What nobler plan of life could the heart of man desire, and what simpler or easier to understand?
To avoid misunderstanding, let me state, definitely and emphatically, that modern Theosophy does explain a very great deal which otherwise remains inexplicable, and does throw a flood of illumination on life’s puzzles for which I, for one, can never sufficiently express my gratitude. But the tale does not end here; this is but the beginning; a few letters of the alphabet have been conned. Before us lie the pages of a vast literature, the very existence of which has before been scarcely suspected.
A good many years ago, an old member of the Society said to me: ‘Your difficulties do not end when you join the Theosophical Society; they begin then.’ At that time Theosophy had just brought me to the first stage of omniscience, and the remark, little understood at the moment, was stored away for future cogitations. Now I am beginning to see the truth of what my friend said, and the reasons why what he said necessarily must be true, if modern Theosophy is what it claims to be.
The difficulties which Theosophy creates are twofold: firstly, those which result from the clash of theosophical with pre-theosophical thought; secondly, those which accompany the discovery of new lands and new problems. The first group is familiar to everyone who takes Theosophy at all seriously, and the more earnest and logically wholehearted in Theosophy a man is, the more will this class of difficulty make itself felt.
To take a few concrete examples of a comparatively elementary character: a true theosophist, with love for other kingdoms besides his own kindled in his heart, refuses to eat the flesh of slaughtered creatures; at once he is met with family or social opposition; travel takes on an additional inconvenience; society regards him as a nuisance. He renounces the alcohol and tobacco habits as enemies of physical purity; his friends denounce him as unsociable, and apply to him the contempt usually meted out to teetotallers. If a woman, garments of fur and feather are rejected as unworthy of one who has any pity for the unfortunate animals and birds murdered in cold blood to secure these luxurious articles of dress or adornment; fashions are thus offended, and the offenders dubbed eccentric and hypersentimental. Blood-sports, dear to the heart of man, have to be renounced as cruel and unworthy of a theosophist; the scorn levelled at the teetotaller is multiplied tenfold for the man possessed by what are deemed such effeminate notions and such maudlin sentimentalism. Time is considered too valuable to throw away on foolish chatter, on enervating frivolities and amusements; society knows well how to administer rebuke, and goes out of its way to make the path of the transgressor unpleasant. Instances could be multiplied; at every turn difficulties and opposition are met with, and must be expected.
The theosophist sees, or believes he sees, further than other people; his code of morality is that of the future; the ways of the present cannot suffice for him, for he is attempting to achieve today what the world will achieve tomorrow, and to live today as the world will live tomorrow. The more advanced his views and his methods are, obviously the more different will they be from those of his fellows; and to be different, to refuse to conform, to break its rules, to cease to bow down to its idols of convention and custom — these are the unforgivable sins of society; and, as we have already said, society knows how to make hard the way of the man or woman who refuses to comply, and elects to be different.
The second group of difficulties necessarily arises from the widening of the horizon brought about by the advent of Theosophy. With Theosophy, life becomes much deeper, hence it is easier to drown; life becomes vaster, hence it is easier to lose one’s way; more important, hence more difficult to direct well. With Theosophy comes increased responsibility; for does not Theosophy mean more knowledge, and is not enlarged knowledge synonymous with enlarged responsibilities? Increase of responsibility does not simplify life, but lends to it additional complexity and difficulty.
Once again, let us examine a few concrete examples and observe the application of the principles just enunciated. Suppose that Theosophy has given to one knowledge of reincarnation and karma. Is life thereby rendered easier? Is it simpler to direct one life, or a virtually unending series of lives? Which are the things most worth doing? Causes initiated now will live for ever in their effects; is it so easy, with this knowledge within us, to lay our hands on those actions which the course of time will prove to be the best?
We wish with all our hearts to do that which will prove of greatest benefit to the world, viewed not by immediate effects but by the sum of the whole series of effects, remote as well as near. Is it so easy to select the best course of action? Is our knowledge so vast that it can direct us in our choice of alternatives? Which are the things most worthwhile? Which of our many pursuits are valuable or most valuable, and which are least valuable, valueless? Perhaps we have talent and are engaged in some technical occupation. Will it be better for the world — in the long run — for us to pursue our task and give to civilization and to science the products of our labours, the results of our researches, or to leave this task on one side, for the present at least, and to go abroad lecturing on Theosophy, and teaching a few hundred people the elements of reincarnation, karma, thought power, and the like? Who can sum up the two series to the end and say which total is the greater? Shall we become unswerving and unflinching occultists, act out our principles without turning aside one hair’s breadth, whatever society and the world says or does, feeling that in the long run our ideas will prevail, the pioneer will be acknowledged, and the flouting of society will be justified and amply repaid; or will it be wiser to temper our theories, to water our teachings, to compromise with the ways of the world, and thus to secure greater influence at the moment, and produce greater results in the immediate future? Shall we be prudent, and careful not to offend others, insinuating our teachings gently and with tact, or shall we fling prudence to the winds and proclaim the naked, stinging truth at whatever cost, leaving it to soak into men’s minds, and the seeds to grow and bring forth fruit in the far future, when we who sowed the seed have been forgotten?
Anyone can see which method is the easier: but which will be productive of more good in the long run? To multiply instances further is unnecessary, for it must be abundantly clear that increased knowledge, by enabling us to look at questions from more points of view, and by opening our vision to more factors round every problem, renders decision and choice more, rather than less, difficult. The beggar thinks it easy to be a king; the man in the street thinks it simple to rule and make laws; the person of little knowledge invents wonderful theories for the better governance of society; ‘the fool steps in where angels fear to tread’.
Only the weak-kneed and timid, and those who have not grasped the fundamentals of evolution, will be sorry that this is so, that difficulties increase as knowledge grows and power develops. The strong man, the man who appreciates the purpose of evolution, is grateful for the compliment that Nature pays him by offering to him delicate and complex problems, difficult to solve. The man who leads an easy life, who is never faced with fierce difficulties and powerful obstacles, is to be pitied rather than envied: for how is he to evolve or increase his power to serve the world? A child can repeat a task it has done before; the most mediocre individuals can solve problems well within their capacity; the man who wishes to learn, to develop, to grow, must ask to be given tasks which will try his faculties to the utmost, which will need all his strength, which will be more difficult and more subtle than anything he has attempted before. The occultist must break new ground, must possess the courage and spirit of the explorer and the conqueror, for he has set himself the task of exploring and of mastering a kingdom of no mean pretensions, an empire of vast proportions.
Many have found in Theosophy a haven of refuge; a glorious haven it is; but not a haven of ease and stagnation. Many have found in Theosophy peace; peace there is, a mighty peace; but not the inglorious peace of the coward, afraid of battles. Many have found light in Theosophy; light there is; not a light that makes their way easy, but a light which enables them to pierce the darkness ahead, and to reveal the difficulties of the path they have chosen, to display the obstacles to be surmounted, the barriers to be overcome. And it is very good that this is so.
The Christian religion and the life of Jesus Christ are shrouded in mysteries. Is there validity in the term “gospel truth”? Are the gospels true historical accounts of the life of the Great One? Was he born of immaculate conception? Did Jesus Christ die at the cross? It does not help when speculations are rife on the life of Jesus, augmented by the advent of Internet. The great occultist, Bishop C. W. Leadbeater, commenting on the materialization of the gospels says “Whatever may have been the date (and it was undoubtedly an early one) at which the degradation of allegory into pseudo-biography first took place, we see its influence working upon other documents as well as upon the Creed. The gospels also have suffered under an exactly similar materializing mania, for the beautiful parable of the original has again and again been corrupted by the addition of popular legends … until in what are now called the gospels we have a confused compilation—hopelessly impossible, if regarded as history, and exceedingly difficult to sort out into its component parts.” It does not help when the myth is perpetually strengthened and propagated by devoted followers.
The knowledge that the gospel is a parable shows itself occasionally among the earlier Christians. Origen, for example, speaks very plainly with regard to the difference between the ignorant faith of the undeveloped multitude, based only on the gospel history, and the higher and reasonable faith which was founded upon definite knowledge. He calls the former “the popular, irrational faith”, and says of it “what better method could be devised to assist the masses?” If so, what is the true meaning of the original allegory in the gospels?
And what is meant when the Master says
“But he preached it a century before his birth”
when commenting on a statement by Eliphas Levi: “Jesus like all great Hierophants, had a public and a secret doctrine”. And other comments:
“I suppose that the stooping of ... is no more surprising than the alleged stooping of the “gentleman” Jesus to the prostitute Magdalene...”
“Giving up dry Christian theology he did not give up its presumable founder with all that. He needed an ideal and he found it in the latter. For him Jesus is a reality, a once embodied, now a disembodied Spirit…”
“John the Baptist having never heard of Jesus who is a spiritual abstraction and no living man of that epoch…”.
Do we know anything more than the traditional Christians? Our Hon. Secretary, Lily Chong, will give a talk on Esoteric Christianity based on theosophical literature and reports of occult investigations to unravel the mysteries and myths surrounding the Christian religion. Don’t miss this talk on 9 April 2005 at 5 p.m.