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The Claims of Theosophy

Sep 22, 2006 06:00 AM
by saidevotee

Sri Aurobindo on Theosophy:

I wish to write in no narrow and intolerant spirit 
about Theosophy. There can be nothing more 
contemptibly ignorant than the vulgar prejudice 
which ridicules Theosophy because it concerns itself 
with marvels. From that point of view the whole 
world is a marvel; every operation of thought, 
speech or action is a miracle, a thing wonderful, 
obscure, occult and unknown. Even the sneer on the 
lips of the derider of occultism has to pass through 
a number of ill-understood processes before it can 
manifest itself on his face, yet the thing itself is 
the work of a second. That sneer is a much greater 
and more occult miracle than the precipitation of 
letters or the reading of the Akashic records.
Neither, I hope, shall I be inclined to reject or 
criticise adversely because Theosophy has a foreign 
origin. There is no law of Nature by which spiritual 
knowledge is confined to the East or must bear the 
stamp of an Indian manufacture before it can receive 
the imprimatur of the All-Wise. He has made man in 
his own image everywhere, in the image of the Satyam 
Jnanam Anantam, the divine Truth-Knowledge Infinity, 
and from wheresoever true knowledge comes, it must 
be welcomed. 
What Indians see is a body which is professedly and 
hospitably open to all enquiry at the base but 
entrenches itself in a Papal or mystic infallibility 
at the top. To be admitted into the society it is 
enough to believe in the freest investigation and 
the brotherhood of mankind, but everyone who is 
admitted must feel, if he is honest with himself, 
that he is joining a body which stands for certain 
well-known dogmas, a definite and very elaborate 
cosmogony and philosophy and a peculiar 
organisation, the spirit, if not the open practice 
in which seems to be theocratic rather than liberal. 
One feels that the liberality of the outer rings is 
only a wisely politic device for attracting a wider 
circle of sympathisers from whom numerous converts 
to the inner can be recruited. It is the dogmas, the 
cosmogony, the philosophy, the theocratic 
organisation which the world understands by 
Theosophy and which one strengthens by adhesion to 
the society; free inquiry and the brotherhood of man 
benefit to a very slight degree. 
One sees, finally, a new Theocracy claiming the 
place of the old, and that Theocracy is dominantly 
European. Indians figure numerously as prominent 
subordinates, just as in the British system of 
government Indians are indispensable and sometimes 
valued assistants. Or they obtain eminence on the 
side of pure spirituality and knowledge, just as 
Indians could rise to the highest places in the 
judicial service or in advisory posts, but not in 
the executive administration. But if the smaller 
hierophants are sometimes and rarely Indians, the 
theocrats and the bulk of the prophets are Russian, 
American or English. An Indian here and there may 
quicken the illumination of the Theosophist, but it 
is Madame Blavatsky or Mrs Besant, Sinnett or 
Leadbeater who lays down the commandments and the 
I do not see that Mrs Besant has a more powerful and 
perfect intellectuality, eloquence, personality or 
religious force than had Swami Vivekananda or that a 
single Theosophist has yet showed him or herself to 
be as mighty and pure a spirit as the Paramhansa 
Ramakrishna. There are Indian Yogins who have a 
finer and more accurate psychical knowledge than the 
best that can be found in the books of the 
Theosophists. Some even of the less advanced have 
given me proofs of far better-developed occult 
powers than any Theosophist I have yet known. The 
only member of the Theosophical Society who could 
give me any spiritual help I could not better by my 
unaided faculties, was one excluded from the 
esoteric section because his rare and potent 
experiences were unintelligible to the Theosophic 
guides; nor were his knowledge and powers gained by 
Theosophic methods but by following the path of our 
Yoga and the impulse of an Indian guru, one who 
meddled not in organisations and election cabals but 
lived like a madman, ranmattavat. These 
peculiarities of the Theosophical movement have 
begun to tell and the better mind of India revolts 
against Theosophy. The young who are the future, are 
not for the new doctrine. Yet only through India can 
Theosophy hope to survive.
Even devout Catholics writhe uneasily under the 
shower of Papal encyclicals and feel what an 
embarrassment it is to have modern knowledge 
forbidden by a revenant from the Middle Ages or 
opinion fixed by a Council of priests no more 
spiritual, wise or illustrious than the minds they 
coerce with their irrational authority. Europe is 
certainly not going to exchange a Catholic for a 
Theosophical Pope, the Council of Cardinals for the 
Esoteric Section, or the Gospel and the Athanasian 
Creed for Ancient Wisdom and Isis Unveiled. 
Will India long keep the temper that submits to 
unexamined authority and blinds itself with a name? 
I believe not. We shall more and more return to the 
habit of going to the root of things, of seeking 
knowledge not from outside but from the Self who 
knows and reveals. We must more and more begin to 
feel that to believe a thing because somebody has 
heard from somebody else that Mrs Besant heard it 
from a Mahatma, is a little unsafe and indefinite. 
Even if the assurance is given direct, we shall 
learn to ask for the proofs. Even if Kutthumi 
himself comes and tells me, I shall certainly 
respect his statement, but also I shall judge it and 
seek its verification. The greatest Mahatma is only 
a servant of the Most High and I must see his 
chapras before I admit his plenary authority. The 
world is putting off its blinkers; it is feeling 
once more the divine impulse to see. 
It is not that Theosophy is false; it is that 
Theosophists are weak and human. I am glad to 
believe that there is much truth in Theosophy. There 
are also considerable errors. Many of the things 
they say which seem strange and incredible to those 
who decline the experiment, agree with the general 
experience of Yogins; there are other statements 
which our experience appears to contradict or to 
which it gives a different interpretation. Mahatmas 
exist, but they are not omnipotent or infallible. 
Rebirth is a fact and the memory of our past lives 
is possible; but the rigid rules of time and of 
Karmic reaction laid down dogmatically by the 
Theosophist hierophants are certainly erroneous. 
Especially is the hotchpotch of Hindu and Buddhist 
mythology and Theosophic prediction served up to us 
by Mrs Besant confusing and misleading. At any rate 
it does not agree with the insight of much greater 
Yogins than herself. Like most Theosophists she 
seems to ignore the numerous sources and 
possibilities of error which assail the Yogin before 
his intellect is perfectly purified and he has his 
perfection in the higher and superintellectual 
faculties of the mind. Until then the best have to 
remember that the mind even of the fairly advanced 
is not yet divine and that it is the nature of the 
old unchastened human element to leap at 
misunderstandings, follow the lure of predilections 
and take premature conclusions for established 
truths. We must accept the Theosophists as 
enquirers; as hierophants and theocrats I think we 
must reject them. 
If Theosophy is to survive, it must first change 
itself. It must learn that mental rectitude to which 
it is now a stranger and improve its moral basis. It 
must become clear, straight forward, rigidly 
self-searching, sceptical in the nobler sense of the 
word. It must keep the Mahatmas in the background 
and put God and Truth in the front. Its Popes must 
dethrone themselves and enthrone the intellectual 
conscience of mankind. If they wish to be mystic and 
secret like our Yogins, then they must like our 
Yogins assert only to the initiate and the trained; 
but if they come out into the world to proclaim 
their mystic truths aloud and seek power, credit and 
influence on the strength of their assertions, then 
they must prove. It need not and ought not to be 
suddenly or by miracles; but there must be a 
scientific development, we must be able to lay hold 
on the rationale and watch the process of the truths 
they proclaim.

I have gathered the salient points from this telling 
and candid observation by one of the greatest modern 
yogi philosophers of India, Sri Aurobindo. In what 
ways has the situation in Theosophy and Theosophical 
Society changed for the better in their current set 
up? I think a honest and candid discussion on the 
points raised by Sri Aurobindo is necessary for 
Theosophy to be universally accepted as a synergism 
of all religions. In today's world of intense 
religious strife, I believe that Theosophy has to 
serve as the bond of unification, since its primary 
objective is universal brotherhood.

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