Is Theosophy a Religion?
"Religion is the best armour that man can have,
but it is the worst cloak."
IT is no exaggeration to say that there never was--during the present century, at any rate--a movement, social or religious, so terribly, nay, so absurdly misunderstood, or more blundered about than THEOSOPHY--whether regarded theoretically as a code of ethics, or practically, in its objective expression, i.e., the Society known by that name.Year after year, and day after day had our officers and members to interrupt people speaking of the theosophical movement by putting in more or less emphatic protests against Theosophy being referred to as a "religion," and the Theosophical Society as a kind of church or religious body.
Still worse, it is as often spoken of as a "new sect"! Is it a stubborn prejudice, an error, or both? The latter, most likely. The most narrow-minded and even notoriously unfair people are still in need of a plausible pretext, of a peg on which to hang their little uncharitable remarks and innocently-uttered slanders. And what peg is more solid for that purpose, more convenient than an "ism" or a "sect." The great majority would be very sorry to be disabused and finally forced to accept the fact that Theosophy is neither. The name suits them, and they pretend to be unaware of its falseness. But there are others, also, many more or less friendly people, who labour sincerely under the same delusion. To these, we say: Surely the world has been hitherto sufficiently cursed with the intellectual extinguishers known as dogmatic creeds, without having inflicted upon it a new form of faith!
Too many already wear their faith, truly, as Shakespeare puts it, "but as the fashion of his hat," ever changing "with the next block." Moreover, the very raison d'être of the Theosophical Society was, from its beginning, to utter a loud protest and lead an open warfare against dogma or any belief based upon blind faith.It may sound odd and paradoxical, but it is true to say that, hitherto, the most apt workers in practical Theosophy, its most devoted members were those recruited from the ranks of agnostics and even of materialists. No genuine, no sincere searcher after truth can ever be found among the blind believers in the "Divine Word," let the latter be claimed to come from Allah, Brahma or Jehovah, or their respective Kuran, Purana and Bible. For: Faith is not reason's labour, but repose.
He who believes his own religion on faith, will regard that of every other man as a lie, and hate it on that same faith. Moreover, unless it fetters reason and entirely blinds our perceptions of anything outside our own particular faith, the latter is no faith at all, but a temporary belief, the delusion we labour under, at some particular time of life. Moreover, "faith without principles is but a flattering phrase for willful positiveness or fanatical bodily sensations," in Coleridge's clever definition. What, then, is Theosophy, and how may it be defined in its latest presentation in this closing portion of the XIXth century?
Theosophy, we say, is not a Religion. Yet there are, as everyone knows, certain beliefs, philosophical, religious and scientific, which have become so closely associated in recent years with the word "Theosophy" that they have come to be taken by the general public for Theosophy itself. Moreover, we shall be told these beliefs have been put forward, explained and defended by those very Founders who have declared that Theosophy is not a Religion. What is then the explanation of this apparent contradiction? How can a certain body of beliefs and teachings, an elaborate doctrine, in fact, be labelled "Theosophy" and be tacitly accepted as "Theosophical" by nine-tenths of the members of the T.S., if Theosophy is not a Religion?--we are asked. To explain this is the purpose of the present protest.
It is perhaps necessary, first of all, to say, that the assertion that "Theosophy is not a Religion," by no means excludes the fact that "Theosophy is Religion" itself. A Religion in the true and only correct sense, is a bond uniting men together--not a particular set of dogmas and beliefs. Now Religion, per se, in its widest meaning is that which binds not only all MEN, but also all BEINGS and all things in the entire Universe into one grand whole. This is our theosophical definition of religion; but the same definition changes again with every creed and country, and no two Christians even regard it alike. We find this in more than one eminent author. Thus Carlyle defined the Protestant Religion in his day, with a remarkable prophetic eye to this ever-growing feeling in our present day, as: For the most part a wise, prudential feeling, grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others now are, of expediency and utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment.
Thus religion, too, is profit, a working for wages; not reverence, but vulgar hope or fear. In her turn Mrs. Stowe, whether consciously or otherwise, seemed to have had Roman Catholicism rather than Protestantism in her mind, when saying of her heroine that: Religion she looked upon in the light of a ticket (with the correct number of indulgences bought and paid for), which, being once purchased and snugly laid away in a pocket-book, is to be produced at the celestial gate, and thus secure admission to heaven. . . .
But to Theosophists (the genuine Theosophists are here meant) who accept no mediation by proxy, no salvation through innocent bloodshed, nor would they think of "working for wages" in the One Universal religion, the only definition they could subscribe to and accept in full is one given by Miller. How truly and theosophically he describes it, by showing that
. . . true Religion
Is always mild, propitious and humble;
Plays not the tyrant, plants no faith in blood,
Nor bears destruction on her chariot wheels;
But stoops to polish, succour and redress,
And builds her grandeur on the public good.
The above is a correct definition of what true Theosophy is, or ought to be. (Among the creeds Buddhism alone is such a true heart-binding and men-binding philosophy, because it is not a dogmatic religion. ) In this respect, as it is the duty and task of every genuine theosophist to accept and carry out these principles, Theosophy is RELIGION, and the Society its one Universal Church; the temple of Solomon's wisdom,* in building which "there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was building" (I Kings,vi.); for this "temple" is made by no human hand, nor built in any locality on earth--but, verily, is raised only in the inner sanctuary of man's heart wherein reigns alone the awakened soul.
Thus Theosophy is not a Religion, we say, but RELIGION itself, the one bond of unity, which is so universal and all-embracing that no man, as no speck--from gods and mortals down to animals, the blade of grass and atom--can be outside of its light. Therefore, any organization or body of that name must necessarily be a UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD. Were it otherwise, Theosophy would be but a word added to hundreds other such words as high sounding as they are pretentious and empty. Viewed as a philosophy, Theosophy in its practical work is the alembic of the Mediæval alchemist. It transmutes the apparently base metal of every ritualistic and dogmatic creed (Christianity included) into the gold of fact and truth, and thus truly produces a universal panacea for the ills of mankind. This is why, when applying for admission into the Theosophical Society, no one is asked what religion he belongs to, nor what his deistic views may be.
These views are his own personal property and have nought to do with the Society. Because Theosophy can be practiced by Christian or Heathen, Jew or Gentile, by Agnostic or Materialist, or even an Atheist, provided that none of these is a bigoted fanatic, who refuses to recognize as his brother any man or woman outside his own special creed or belief.
Count Leo N. Tolstoy does not believe in the Bible, the Church, or the divinity of Christ; and yet no Christian surpasses him in the practical bearing out of the principles alleged to have been preached on the Mount. And these principles are those of Theosophy; not because they were uttered by the Christian Christ, but because they are universal ethics, and were preached by Buddha and Confucius, Krishna, and all the great Sages, thousands of years before the Sermon on the Mount was written. Hence, once that we live up to such Theosophy, it becomes a universal panacea indeed, for it heals the wounds inflicted by the gross asperities of the Church "isms" on the sensitive soul of every naturally religious man.
How many of these, forcibly thrust out by the reactive impulse of disappointment from the narrow area of blind belief into the ranks of arid disbelief, have been brought back to hopeful aspiration by simply joining our Brotherhood--yea, imperfect as it is. If, as an offset to this, we are reminded that several prominent members have left the Society disappointed in Theosophy as they had been in other associations, this cannot dismay us in the least. For with a very, very few exceptions, in the early stage of the T.S.'s activities when some left because they did not find mysticism practiced in the General Body as they understood it, or because "the leaders lacked Spirituality," were "untheosophical, hence, untrue to the rules," you see, the majority left because most of them were either half-hearted or too self-opinionated--a church and infallible dogma in themselves. Some broke away, again under very shallow pretexts indeed, such, for instance, as "because Christianity (to say Churchianity, or sham Christianity, would be more just) was too roughly handled in our magazines"--just as if other fanatical religions were ever treated any better or upheld! Thus, all those who left have done well to leave, and have never been regretted. Furthermore, there is this also to be added: the number of those who left can hardly be compared with the number of those who found everything they had hoped for in Theosophy.
Its doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one's reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and the real, as opposed to the false and the unreal. Tearing off with no uncertain hand the thick veil of dead-letter with which every old religious scriptures were cloaked, scientific Theosophy, learned in the cunning symbolism of the ages, reveals to the scoffer at old wisdom the origin of the world's faiths and sciences.
It opens new vistas beyond the old horizons of crystallized, motionless and despotic faiths; and turning blind belief into a reasoned knowledge founded on mathematical laws--the only exact science--it demonstrates to him under profounder and more philosophical aspects the existence of that which, repelled by the grossness of its dead-letter form, he had long since abandoned as a nursery tale. It gives a clear and well-defined object, an ideal to live for, to every sincere man or woman belonging to whatever station in Society and of whatever culture and degree of intellect.
Practical Theosophy is not one Science, but embraces every science in life, moral and physical. It may, in short, be justly regarded as the universal "coach," a tutor of world-wide knowledge and experience, and of an erudition which not only assists and guides his pupils toward a successful examination for every scientific or moral service in earthly life, but fits them for the lives to come, if those pupils will only study the universe and its mysteries within themselves, instead of studying them through the spectacles of orthodox science and religions. And let no reader misunderstand these statements.
It is Theosophy per se, not any individual member of the Society or even Theosophist, on whose behalf such a universal omniscience is claimed. The two--Theosophy and the Theosophical Society--as a vessel and the olla podrida it contains, must not be confounded. One is, as an ideal, divine Wisdom, perfection itself; the other a poor, imperfect thing, trying to run under, if not within, its shadow on Earth. No man is perfect; why, then, should any member of the T.S. be expected to be a paragon of every human virtue? And why should the whole organization be criticized and blamed for the faults, whether real or imaginary, of some of its "Fellows," or even its Leaders? Never was the Society, as a concrete body, free from blame or sin--errare humanum est--nor were any of its members. Hence, it is rather those members most of whom will not be led by Theosophy, that ought to be blamed.
Theosophy is the soul of its Society; the latter the gross and imperfect body of the former. Hence, those modern Solomons who will sit in the Judgment Seat and talk of that they know nothing about, are invited before they slander Theosophy or any theosophists to first get acquainted with both, instead of ignorantly calling one a "farrago of insane beliefs" and the other a "sect of impostors and lunatics." Regardless of this, Theosophy is spoken of by friends and foes as a religion when not a sect. Let us see how the special beliefs which have become associated with the word have come to stand in that position, and how it is that they have so good a right to it that none of the leaders of the Society have ever thought of disavowing their doctrines.
We have said that we believed in the absolute unity of nature. Unity implies the possibility for a unit on one plane, to come into contact with another unit on or from another plane. We believe in it. The just published "Secret Doctrine" will show what were the ideas of all antiquity with regard to the primeval instructors of primitive man and his three earlier races.
The genesis of that WISDOM-RELIGION in which all theosophists believe, dates from that period. So-called "Occultism," or rather Esoteric Science, has to be traced in its origin to those Beings who, led by Karma, have incarnated in our humanity, and thus struck the key-note of that secret Science which countless generations of subsequent adepts have expanded since then in every age, while they checked its doctrines by personal observation and experience. The bulk of this knowledge--which no man is able to possess in its fullness--constitutes that which we now call Theosophy or "divine knowledge." Beings from other and higher worlds may have it entire; we can have it only approximately.
Thus, unity of everything in the universe implies and justifies our belief in the existence of a knowledge at once scientific, philosophical and religious, showing the necessity and actuality of the connection of man and all things in the universe with each other; which knowledge, therefore, becomes essentially RELIGION, and must be called in its integrity and universality by the distinctive name of WISDOM-RELIGION. It is from this WISDOM-RELIGION that all the various individual "Religions" (erroneously so called) have sprung, forming in their turn offshoots and branches, and also all the minor creeds, based upon and always originated through some personal experience in psychology. Every such religion, or religious offshoot, be it considered orthodox or heretical, wise or foolish, started originally as a clear and unadulterated stream from the Mother-Source. The fact that each became in time polluted with purely human speculations and even inventions, due to interested motives, does not prevent any from having been pure in its early beginnings.
There are those creeds --we shall not call them
religions--which have now been overlaid with the human element out of all
recognition; others just showing signs of early decay; not one that escaped the
hand of time. But each and all are of divine, because natural and true origin;
aye-- Mazdeism, Brahmanism, Buddhism as much as
Christianity. It is the dogmas and human element in the latter which led
directly to modern Spiritualism. Of course, there will be an outcry from both
sides, if we say that modern Spiritualism per se, cleansed of the unhealthy speculations
which were based on the dicta of two little girls and their very unreliable
"Spirits"--is, nevertheless, far more true and philosophical than any
church dogma. Carnalised Spiritualism is now reaping
its Karma. Its primitive innovators, the said "two little girls" from
Rochester, the Mecca of modern Spiritualism, have grown up and turned into old
women since the first raps produced by them have opened wide ajar the gates
between this and the other world. It is on their "innocent" testimony
that the elaborate scheme of a sidereal Summer-land, with its active astral
population of "Spirits," ever on the wing between their "
They expose and denounce practical Spiritualism as the humbug of the ages. Spiritualists--(save a handful of fair exceptions)--have rejoiced and sided with our enemies and slanderers, when these, who had never been Theosophists, played us false and showed the cloven foot denouncing the Founders of the Theosophical Society as frauds and impostors. Shall the Theosophists laugh in their turn now that the original "revealers" of Spiritualism have become its "revilers"? Never! for the phenomena of Spiritualism are facts, and the treachery of the "Fox girls" only makes us feel new pity for all mediums, and confirms, before the whole world, our constant declaration that no medium can be relied upon. No true theosophist will ever laugh, or far less rejoice, at the discomfiture even of an opponent. The reason for it is simple:-- Because we know that beings from other, higher worlds do confabulate with some elect mortals now as ever; though now far more rarely than in the days of old, as mankind becomes with every civilized generation worse in every respect.
Theosophy--owing, in truth, to the levée in arms of all the Spiritualists of Europeand America at the first words uttered against the idea that every communicating intelligence is necessarily the Spirit of some ex-mortal from this earth--has not said its last word about Spiritualism and "Spirits." It may one day. Meanwhile, an humble servant of Theosophy, the Editor, declares once more her belief in Beings, grander, wiser, nobler than any personal God, who are beyond any "Spirits of the dead," Saints, or winged Angels, who, nevertheless, do condescend in all and every age to occasionally overshadow rare sensitives--often entirely unconnected with Church, Spiritualism or even Theosophy. And believing in high and holy Spiritual Beings, she must also believe in the existence of their opposites--lower "spirits," good, bad and indifferent. Therefore does she believe in spiritualism and its phenomena, some of which are so repugnant to her. This, as a casual remark and a digression, just to show that Theosophy includes Spiritualism--as it should be, not as it is--among its sciences, based on knowledge and the experience of countless ages. There is not a religion worthy of the name which has been started otherwise than in consequence of such visits from Beings on the higher planes.
Thus were born all prehistoric, as well as all the historic religions, Mazdeism and Brahmanism, Buddhism and Christianity, Judaism, Gnosticism and Mahomedanism; in short every more or less successful "ism." All are true at the bottom, and all are false on their surface. The Revealer, the artist who impressed a portion of the Truth on the brain of the Seer, was in every instance a true artist, who gave out genuine truths; but the instrument proved also, in every instance, to be only a man. Invite Rubenstein and ask him to play a sonata of Beethoven on a piano left to self-tuning, one-half of the keys of which are in chronic paralysis, while the wires hang loose; then see whether, the genius of the artist notwithstanding, you will be able to recognize the sonata.
The moral of the fabula is that a man--let him be the greatest of mediums or natural Seers--is but a man; and man left to his own devices and speculations must be out of tune with absolute truth, while even picking up some of its crumbs. For Man is but a fallen Angel, a god within, but having an animal brain in his head, more subject to cold and wine fumes while in company with other men on Earth, than to the faultless reception of divine revelations. Hence the multi-coloured dogmas of the churches. Hence also the thousand and one "philosophies" so-called (some contradictory, theosophical theories included); and the variegated "Sciences" and schemes, Spiritual, Mental, Christian and Secular; Sectarianism and bigotry, and especially the personal vanity and self-opinionatedness of almost every "Innovator" since the mediæval ages. These have all darkened and hidden the very existence of TRUTH--the common root of all.
Will our critics imagine that we exclude theosophical teachings from this nomenclature? Not at all. And though the esoteric doctrines which our Society has been and is expounding, are not mental or spiritual impressions from some "unknown, from above," but the fruit of teachings given to us by living men, still, except that which was dictated and written out by those Masters of Wisdom themselves, these doctrines may be in many cases as incomplete and faulty as any of our foes would desire it. The "Secret Doctrine"--a work which gives out all that can be given out during this century, is an attempt to lay bare in part the common foundation and inheritance of all--great and small religious and philosophical schemes. It was found indispensable to tear away all this mass of concreted misconceptions and prejudice which now hides the parent trunk of
(a) all the great world-religions;
(b) of the smaller sects;
(c) of Theosophy as it stands now--however veiled the great Truth, by ourselves and our limited knowledge. The crust of error is thick, laid on by whatever hand; and because we personally have tried to remove some of it, the effort became the standing reproach against all theosophical writers and even the Society.
Few among our friends and readers have failed to characterize our attempt to expose error in the Theosophist and Lucifer as "very uncharitable attacks on Christianity," "untheosophical assaults," etc., etc. Yet these are necessary, nay, indispensable, if we wish to plough up at least approximate truths. We have to lay things bare, and are ready to suffer for it--as usual. It is vain to promise to give truth, and then leave it mingled with error out of mere faint-heartedness.
That the result of such policy could only muddy the stream of facts is shown plainly. After twelve years of incessant labour and struggle with enemies from the four quarters of the globe, notwithstanding our four Theosophical monthly journals--the Theosophist, Path, Lucifer, and the French Lotus--our wish-washy, tame protests in them, our timid declarations, our "masterly policy of inactivity," and playing at hide-and-seek in the shadow of dreary metaphysics, have only led to Theosophy being seriously regarded as a religious SECT. For the hundredth time we are told--"What good is Theosophy doing?" and "See what good the Churches are doing!" Nevertheless, it is an averred fact that mankind is not a whit better in morality, and in some respects ten times worse now, than it ever was in the days of Paganism.
Moreover, for the last half century, from that period when Freethought and Science got the best of the Churches--Christianity is yearly losing far more adherents among the cultured classes than it gains proselytes in the lower strata, the scum of Heathendom. On the other hand, Theosophy has brought back from Materialism and blank despair to belief (based on logic and evidence) in man's divine Self, and the immortality of the latter, more than one of those whom the Church has lost through dogma, exaction of faith and tyranny. And, if it is proven that Theosophy saves one man only in a thousand of those the Church has lost, is not the former a far higher factor for good than all the missionaries put together?
Theosophy, as repeatedly declared in print and viva voce by its members and officers, proceeds on diametrically opposite lines to those which are trodden by the Church; and Theosophy rejects the methods of Science, since her inductive methods can only lead to crass materialism. Yet, de facto, Theosophy claims to be both "RELIGION" and "SCIENCE," for Theosophy is the essence of both. It is for the sake and love of the two divine abstractions--i.e., theosophical religion and science, that its Society has become the volunteer scavenger of both orthodox religion and modern science; as also the relentless Nemesis of
those who have degraded the two noble truths to their own ends and purposes, and then divorced each violently from the other, though the two are and must be one.
To prove this is also one of our objects in the present paper. The modern Materialist insists on an impassable chasm between the two, pointing out that the "Conflict between Religion and Science" has ended in the triumph of the latter and the defeat of the first. The modern Theosophist refuses to see, on the contrary, any such chasm at all. If it is claimed by both Church and Science that each of them pursues the truth and nothing but the truth, then either one of them is mistaken, and accepts falsehood for truth, or both. Any other impediment to their reconciliation must be set down as purely fictitious. Truth is one, even if sought for or pursued at two different ends. Therefore, Theosophy claims to reconcile the two foes.
It premises by saying that the true spiritual and primitive Christian religion is, as much as the other great and still older philosophies that preceded it--the light of Truth--"the life and the light of men." But so is the true light of Science. Therefore, darkened as the former is now by dogmas examined through glasses smoked with the superstitions artificially produced by the Churches, this light can hardly penetrate and meet its sister ray in a science, equally as cobwebbed by paradoxes and the materialistic sophistries of the age. The teachings of the two are incompatible, and cannot agree so long as both Religious philosophy and the Science of physical and external (in philosophy, false) nature, insist upon the infallibility of their respective "will-o'-the wisps." The two lights, having their beams of equal length in the matter of false deductions, can but extinguish each other and produce still worse darkness.
Yet, they can be reconciled on the condition that both shall clean their houses, one from the human dross of the ages, the other from the hideous excrescence of modern materialism and atheism. And as both decline, the most meritorious and best thing to do is precisely what Theosophy alone can and will do: i.e., point out to the innocents caught by the glue of the two waylayers--verily two dragons of old, one devouring the intellects, the other the souls of men--that their supposed chasm is but an optical delusion; that, far from being one, it is but an immense garbage mound respectively erected by the two foes, as a fortification against mutual attacks.
Thus, if Theosophy does no more than point out and seriously draw the attention of the world to the fact that the supposed disagreement between religion and science is conditioned, on the one hand by the intelligent materialists rightly kicking against absurd human dogmas, and on the other by blind fanatics and interested churchmen who, instead of defending the souls of mankind, fight simply tooth and nail for their personal bread and butter and authority--why, even then, Theosophy will prove itself the saviour of mankind.
And now we have shown, it is hoped, what real Theosophy is, and what are its adherents. One is divine Science and a code of Ethics so sublime that no theosophist is capable of doing it justice; the others weak but sincere men. Why, then, should Theosophy ever be judged by the personal shortcomings of any leader or member of our 150 branches? One may work for it to the best of his ability, yet never raise himself to the height of his call and aspiration. This is his or her misfortune, never the fault of Theosophy, or even of the body at large. Its Founders claim no other merit than that of having set the first theosophical wheel rolling. If judged at all they must be judged by the work they have done, not by what friends may think or enemies say of them.
There is no room for personalities in a work like ours; and all must be ready, as the Founders are, if needs be, for the car of Jaggennath to crush them individually for the good of all. It is only in the days of the dim Future, when death will have laid his cold hand on the luckless Founders and stopped thereby their activity, that their respective merits and demerits, their good and bad acts and deeds, and their theosophical work will have to be weighed on the Balance of Posterity. Then only, after the two scales with their contrasted loads have been brought to an equipoise, and the character of the net result left over has become evident to all in its full and intrinsic value, then only shall the nature of the verdict passed be determined with anything like justice.
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First Published November 1888
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