April 2011 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the April 2011 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Western Misconceptions of Eastern Philosophy
An extract from The Purpose of Theosophy by Mrs. Patience Sinnett
When European scholars first began to interest themselves, in the translation of the sacred books of the East, it was with no idea that they contained any deep system of thought which when correctly interpreted, would go far to explain many of the enigmas of life, or that in their ancient pages would be found some of the profoundest cosmological truths, — but rather in the pursuit of philological and historical science. Their value to the educated European world was supposed to lie in their great antiquity, and not in the thoughts and ideas contained in them, which were never supposed worth serious study as embodying a philosophy. In the June number of the Nineteenth Century of last year [The first edition of this manual for beginners was published in 1885], Professor Max Muller, in the course of an article entitled “Forgotten Bibles”, makes the following remarks: “Some at least of the most important works illustrating the ancient religions of the East have been permanently rescued from oblivion, and rendered accessible to every man who understands English. Some of my friends, men whose judgment I value far higher than my own, wonder what ground there is for rejoicing. Some, more honest than the rest, told me that they had been great admirers of ancient Oriental wisdom till they came to read the translations of the sacred books of the East. They had evidently expected to hear the songs of angels and not the babbling of babes. But others took higher ground. What, they asked, could the philosophers of the nineteenth century expect to learn from the utterances of men who had lived one, two, three, or even four thousand years ago? When I humbly suggested that these books had a purely historical interest, and that the history of religion could be studied from no other documents, I was told it was perfectly known how religion arose, and through how many stages it had to pass in its development from fetishism to positivism, and that, whatever facts might be found in the sacred books of the East, they must all vanish before theories which are infallible and incontrovertible”.
These remarks illustrate forcibly the fact that the translators, have only appreciated their subject from one point of view, viz., that of its antiquity, and it is obvious that the idea has not occurred to them that these books might have a hidden meaning, which has been wrapped up in a symbology only recognisable to those who have made a study of mystic philosophy. It was not, of course, to be expected that Western Orientalists, or even Orientals educated exclusively in the Western school, should be able to interpret the symbology, but they should have been prepared to accept the possibility of its presence in the documents. These books may, perhaps, have been “rescued from oblivion” by their present translators in regard to the English-speaking public at large; but an earnest inquirer, anxious to fathom the depth of Oriental thought, has even now, with these translations so readily available, to seek an interpretation of their veiled as well as their superficial meaning. Their “rescue” has only been accomplished at the expense of their significance. These books have very much more than a mere historical value, for in their pages are to be found the fundamental truths of a philosophy that is received by many cultured minds as one well worthy of respect on quite other grounds than those of antiquity.
With reference to the Rig Veda, with which Max Muller claims so much familiarity, the following assertion, not unsupported by reason and illustration, is to be found in Isis Unveiled “Alchemists, kabalists, and students of mystic philosophy will find therein a perfectly-defined system of evolution in the cosmogony of a people who lived a score of thousands of years before our own era. They will find in it, moreover, a perfect identity of thought, and even doctrine, with the Hermetic philosophy, and also that of Pythagoras and Plato”.
Apart from this, it might be asked what philosophers has the world to show in the present generation to compare with those who have passed away ages ago, leaving behind them theories which may perhaps come nearer the truth than those which are above referred to as “infallible and incontrovertible”. The ideas to be found in the sacred books of the East are likened by the Professor to the “babbling of babes”. Is this the fault of the ideas, or is it not just possible to conceive that the translators, highly educated, painstaking, and studious as they have shown themselves to be, have failed to find the mystical key that will unlock these hidden treasures, and without which these Bibles are comparatively meaningless and useless. Even from the historical point of view these translations must be unsatisfactory for, instead of helping to show the state of intellectual advancement of the people in those remote times, their actual knowledge of, or the theories they were capable of forming about the Universe, they give, — the learned mystics of India maintain — an entirely wrong impression to the reader of what those theories really were, and to what knowledge those who held them had attained. Justice cannot be done to the noble conceptions contained in these books in consequence of the spirit of the teaching being absolutely wanting in the English version. Were it possible to get these translations commented upon or annotated by an educated Brahmin, possessing some knowledge of the Eastern doctrine, the whole philosophy would shine with a splendour which can now be only partially apprehended even by those Europeans who are disciples of Eastern wisdom, and would display the true grandeur and intellectual power of its cosmogony. For, no matter to what sect the Brahmin might belong, whether he would give the reading in favour of one particular sect or another, it would not affect the result, for, as said above, Indian religions may and do differ considerably exoterically, but the broad basis of esoteric identity is recognised by their respective cultured and mystical adherents and priests, and they one and all acknowledge the hidden occult meaning which, underlies each of these writings, and which in order to obtain their proper appreciation, must be perceived, if not believed in, by the translator.
Without this perception of the fact that occult science is the basis and foundation of all these books, no rendering of them will or can be satisfactory, for it should be the duty and wish of every one engaged in the work of giving to others certain information by putting it from one language into another, first of all to be sure that he has got a true understanding of this author’s subject otherwise how can he hope to do justice to the ideas, no matter how feeble and childish they may to him appear?
Eastern philosophy has one great foundation of belief that runs through all the various forms of thought whether orthodox Brahminical, Buddhist, or Vedantist, and this resembles broadly what Mr. Draper gives as that of the stoics or followers of Zeno, “That, though there is a Supreme Power, there is no Supreme Being. There is an invisible principle, but not a personal God, to whom it would be not so much blasphemy as absurdity to impute the form, sentiments, the passions of men . . . That which we call chance is only the effect of an unknown cause. Even of chances there is a law. There is no such thing as Providence for nature proceeds under irresistible laws, and in this respect the Universe is only a vast automatic engine. The vital force which pervades the world is what illiterate call God. The modifications through which all things are running take place in an irresistible way, and hence it may be said that the progress of the world is under destiny: like a seed it can evolve only in a predestined mode”.
The charge of Atheism so often brought against Theosophists and students of Eastern philosophy could hardly be more entirely baseless than it is, and would seem to owe its origin either to ignorance of the true work that Theosophists have at heart (viz., the suppression of Materialism) or to a wrong interpretation put upon the meaning of the word in its popular acceptation.
An Atheist is generally supposed to be one who not only does not believe in a God, but who is also convinced that there is for humanity no survival after death.
It would be equally just, and quite as logical to maintain that Spiritualists (who pass most of their spare time in holding communications with their friends and relations who have passed away) are Atheists, as that Buddhists and Theosophists are so. For, although these latter may disagree with some of the conclusions formed by the former as to the spiritual condition of the disembodied souls, they are at one in knowing that such communications are not only possible but of daily and hourly occurrence.
The one thing that a study of Theosophy shows more than another is, that this life is as nothing compared to the next, that the present is but māyā, i.e., transitory, whereas the real life is that which pertains to the inner man, and which is apart from the body. While we are in the body we are chained down by it, and are subject to the limitations incurred by its occupation. Freed from corporeal restraints we can take cognisance of existence on another and higher plane where time, distance, and death do not affect us. Buddhism teaches its disciples, among other things, to disregard the cravings of the body by subduing and conquering the desires that have to do with material pleasures, to be uninfluenced by feelings of envy, passion, anger, revenge, to cultivate an ardent wish to benefit humanity, combined with spiritual aspirations. These bodily desires, the lower feelings of our nature, being once destroyed, the inner man can then escape from bondage, and gain while still in this life some of the knowledge and experience of another state of existence, and thereby of the reality of the ever progressing power of the Divine Spirit within, which likewise animates the whole universe. The mere fact that true Buddhism does not preach a belief in or dependence on a personal God is no proof that the religion is Atheistic, for it recognises in the Universal Spirit all the higher attributes which Christianity assigns to its Deity, while the teaching of Buddhism and of Christianity equally lead to the purification of the body from all worldly cares and ambition. The whole code of ethics as laid down by Jesus is to the end that humanity should be unselfish, so that their inner and spiritual selves may be fit to associate with the Father in Heaven. The Eastern teaching gives very much the same advice — crush and subdue the personality — that you may come to realise your oneness with the whole, universal consciousness.
The reader must not, however, suppose that Theosophy teaches Buddhism pure and simple, for this is not the case, but the study of it shows very clearly that the old wisdom-religion, as taught by initiates from time immemorial, underlies all the great religions of the world. Buddhism and Brahminism bear much the same relation one to another as do Protestantism and Catholicism, and they have as many sects and branches within their members as have these Western religions. Esoteric Buddhism was a philosophy before the historical Buddha appeared on the earth, that is to say, the philosophical truth beneath the outer form was there, as it was also in Christianity and Brahminism, before their founders appeared. Thus it will be seen that Oriental philosophy, instead of being atheistical in its tendency, is absolutely the reverse, and has got that character partly from being wrongly interpreted by Western exponents, and partly through the fact that a belief in an anthropomorphic God as the creator of the Universe is discouraged by the greatest Eastern authorities of the day, and is not supported in the teachings of the sacred books of the East.
Mr. Herbert Spencer’s “Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed”, and his statement that “none of the positive attributes which have ever been predicated of God can be used of this energy”, agrees and is identical with the teaching of Eastern philosophy. But, whereas Mr. Spencer says that human finite consciousness cannot conceive of nor approach the Unknowable, which he admits is the “Ultimate Reality”, occult initiates assert that the power to do so is latent in mankind, also that this power of faculty can, by special methods of development to the knowledge of which they have access, be brought to dominate and free itself from the restraints of the body, and be rendered able to bridge the gulf that separates the known from the unknown. The deep reverence with which the teachers and pupils of the esoteric doctrine approach the subject of the Great Law, — the Unconscious, Infinite, Ultimate Reality, or whatever name is used to express the idea, — if only faintly realised by Western exponents of other religious beliefs, would go far to dispel the notion so widely circulated that this system is other than the most spiritual of all, for its great object is the cultivation in human beings of the higher tendencies of their nature, thus enabling them to realise for themselves the great truth, that this physical is the transitory and the spiritual the only real life.
33rd Edition of A Course in Theosophy
& Meditation Course
As part of our continuing effort to achieve our twin-object of popularizing a knowledge of theosophy and induction of new members, we will be starting our combined 33rd edition of A Course in Theosophy and Meditation Course on Wednesday, 4 May 2011.
Theosophy encompasses the science of life and the philosophy of living and has helped many people in the world. All members can help in the mission of popularizing a knowledge of theosophy. You will be doing humanity a great service by reaching out and bringing newcomers to the Society, to expose them to the theosophical teachings. As the Master has said, “Spheres of usefulness can be found everywhere. The first object of the Society is philanthropy. The true Theosophist is a philanthropist who—‘not for himself but for the world he lives’…” “This, and philosophy—the right comprehension of life and its mysteries—will give the ‘necessary basis’ and show the right pathway to pursue. Yet the best ‘sphere of usefulness’ for the applicant is now in his own land."
Once again, the theosophy course will be combined with the popular meditation course, both to optimize our resources and also to give attendees the benefit of two courses at the same time.
4/5 (Wed.) 7-10 pm The Different Planes of Nature
6/5 (Fri.) 7-10 pm Man’s Evolution
7/5 (Sat.) 3-6 pm Death & After
9/5 (Mon.) 7-10 pm The Astral Plane
11/5 (Wed.) 7-10 pm The Mental Plane
13/5 (Fri.) 7-10 pm Thought-Forms
14/5 (Sat.) 3-6 pm The Noble Eightfold Path
18/5 (Wed.) 7-9 pm Basic Rules of Meditation
20/5 (Fri.) 7-9 pm Meditation for Development of the True Self
23/5 (Mon.) 7-9 pm Meditation to achieve Union with the Divine
Get your relatives and friends to enroll online for A Course in Theosophy and Meditation Course at singaporelodge.org/btc_dates.htm and singaporelodge.org/med_course_dates.htm or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.