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A Portrait of Theosophy by John Algeo

Jan 05, 2007 08:12 PM
by danielhcaldwell

A Portrait of Theosophy 
by John Algeo


About Theosophy 

The modern Theosophical movement dates from the founding of the 
Theosophical Society in New York City in 1875 by Helena Petrovna 
Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others. The 
movement, however, views itself as a contemporary expression of a 
tradition going back to the Neo-Platonists of Classical antiquity 
(hence the name) and earlier. Primary concepts are: 

* (1) the fundamental unity of all existence, so that all 
dichotomies -- matter and spirit, the human and the divine, I and 
thou -- are seen as transitory and relative distinctions of an 
underlying absolute Oneness; 

* (2) the regularity of universal law, cyclically producing universes 
out of the absolute ground of being; and 

* (3) the progress of consciousness developing through the cycles of 
life to an ever-increasing realization of Unity. 

Theosophy is nondogmatic, but many Theosophists believe in: 
reincarnation; karma (or moral justice); the existence of worlds of 
experience beyond the physical; the presence of life and 
consciousness in all matter; the evolution of spirit and intelligence 
as well as matter; the possibility of conscious participation in 
evolution; the power of thought to affect one's self and 
surroundings; free will and self-responsibility; the duty of 
altruism, a concern for the welfare of others. 

These beliefs often lead to such practices as meditation, 
vegetarianism and care for animal welfare, active support of women's 
and minority rights, and a concern for ecology. 

Knowledge of such ideas and practices derives from the traditions of 
cultures spread over the world from antiquity to the present in 
a "perennial philosophy" or "ancient wisdom," held to be 
fundamentally identical in all cultures. But it also derives from the 
experiences of individuals through the practice of meditation and the 
development of insight. No Theosophist is asked to accept any opinion 
or adopt any practice that does not appeal to the inner sense of 
reason and morality. 

Theosophy has no developed rituals. Meetings typically consist of 
talks and discussion or the study of a book, although they may be 
opened and closed by brief meditations or the recitation of short 
texts. There are no privileged symbols in Theosophy, but various 
symbols from the religious traditions of the world are used, such as 
the interlaced triangles and the ankh. 

Today there are three main Theosophical organizations. Membership 
statistics are not available for all of them, but the American 
section of the society with international headquarters in Madras, 
India, has a membership of about 5,000. There are associated groups 
in about 50 countries. 

Theosophy in the World Today 

The first object of the Theosophical Society is (in one wording), "To 
form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without 
distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color"; and the second 
is, "To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and 
science." As those objects indicate, Theosophy is dedicated to 
increasing cooperation among human beings and understanding among 
their cultures and religions. 

Theosophy holds that all religions are expressions of humanity's 
effort to relate to one another, to the universe around us, and to 
the ultimate ground of being. Particular religions differ from one 
another because they are expressions of that effort adapted to 
particular times, places, cultures, and needs. Theosophy is not 
itself a religion, although it is religious, in being concerned with 
the effort to relate. Individual Theosophists profess various of the 
world's religions -- Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Zoroastrian, Hindu, 
Buddhist; others have no religious affiliation. 

The Theosophical Society has, from the time of its founding, promoted 
dialogue and cooperation among the religious traditions of humanity, 
since we regard them all as varying expressions of a basic human need 
and impulse. The Society itself is an expression of the faith that 
human beings, however diverse their backgrounds, can communicate and 

Primary Challenges and Issues Facing Humanity 

Humanity is faced by a range of seemingly insuperable problems: 
uncontrolled population growth, diminishing resources, exploitation 
of one group by another, ancient animosities, passion for revenge, 
racial antagonism, religious prejudice, territorial ambition, 
destructive use of the environment, oppression of women, disregard of 
the rights of others, greed for wealth and power, and so on. In the 
Theosophical view, all these are secondary or derivative problems -- 
the symptoms of a disease. The primary, original problem, the cause 
of the disease, is the illusion of separateness, the notion that we 
are unconnected, independent beings whose particular welfare can be 
achieved at the expense of the general good. 

The primary challenge facing humanity is therefore to recognize the 
unity of our species and in turn our ultimate unity with all life in 
the universe. Despite the superficial cultural and genetic 
differences that divide humanity, we are a remarkably homogeneous 
species -- physically, psychologically, intellectually, and 
spiritually. Biologically, we are a single human gene pool, with only 
minor local variations. Psychologically and intellectually, we 
respond to stimuli in fundamentally the same way. Linguistically, 
behind the surface variations of the world's tongues, our underlying 
language ability is remarkably uniform. Spiritually, we have a common 
origin and a common destiny. 

Neither is the human species isolated from the rest of life in the 
universe. We are part and parcel of the totality of existence 
stretching from this planet Earth to the farthest reaches of the 
cosmos in every conceivable dimension. When we realize our integral 
connection with all other human beings, with all other life forms, 
with the most distant reaches of space, we will realize that we 
cannot either harm or help another without harming or helping 
ourselves. We are all one, not as metaphor, but as fact. 

Individual Theosophists engage in social, political, and charitable 
action as they are moved by their consciences and sense of duty to 
become so engaged. They are urged by the Theosophical tradition to 
realize the concept of Unity in practical responses to the challenges 
we face. Collectively and as Theosophists, however, we do not regard 
it as our special calling to be social, political, or charitable 
activists. Theosophy addresses the cause rather than the symptoms of 
the human disease. Theosophy seeks to make humanity aware -- 
intellectually, affectively, and experientially -- of our unity with 
one another and with the whole universe. From such awareness will 
flow naturally and inevitably a respect for differences, a wise use 
of the environment, the fair treatment of others, a sympathy with the 
afflictions of our neighbors, and the will to respond to those 
afflictions helpfully and lovingly. 


"Help Nature and work on with her; and Nature will regard thee as one 
of her creators and make obeisance." [sl. 26] 

"To live to benefit mankind is the first step." [sl. 144] -- H.P. 
BLAVATSKY, *The Voice of the Silence,* 1889 

"There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, 
but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can 
tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that 
opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore. 
There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no 
trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no 
difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win 
onwards, there is reward past all telling -- the power to bless and 
save humanity; for those who fail, there are other lives in which 
success may come." -- H.P. BLAVATSKY, 1891, CW 13:219 

"O hidden Life, vibrant in every atom, O hidden Light, shining in 
every creature, O hidden Love, embracing all in oneness, May all who 
feel themselves as one with thee Know they are therefore one with 
every other." -- ANNIE BESANT 

"It is well known that the first rule of the society is to carry out 
the object of forming the nucleus of a universal brotherhood. The 
practical working of this rule was explained by those who laid it 
down, to the following effect: `He who does not practice altruism; he 
who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or poorer 
than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever 
race, nation or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and 
who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an 
innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and 
does not undertake his defense as he would undertake his own -- is no 
Theosophist.' --H.P. BLAVATSKY, in "Let Every Man Prove His Own 
Work," 1887, CW 8:170-71 

"There is but one way of ever ameliorating human life and it is by 
the love of one's fellow man for his own sake and not for personal 
gratification. The greatest Theosophist -- he who loves divine truth 
under all its forms -- is the one who works for and with the poor." --
H.P. BLAVATSKY, "Misconceptions," 1887, CW 8:77 

"The Society was founded to teach no new and easy paths to the 
acquisition of "powers"; ...its only mission is to re-kindle the 
torch of truth, so long extinguished for all but the very few, and to 
keep that truth alive by the formation of a fraternal union of 
mankind, the only soil in which the good seed can grow." --H.P. 
BLAVATSKY, "Spiritual Progress," 1885, CW 6:333 

"The path of right progress should include the amelioration of the 
individual, the nation, the race, and humanity; and ever keeping in 
view the last and grandest object, the perfecting of man, should 
reject all apparent bettering of the individual at the expense of his 
neighbor." --H.P. BLAVATSKY, *The Struggle for Existence,* 1889, CW 

"If Theosophy prevailing in the struggle, its all-embracing 
philosophy strikes deep root into the minds and hearts of men, if its 
doctrines of Reincarnation and Karma, in other words, of Hope and 
Responsibility, find a home in the lives of the new generations, 
then, indeed, will dawn the day of joy and gladness for all who now 
suffer and are outcast. For real Theosophy is Altruism, and we cannot 
repeat it too often. It is brotherly love, mutual help, unswerving 
devotion to Truth. If once men do but realize that in these alone can 
true happiness be found, and never in wealth, possessions or any 
selfish gratification, then the dark clouds will roll away, and a new 
humanity will be born upon earth. Then, the Golden Age will be there, 
indeed." --H.P. BLAVATSKY, "Our Cycle and the Next," 1889, CW 11:202 


Theosophical Society International Headquarters Adyar, Madras, India 

Theosophical Society in America (and Quest Books) PO Box 270 Wheaton, 
IL 60189 

The Theosophical Society (and Theosophical University Press) PO Box 
C, Pasadena, CA 91109 

United Lodge of Theosophists 245 W. 33rd St. Los Angeles, CA 90007 

Quoted from:

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