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Does Theosophy Have Core Doctrines or Basic Teachings?

Jul 11, 1996 11:24 AM
by Daniel H Caldwell

[On Theos-l, Theos-Roots and Alt.Theosophy, some Theosophical
students have written that *true* Theosophy does *not* have core
teachings.  These students have characterized those who believe
Theosophy has definite teachings as---- "Core Theosophists."
These Core Theosophists have been labelled as "dogmatists" and
"fundamentalists" and have been painted in "negative" terms.
Furthermore, one or two students have labelled the world's
religions as being totally negative and harmful.  I append below
excerpts from an article (1975) written by Boris de Zirkoff, the
editor of HPB's "Collected Writings." I believe Mr.  de Zirkoff's
words reflect commonsense and a practical approach to the study
of Theosophy.  I also append a number of excerpts from HPB's
first great work ISIS UNVEILED which, in my opinion, confirm much
of what Mr.  de Zirkoff has written.  Several of HPB's passages
also deal with the subject of "religions."

Food for thought,

Daniel H. Caldwell

Boris de Zirkoff on the subject: "Does Theosophy have Core
Doctrines or Basic Teachings?"

> "For some years past, a tendency has existed among
> some [theosophical] consider theosophy as
> some sort of *generalized approach* to truth, a tradition,
> often somewhat uncertain, concerning various aspects
> of the Universe and man, a system of ideas and concepts
> which can hardly be defined with any degree of exactness
> or clarity.  It is most likely that this tendency owes its
> origin to a desire to avoid any dogmatic attitude or the
> creation of any kind of creed.  The motive may have been
> laudable, but the methods employed have been rather
> dubious"
> "We should never lose sight of the fact that the Esoteric
> Philosophy is a very definite doctrine, a system of
> thought based on specific postulates, on well-defined
> propositions....Even a cursory glance at the pages of
> *The Secret Doctrine* would confirm this fact.  That
> work contains innumerable instances where H.P.B.
> (and the Adept-Brothers speaking through her) uses such
> expressions as:  "the Secret Doctrine teaches," "secret
> records declare," "The Esoteric Philosophy states
> that...," "it is the teaching of the ancient occult doctrine,"
> and others.  If the student cared to underline these
> passages and then read them consecutively, or place
> them in juxtaposition, he would see at a glance that the
> "Secret Doctrine," as a system of thought, is about
> as definite as any science or philosophy is ever apt to
> be, and stands in direct opposition to a large number
> of other ideas which have become current in the world
> under the name of one or another religion or philosophy."
> "It is perfectly true that the objects of the organized
> body known as The Theosophical Society have never
> contained any definition of what Theosophy is or is
> not; but it is equally true that the teachings pro-
> mulgated by the Founders and their Superiors are
> defined in no uncertain language throughout the
> length and breadth of the original theosophical literature,
> leaving no room whatsoever for doubt as to what the
> system of thought known as theosophy is all about, what
> it teaches and what it does not."
> "If this state of affairs is at any time considered to be
> credal in nature, and therefore dogmatic, then we will
> have to assume that the statement of 'two and two making
> four' is also a creed, or that the laws governing
> gravitational and magnetic energies are dogmatic."
> "The propositions of the Esoteric Philosophy may *seem*
> to be dogmatic or may be interpreted as a creed by those
> of us---probably the overwhelming majority of us----who are
> yet unable to prove them to ourselves experimentally.  This
> situation is not much different from the fact that a beginner
> in chemistry can hardly prove to himself the *alleged* fact
> that water is H2O, until he has grasped the methods necessary
> to verify it experimentally."
> "If we are prepared to comply with the conditions necessary
> for a personal investigation of the facts of nature defined by
> the Occult Doctrine, we shall be in a position to prove to
> ourselves experimentally the validity of its propositions.
> How many of us are ready to do so?"
> "In the meantime---and far from any acceptance of ideas on
> merely a blind belief---we can investigate the coherence
> of that system of thought, its logical interrelatedness, its
> appeal to both reason and intuition, its application in both
> great and small ways, and its practical value in relation
> to others.  Thereby we may become gradually convinced of the
> truth of the propositions and postulates of the Esoteric
> Philosophy, long before the time when it will have become
> possible for us to undertake a 'clinical' investigation of the
> laws involved therein and to manipulate the forces and
> energies of the occult aspects of Nature."

[Below are appended a good number of quotes by HPB from her first
work ISIS UNVEILED.  I believe these quotes help to substantiate
what Mr.  de Zirkoff has written above.]

> "The work now submitted to public judgment is the fruit of a
> somewhat intimate acquintance with Eastern Adepts and study of
> their science....we came into contact with certain men, endowed
> with such mysterious powers and such profound knowledge that we
> may truly designate them as the sages of the Orient.  To their
> instructions we lent a ready ear...." (I, v, vi)
> "...from the first ages of man, the fundamental truths of all
> that we are permitted to know on earth was in the safe keeping of
> the adepts of the sanctuary....those guardians of the primitive
> divine revelation, who had solved every problem that is within
> the grasp of human intellect, were bound together by a universal
> freemasonry of science and philosophy, which formed one unbroken
> chain around the globe." (I, 37-38)
> "There are, scattered throughout the world, a handful of
> thoughtful and solitary students, who pass their lives in
> obscurity, far from the rumors of the world, studying the great
> problems of the physical and spiritual universes.  They have
> thier secret records in which are preserved the fruits of the
> scholastic labors of the long line of recluses whose successors
> they are...." (I, 557)
> "The esoteric doctrine...teaches...that the one infinite and
> unknown Essence exists from all eternity, and in regular and
> harmonious sucessions is either passive or active.  In the
> poetical phraseology of Manu these conditions are called the
> 'day' and the 'night' of Brahma.  The latter is either 'awake' or
> 'asleep.'...Upon inaugurating an active period, says the *Secret
> Doctrine*, an expansion of this Divine essence, *from within out-
> wardly*, occurs in obedience to eternal and immutable law, and
> the phenomenal or visible universe is the ultimate result of the
> long chain of cosmical forces thus progressivly set in motion.
> In like manner, when the passive condition is resumed, a
> contraction of the Divine essence takes place, and the previous
> work of creation is gradually and progressively undone.  The
> visible universe becomes disintegrated, its material dispersed;
> and 'darkness,' solitary and alone, broods once more over the
> face of the 'deep.' To use a metaphor which will convey the idea
> still more clearly, an outbreathing of the 'unknown essence'
> produces the world; and an inhalation causes it to disappear.
> *This process has been going on from all eternity, and our
> present universe is but one of an infinite series which had no
> beginning and will have no end.*" (II, pp.  264-265)
> "Gautama, no less than all other great reformers, had a doctrine
> for his 'elect' and another for the outside masses....Gautama
> left the esoteric and most dangerous portion of the 'secret
> knowledge' untouched...." (II, 319)
> "...*the Secret Doctrine is the Truth*...." (II, 292)
> "...many are those who...will remain in doubt and mortal agony as
> to whether, when man dies, he will live again, although the
> question has been solved by long bygone generations of
> sages....except the initiates, no one has understood the mystic
> writing.  The key was in the keeping of those who knew how to
> commune with the invisible Presence, and who had received, from
> the lips of mother Nature herself, her grand truths...." (I, 573)
> "...This 'secret doctrine' contains the alpha and omega of
> universal science; therein lies the corner and the keystone of
> all the ancient and modern knowledge; and alone in
> this...doctrine remains buried the *absolute* in the philosophy
> of the dark problems of life and death...." (I, 511)
> "Thus is it that all the religious monuments of old, in whatever
> land or under whatever climate, are the expression of the same
> identical thoughts, the key to which is in the esoteric
> doctrine....And the clergy of every nation, though pracrticing
> rites and ceremonies which may have differed externally, had
> evidently been inititated into the same traditional mysteries
> which were taught all over the world...." (I, 561)
> "...the Northern seer, Swedenborg, advises people to search for
> the LOST WORD among the hierophants of Tartary, China and Thibet;
> for it is there, and only there now...."
> "...the four *Vedas*; the *Books of Hermes*; the Chaldean *Book
> of Numbers*; the *Nazarene Codex*; the *Kabala*...  ; the *Sepher
> Jezira*; the *Book of Wisdom*...; the *Brahmanas; the
> *Stan-gyour,* of the Thibetans; all these volumes have the same
> ground-work.  Varying but in allegories they teach the same
> secret doctrine which...  will prove to be the Ultima Thule of
> true philosophy, and disclose what is this LOST WORD." (I, 580)
> "...the 'secret doctrine' or wisdom was identical in every
> country...." (I, 444)
> "...What we desire to prove is, that underlying every ancient
> popular religion was the same ancient wisdom- doctrine, one and
> identical, professed and practiced by the initiates of every
> country, who alone were aware of its existence and
> importance....A single enough to assure one that it
> could not have attained the marvellous perfection in which we
> find it pictured to us in the relics of the various esoteric
> systems, except after a succession of ages.  A philosophy so
> profound, a moral code so ennobling, and practical results so
> conclusive and so uniformly demonstrable is not the growth of a
> generation, or even a single epoch.  Fact must have been piled
> upon fact, deduction upon deduction, science have begotten
> science, and myriads of the brightest human intellects have
> reflected upon the laws of nature, before this ancient doctrine
> had taken concrete shape.  The proofs of this identity of
> fundamental doctrine in the old religions are found in the
> prevalence of a system of initiation; in the secret sacredotal
> castes who had the guardianship of mystical words of power, and a
> public display of a phenomenal control over natural forces,
> indicating association with preterhuman beings...."
> "As we proceed, we wil point out the evidences of this identity
> of vows, formulas, rites, and doctrines, between the ancient
> faiths.  We will also show that not only their memory is still
> preserved in India, but also that the Secret Association is still
> alive and as active as ever....the chief pontiff and hierophant,
> the *Brahmatma*, is still accessible to those 'who know,' though
> perhaps recognized by another name; and that the ramifications of
> his influence extend throughout the world...." (II, 99-100)
> "Our examination of the multitudinous religious faiths that
> mankind, early and late, have professed, most assuredly indicates
> that they have all been derived from one primitive source.  It
> would seem as if they were all but different modes of expressing
> the yearning of the imprisoned human soul for intercourse with
> supernal spheres.  As the while ray of light is decomposed by the
> prism into the various colors of the solar spectrum, so the beam
> of divine truth, in passing through the *three-sided* prism of
> man's nature, has been broken up into vari-colored fragments
> called RELIGIONS.  And, as the rays of the spectrum, by
> imperceptible shadings, merge into each other, so the great
> theologies that have appeared at different degrees of divergence
> from the original source, have been connected by minor schisms,
> schools, and off-shoots from the one side or the other.
> Combined, their aggregate represents one eternal truth; separate,
> they are but shades of human error and the signs of
> imperfection..."
> "What has been contemptuously termed Paganism, was ancient wisdom
> replete with Deity; and Judaism and its offspring, Christianity
> and Islamism, derived whatever of inspiration they contained from
> this ethic parent.  Pre-Vedic Brahmanism and Buddhism are the
> double source from which all religions sprung; Nirvana is the
> ocean to which all tend." (II, 639)

[Many other excerpts from ISIS UNVEILED could be cited
on these same themes.]

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