A talk given at the Theosophical Society of Ireland in Dublin by
on 22nd October 2001
the Objects of the Theosophical Society are:
"To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
"To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science. ‘
"To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man."
The first of the three "declared Objects" of the Theosophical Society may seem different from and even irrelevant to the other two, for the general layman might picture the practitioner of the second and third Objects as an "apprentice magician" sitting in a solitary laboratory (I know these are nineteenth-century clichés), while the concept of Brotherhood may conjure up a totally different set of perceptions: monastic communities, flower people, alternative groupings, Black Panthers, even the "anti-globalisers" this last summer in Genoa.
My purpose in these talks will be to attempt to put my explanation of the fundamental intertwining of the concepts presented in the Objects of the Society, to propose that as we develop our analysis of the Objects the theme of Brotherhood will become evermore essential and predominant, and lastly that the consequence of the practice of the studies and investigations called for in the second and third Objects can do other than arrive at the establishment and development of Brotherhood.
Also, in my introductory remarks, we can ask ourselves: why have three Objects and not two, for surely, for example, the study of Science encouraged in Object 2 will cover the investigations of the unexplained laws of nature suggested as an item of investigation in Object 3. They are different, as I will explain, and I trust you will see the paradigm shift, in the iteration of Object 3.
I have stated that possibly, if one has to classify the Objects in order of importance, of essence, one will stand out. However, in this talk, I shall deal at the first level with Objects 2 and 3, and on each appropriate occasion I shall draw inferences for Object 1.
So let’s do a little investigation as encouraged by the third Object. The first investigation that I would suggest for us will be a little introspective: who made the Objects, whom are they designed and destined for, in what structure and environment are they placed? And these questions naturally bring us to a brief introduction to theosophy, the Theosophical Society, and theosophists.
Theosophy, like so many exotic things, is a complex word. It is a construct from an archaic, dead, language, classical Greek. Theos means God. Sophia, wisdom. The meaning is Divine Wisdom.
All rather complicated, you might say, we are back to our image of the "apprentice magicians". Well, I’ll tell you something nice about theosophy; it has no dogma, no salaried experts or administrators, no places reserved for its practice (I am tempted to say to you as an aside that it a quintessential beauty of Theosophy – it does not need dogma, the Truth is all around us, was and will be; no need for "paid official spokespersons" when we are all part of the Truth; no need for designated sites – churches, shrines, temples, sacred groves or whatever – when all that has form, or had or will is an appropriate place for the Truth if but one can see it.) Farthing, an English theosophist has said: Because man’s nature reflects completely that of Nature herself, from the highest level down to the lowest, he needs no priests or other beings to act as go-betweens between himself and his own divinity. Any theosophist or like-minded person can make his or her own investigations, carry out his or her research, and postulate, or not, his or her findings and theories.
The only rule we have in the Society is that such explanations be made in the name of the individual enquirer and not in the name of the Society, for really we don’t want and we don’t need to take even the first step on the road to the constitution of a dogma. (Another aside – what, you may say, is wrong with dogma. Well, look what Jesus said and what has been made out of it over the centuries: examine early groups – Essenians, Gnostics, and realise how the breadth of thought was reduced to a single line of controllable "Truth"; look at the teachings of the Buddha, and confront them with modern divisions and wars in the name of the sacred; look at Judaism and Islam, and compare the compassion of their fundamental original teaching and revelation with what you hear on the news each day; admire Hinduism, with its unique concept of the direct red telephone with the Divine, against a present background of ignorance and superstition, underdevelopment and fatalism within a rigid system of caste and society under the crop of professional managers of the established religion.) As theosophists, we are investigators, students, examiners and inspectors of the Truth, and there is a word for that also in classical Greek which has come forward, in sound and appearance, but with an entirely different meaning, into many Western modern languages. That word is heretic. And sad to say, seekers of the Truth have, systematically, down the ages, been punished: penalised, ostracised, imprisoned, impoverished, banished, mutilated and murdered. That’s, unfortunately for the heretics, the enquirers of the Truth, another rather inconvenient by-product of dogma.
The preceding analysis is mainly Western in form and looks at how the West treated theosophical enquiry. But, as it is said that Theosophy has an Eastern base, I would like to present in this introduction a few observations on Theosophy by the eminent Indian sage and philosopher, freedom fighter too, and author of many works on the super-sensible or, as he terms it, the supra-mental, Sri Aurobindo. Also, he had much contact with the Theosophical Society, as his ashram in Pondicherry and the Theosophical Society headquarters in Madras were but 150 kilometres apart. As an English-speaking, Oxford-educated Bengali, he was consummately aware of both cultures, East and West. In his Essays Divine and Human, written between 1908 and 1912, he made many observations on Theosophy, a few of which I shall now offer you, and I quote: ".. it is necessary that whatever India has to offer should be stated to the West in language that the West can understand and through a principle of knowledge that it has made its own. Europe will accept nothing which is not scientific …." Later in the same passage he states, and we must ask ourselves why: "The phenomenon of the Theosophical Society is a warning to us of a pressing urgency. It will never do to allow the science of Indian knowledge to be represented to the West through this strange and distorting medium…their object, vaguely grasped at by them, was at bottom the systematic coordination, explanation and practice of Oriental religion and Oriental mental and spiritual discipline. …. It fell into the mediaeval snare of Gnostic mysticism, Masonic secrecy and Rosicrucian jargon. The little science it attempted has been rightly stigmatised as pseudo-science."… That’s rather hard-hitting. But the author later tempers his commentary in the following terms: "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." And then we reach the point of _expression of the misunderstanding: "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." This is starting to be helpful.
He goes on: "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, straightforward, rigidly self-searching, sceptical in the nobler sense of the word." He further states: "Theosophy was not born with Madame Blavatsky, nor invented by the Mahatmas in the latter end of the nineteenth century. It is an ancient and venerable branch of knowledge which unfortunately has never, in historical times, been brought out into the open and subjected to clear, firm and luminous tests." His end summary of Theosophy is, to my view, quite satisfactory: "Theosophy is or should be a wider and profounder Science, a knowledge that deals with other levels and movements of consciousness, planes if you so like to call them, phenomena depending on the activity of consciousness on those levels, worlds and beings formed by the activity of consciousness on those levels, - for what is a world but the synthesis in Space and Time of a particular level of consciousness, - forming a field of consciousness with which material Science, the Science of the immediately visible world, can not yet deal, and for the most part, not believing in it as fact, refuses to deal. Theosophy is, therefore, properly speaking, a high scientific enquiry. It is not or ought not to be a system of metaphysics or a new religion."
One of the Society’s founders, Colonel Olcott, said: The very air of Theosophy is charged with the spirit of enquiry. It is not the "sceptical" spirit, nor the "agnostic". It is a real desire to know and to learn the truth, as far as it is possible for any creature to know it who is so limited by his capacities and so biased by his prejudices as is man. And to quote another, more recent, writer, Oliveira: Theosophy is not a teaching based on belief, acceptance or authority. In its very origin it is based on deep and independent enquiry into the deeper aspects of life.
A word on the writing of Mrs Blavatsky. (And don’t forget my professed statement that Theosophy has no dogma. And let us be clear, too, of the difference between doctrine and dogma. Doctrine is, quite literally, teaching. And, as we grow mature, teaching becomes less and less learnt and more learned, assimilated and considered. If teaching were never refuted, there would be no advances in science. Dogma is pseudo-teaching that does not allow for enquiry and is imposed, with penalties for non-observance of its fundaments and its practices.) There is a body of work initially issued as Isis Unveiled and seminally published as The Secret Doctrine. These very long works contain the content of a very ancient work, the Stanzas of Dyan, commentaries thereon, and deductions therefrom. The work is essentially divided into Cosmogenesis (the creation and purpose of the Universe) and Anthropogenesis (the creation and purpose of humanity). In the opinion of van der Hecht, writing recently in The Theosophist magazine, in the Secret Doctrine: Madame Blavatsky was allowed to lift a corner of the veil which hides certain secrets of Nature from the profane because the development of science and the shock suffered by the dogmas of the Church enabled the West to understand those secrets and rendered their knowledge necessary. In my own personal enquiry, I do not treat these two works as dogma, it may indeed be classified as doctrine offered for enquiry and study; also, the deductions inferred are, in the large view, sufficiently matched by other writings from very different sources as, certainly, to "ring of the Truth". But, the Stanzas of Dyan and the import were, we are told, revealed to Mrs Blavatsky, and I feel I have to mention that. And I don’t intend, neither would it be within the scope nor within the time frame of this talk, to discuss the work further. It’s really the only theosophical work I have come across with an element of revelation; all other works, by Mrs Blavatsky and others, are entirely rational deductions on enquiries made – for example Sinnett’s Esoteric Buddhism, Annie Besant’s and Bishop Leadbetter’s works, and others more recent.
A final introductory word, on the concept of the occult, the hidden, esotericism, etc. Why are things hidden? Well, it could be because those holding the secrets don’t want others to get hold of them. The sort of "need to know" or "need not to know" syndrome. Second, it could be because the revelation of phenomena not readily apparent is dosed out by those who are able to handle them in measures that they deem sufficient but not too over-burdening to the recipients? It could also, thirdly, be because people don’t want to see them. I would like to feel that there is nothing sinister about the occult, and that the traditional meaning of "occult" is erroneous. We have, I think, reached an age an a stage of evolution of self-consciousness where the man in the street is more ready to handle the occult, or rather more simply that the occult is becoming less occluded. So let’s not think that the use of the word "occult" or "esoteric" smacks of a secret society with membership rites and privileges, let’s rather rejoice that its use should become ever less frequent.
So where do we start in our search for the Truth? Really, anywhere, for it is all around us. I would like to quote you a few lines about spiritual enquiry from Ernest Wood, a theosopher writing in the earlier years of the last century, in his book called Concentration: "A simple worshipper at first regards God, manifested in a particular form, as the proprietor of all things and desires to perform all the acts of his life in order to please him. Next he begins to see that the finer qualities, which he first discovered in the divine form, are to be seen in some measure in other forms also, and he then begins to realise that there is something of the divine nature in all things – that God pervades where he possesses. …… Slowly another light breaks on the devotee, and now, instead of felling that there is something of God in all forms he will realise that all exists in God, that each represents and reproduces him, though not in his fullness."
Now for the second Object. If you don’t mind, I’ll reverse the order of the subject areas given in the Object and work from the most to the least material. Here is a rich field indeed for our heretical endeavours. I’d like to make a few comments on scientific matters concerned with astronomy, and biology, particularly microbiology, as these are areas which present important advances in recent times, where the questions of "where do we come from?" and "where are we going?" are frequently asked; they present therefore interesting matter for the enquirer.
First, the macroscopic. In the last 100 years, in fact since the formation of the Theosophical Society, the world of macro scientific discovery has undergone perhaps its greatest evolution. The concept of relativity is a watershed, including the observer in the observed, or rather stating that the observed cannot exist without the or an observer. What a magnificent statement of the general underlying unity of the universe, and one too, which enhances the understanding of self-consciousness. It is also a profound recognition of unity, the basic unity underlying the complexity of the universe, and the basic unity surrounding the concept of self-consciousness. It also substantiates Annie Besant’s excellent explanation that consciousness cannot exist boundaryless, without limitations; that self-consciousness cannot exist without awareness, awareness of the or "an" other. Conscious requires a cogniser, a cogniser, and cognition. There cannot be a missing item in this trinity. But the rearguard action against this manifest unity yet prevents us still from living in brotherhood.
Perhaps you will know, or be interested to learn, that Einstein was a Theosophist.
Following the "discovery" of relativity, mathematical and physical developments based on fields of quantum phenomena – quantum mechanics, quantum dynamics – have opened up. The examination of our universe postulated as expanding, or steady state, or initiating in a big bang, occurred mid-century. The big bang theory, with modifications such as inflationary theories, now seems generally accepted. Phenomena such as Higgs Fields, Super-string Theory, Black Holes, Wormholes, Multiple Universes, Matter and Anti-Matter relationships, are phenomena under current discussion. I like to imagine, for example, that a universe could be swallowed up by a black hole, disappearing for ever behind the radius of no return, tunnel through a wormhole, change from matter into anti-matter (which would appear as matter in the subsequent universe), and that there would be in this process a point of singularity that could be equated with a big bang or creation event – we just wouldn’t be able to see back through the hole with any means of investigation currently available – in cosmological terms certainly until we are able (if we ever are) to rationally determine what may occur beyond the barrier of the speed of light (the maximum rate of motion at which our most rapid sense organ can assimilate phenomena). So many things which will probably never be available if we stick in our investigations to the tools of matter and form, and the organs of the senses.
In the microscopic world, we have proceeded in reductionist analysis from the cell to the molecule, from the molecule to the atom, inside atoms to protons and electrons and thence to quarks. We have identified the constituent properties of quarks – expressed as colours, or thirds of this or that, without yet defining a matter for the properties. Maybe we will one day, and further. In microbiology, from the "discovery" of DNA by Crick and Watson in the 1950s or 1960s, we now have a nearly complete map of the human genome. We are astonished by its complexity; we are also astonished by the scientists’ surprise at the rather small number of patterns, or variations – is it 30,000 or so? – required to express the full human complexity by DNA. (We can also express some astonishment, in passing, at the tussle between the two organisations undertaking the research, one a private company racing to be first so as to be able to patent "the information" in order to be able to sell it to its owners!) The complex information increasingly becoming available allows for advances in understanding in medicine and medical treatment; it possible also inspires a sense of awe, a sense possibly of helplessness, giving on to acceptance, perhaps further to satisfaction at being part of and one with "the overall system".
Now I put forward a rather complex concept. We will consider later in more detail the operation of the law of cause and consequence or effect, or karma (I shall use this term henceforth, because it’s shorter), not just on persons, but on all forms of matter, and however structured or unstructured. Science is very complicated, and it requires many generations of scientific training, and scientific observation, and the marshalling of extraordinary technological resources, to observe, for example, that the reaction of two elementary particles colliding with each other can be this or that, described as a wave or a particle or whatever. And scientists ask themselves, why this extraordinary complexity? And what is its cause? And indeed when will the confines of complexity be reached and identified? I advance that possibly the explanation can be the result of cause and effect over what we perceive as unimaginable aeons of time. Let us imagine a very first state of differentiated manifestation, just two of a kind, and of the very simplest form and matter, atoms or something like that. Now the volition of evolution requires action, or repetition, and as the process of the evolutionary exercise is differentiation, that is essentially duplication on a repeated basis. Now, at some point in time, and don’t forget we talking in astronomic units, a small glitch in the uniformity of the process, and this can be caused (at the level of conscious evolution) by will or consideration (reflective thinking) – a change of will, an acceleration or a delay in the impact of will, a pause for thought, a rushed thought; this causes an alteration in the process. The memory of the alteration remains, as does the memory of the pre-altered process. So now, in our process of repetitive duplication, we have more choices, more alternatives in the repetition process. The alternatives can interplay with each other, and further glitches can take place, ever more frequent as the quantum of cause elements increases through action and result. When one considers the amount of time over which these processes have taken place relative to the time frame of each process – some shorter, some longer – I think one can but be surprised the our world of form and matter is not apparently not infinitely more complex. As many of you will know, this "glitch" phenomenon is now scientifically recognised as the inflationary theory, proposed by Paul Guth as having happened in the universe’s early development. This is now a cornerstone of modern astronomical theory; I am simply pushing it into the sphere of volition, and consciousness. I would argue, also, that we may never get to the end of the complexity, because as we talk and as we research, so many actions, some with "glitches" or alterations, are taking place that we cannot keep up with them.
Now, what’s the importance for the theosophical enquirer? It really leads to some general assumptions I find of use. It points to a tendency of more and more complexity of the universe of form and matter and, I believe, to a lesser or greater extent, to its unpredictability. (I predicate again that the unpredictability lies in what is to be willed, and what action may consequently ensue, in the future.) This leads me to deduct that there may or must be a driving force beyond form and matter, one that we now can but distantly glimpse, and there must be a over-life of consciousness, partially developed, partially fulfilled, and it a state of becoming, or continual potential. Not a personalised God, but maybe an evolutionary volition driving the motor of karma. Next, it underscores the essential unity of the universe in all its diversity, and this is an important observation for a theosophist. (And unity again calls for self-conscious unification of humanity, in a brotherhood of some sort or another.) Again, it shows me that evolution, in the sense of the passage of time, is the affair of every form and of all matter in the universe, not just of self-conscious humanity. Lastly, the increasing complexity and the less determined precision, or rather the more precise determination of relative phenomena, with which scientific phenomena can be mapped, strikes astonishing resonance with the ancient texts of wisdom. I will try and quote from memory (most of my literature still sitting around in crates in India) the last verse of the Creation Hymn from the Rig Veda: (and all this) ….only he in the highest knows from whence it came, or again perhaps he does not.
Just as science shows itself as more and more complex the more we come to learn and describe its operation at the increasingly big level, and at the increasingly small level, so we have to recognise, as the physicist J S Haldane has pointed out, that Life is a fundamental fact of Nature and cannot be reduced to anything simpler. It cannot be explained on the basis of anything material. It must be looked at and understood on its own ground. The conception of life, moreover, is higher in the scale of categories than the conception of matter and energy; and the idea of life is nearer to reality than the ideas of matter and energy. ……… The physical conception of the universe must ultimately give way to the "biological" conception (I’m not sure I wouldn’t have swopped the term "biological" for "conscious"); from seeing matter and energy everywhere, we must begin to see life everywhere ………. The universe as a whole can be resolved to the terms of life, concludes Haldane.
As we move on to philosophy, and because we’re a hundred and more years on from the first _expression of the Objects, I’m going to treat philosophy as what we call the social sciences, and when discussing religion deal briefly with the basket of metaphysical and moral and ethical concepts as well. A very wide area; arts, the humanities, history, in a sense the exposé of our human development hitherto, in its creative, artistic, and organisational aspects. I’d like to just look a little about the realm of psychology and human development because it more and more closely parallels the organisation of consciousness that is so readily found in theosophical and similar literature. Back 100 years or so again, to the world of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and those who follow. I mention here that Jung was another theosophist, as well as one of the first Western scientists to delve deeply into Oriental thinking in an attempt to find commonalities of view. The first psychoanalysts recognised a compartmentalisation of the human personality, expressed as the ego, the super-ego, the id, and other similar terms. At this time, too, the nature of dreams; behind that, the nature of different states of consciousness and non-consciousness, was explored.
Neuro-psychology is debating issues such as: Does the brain "produce" consciousness like the liver secretes bile, or is the brain the physical instrument for the phenomenal _expression of mind and consciousness?
Theosophy is very interested and concerned with consciousness, for most theosophists see consciousness and, since humanity, the advent of increasing self-consciousness, as the other element, the more advanced element, which balances matter and will one day outgrow matter. Maybe not form, but matter certainly. (Already the concept of Virtual Reality has been harnessed in technological terms as a functional operand in the realm of matter.) And maybe, consciousness is not the other element but "an" other element in a chain of elements, each a state of greater evolutionary advancement – although generally theosophical literature show consciousness as the other, the Life, element. What I find particularly interesting in my enquiry is the close and obvious relationship with the elements of personality, and the work done on the components, and the theosophical classification, of the lower levels of the divine human. We shall consider this classification in more detail when as we turn to the third Object.
A small criticism I would have in passing with psychological medicine is that much of its methodology and treatment is based on recognising and the treatment of symptoms – in a sense weeding out the cause of self-consciousness, rather than empowering the patient to enact his or her self-consciousness in an evolutionary fashion. Maybe we need gurus rather than psychologists.
Another area under this sub-heading of the second Object is that of communications. After billions of years, after an initial coincidental mix of amino acids, as we are told, matter has evolved through form and form from the mineral, vegetable, animal – each with their levels of consciousness – to the human realm. A particular attribute of humans is that we can communicate with each other – an active _expression of self-consciousness. We can now communicate great thoughts, great abstractions, great desires, great intimations of will, and great accounts of action; and also, unfortunately, great amounts of trivia. Until recently, this had to be done by word of mouth, after that it could be communicated and recorded in writing. In the last 100 years, we have been able to communicate at great distances, with or without hard-wire technology. From an initial thrust of single sources communicating to vast audiences, communication becomes ever more individualised, less centrally organised and directed. Does this not provide a proof that immensely complex chaos is in fact a fairly marvellous form of organisation, if one can just comprehend it? And let us reflect, for a moment, how full, how very very full the "invisible ether" (sorry for this old-fashioned terminology) around us is of invisible waves of communication, from fairly useless advertisements to serious documentaries, from personal mobile phones to confidential communications by strategic government agencies. Military communications – communicating not just to militarists but to machines of destruction. Space probes sent out with messages flagging our presence in the universe in a form considered most appropriate for other "space civilisations", or units of self- and other- consciousness. Telepathy will certainly become possible, but with all the communications we have today I wonder if we really need it any longer. In making the list above, I am not condoning components of the list, nor commenting on their utility, but merely observing their existence. Noting too, that a brotherhood based on mutual construction and evolutionary desire would be more useful and more creative than the bond that seems most suited for creating "brotherhoods" at our current level of evolution, the "brotherhood of mutual destruction".
Turning to the study of comparative religion. (And we can ask ourselves why the adjective "comparative" was so deliberately placed in its place.) Religions have a funny trait. They very quickly become subject to the politics of the Truth, and once that happens most of the compromise is with the Truth. I would like to describe for myself, and rather cynically, most established religions as "cultural manifestations of selective elements of the Truth (along with a fair amount of rubbish)." So the problem we have is how to distinguish the Truth from all the rest of it. And, as the writers of the Objects correctly surmised, one reasonable and deductive way is to look at comparative similarities, for when similarities crop up again and again, one can suppose that some common ground lay there before, and still does. Mistruths are more difficult to propagate than one is led to believe.
I would like to quote a little from a recent article on the work of the second century Alexandrine teacher, Ammonius Saccas. His method of investigation seemed to be fairly thorough and productive, and the article in question nicely written and explanatory, so I’ll just read a few passages:
The parents of Ammonius were devout Christians, and Ammonius was sent to the Christian School, where he learnt about the Christian Christ. He must have heard that Krishna, too had been immaculately conceived, was persecuted by a wicked king, and had finally died upon a cross. Why were the stories of the two Christs so similar? Could it be possible that both were legends? If that were the case, there must be legends of Christs in other lands. The priest told him there was only one Christ. All the others were impostors. The priest told him to believe, but he wanted to know.
When he grew older he attended some of the lectures in the pagan schools and eventually became acquainted with the basic ideas underlying all the great philosophies.
……He started the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria in the year 193 A.D.
The object which Ammonius Saccas had in view were the same as those of H P Blavatsky in founding the Theosophical Society in 1875. The first of these was to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood without distinctions of any kind. Ammonius knew that Brotherhood means unity on every plane. He saw that without this idea of unity the entire manifested universe would be an _expression of chaos. With unity as a basis, it would appear as an _expression of law and order.
The second century of the Christian era was marked by tolerance, but not by unity. The ancient Wisdom-Religion, which was the only true basis of unity, was now forgotten. The Schools of the Mysteries were gradually dying, and with them the knowledge of the Wisdom-Religion. The various schools of the Gnosis were presenting different aspects of the Wisdom-Religion, but their underlying unity was still unperceived, in spite of Valentinus’ efforts to disclose it. Ammonius recognised that religious tolerance was not enough. For even tolerance, without a philosophical basis, soon sinks into apathy. He saw that the only way to establish the brotherhood of religions was to show the identical source from which all of them had sprung, and from that point to explain the diversities. He began by postulating the existence of the Ancient Wisdom-Religion, and showed how all religions sprang from that, as the branches of a tree from a common trunk.
Using that one Source as a basis of comparison, Ammonius proved the essential identity of all religions by making his students acquainted with all the different systems of thought. In his School – the Vedantic, Zoroastrian and Buddhist systems were studied side by side with the philosophies of Greece. The doctrine of Plato and Pythagoras were compared with the philosophies of the ancient East, the teachings of the Jewish Kabbala, with those of the ancient Egyptians. This comparative study of the religions and philosophies of all nations accomplished the second of Ammonius’ objects……..
The third object that Ammonius had in view was to make the study of philosophy a living power in the lives of his students.
……The School of Ammonius Saccas was divided into two sections: exoteric and esoteric. This was merely the continuation of an ancient custom, for all the religious and philosophical schools of the past were divided in the same manner. The Mysteries of every nation consisted of the "lesser" and the "greater". The "lesser" mysteries were given to the public and consisted mainly in ethical teachings. The greater mysteries were reserved for the few.
……The philosophical system of Orpheus was revived in Egypt by Ammonius Saccas. The central idea of the Eclectic Theosophy was that of a single Supreme Essence, Unknown and Unknowable. The system was characterised by three distinct features: first, the theory of this Supreme Essence; second, the doctrine of the human soul, called an emanation of the Supreme Essence and therefore considered to be of the same nature; third, Theurgy, the art of using the divine powers of man to rule the blind forces of nature.
The aim and purpose of Ammonius was to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith – a belief in one Supreme Eternal Unknown and Unnamed Power which governs the universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which in the beginning was known alike in all countries; to induce men to lay aside their quarrels and strifes and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; ……….. His chief object was to extract from the various religious teachings, as from a many-stringed instrument, one full and harmonious chord ……….
I would also like to look at a few of the commonalities we can discern – if necessary stripping the occlusions. I will just take one example, the end passage of the Nicene Creed. (In doing so, I am simply supposing that most of us here have had a predominantly Christian upbringing. No malice aforethought or unwitting is intended.)
I believe (a phrase I don’t like very much) in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sinners, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. I shall make comparisons mainly with Hindu thinking. The "Holy Ghost"; no problem with that. In the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I find the coincidences of the Absolute or Paraabrahman, the incarnate deities as Krishna (also a crucified God), Vishnu and Siva, and the Unifying Principle. The "Holy Catholic Church" is no problem if you have fundaments of Greek, for a reasonable literal translation from the Septuagint Greek would be "a brotherhood of the most varied humanity possible". And that is a parallel throughout religions, at least at the time of their foundation, and for some time thereafter. The "communion of saints" is another call to brotherhood. It is close to the close-sounding "sant" community exisiting in Hinduism (probably lower-ranking because of the Hindu aversion to over-personalise its Godhead (as opposed to its Gods). Of course, in an ideal environment, we would all be saints and form a common or co- union with each other. To be believed in! The forgiveness of sins. Now I have a little more trouble here. The evidence of sin, whether original sin or enacted sin, is very complex, and I am not a theologian. Buddhism talks about skill and non-skill, and I find greater comfort in these terms. It takes the guilt (which is a very Judaeo-Christian – but not, I think, Greek – phenomenon) factor out of the equation. The Eastern concept is of greater or lesser skill, in the worst cases positive acts of non-skill, in the daily practices which form the front of our evolutionary course. It assumes that all Self-conscious beings consciously evolve, at a speed and quality which are conditioned by their past (karma) and by their current will. It leaves space for the will. But it does not go backwards – ie as an eternal fall into damnation. It considers all a cumulative activity, which is contrary to the Catholic Christian tenet of a deathbed confession, and absolution, for a sinner – and the converse, an ultimate sinning at the point of death for an otherwise saintly person, with cataclysmic consequences. I must confess more comfort with the Eastern version. There is nevertheless an underlying identity in the two expressions. Somewhere there, there is the Truth. "The Resurrection of the Body". Now, I just happen to consider that Christian theology has got confused with the concept of corporeal incarnation and re-incarnation. My spirit of enquiry is stalled with concepts such as: at what age will my (present) body resurrect in resurrected form? The concept of reincarnation, like borrowing a set of clothes, maybe a uniform or a protective suit to work in a nuclear factory, and performing the specific set of actions determined to some extent by the uniform, and coming out of the uniform and reporting back on the experience, conforms more to logical reason. And when I read St Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians, Chapter 15), I get further conviction that there may be a bit of a mix up on a common Truth. "Life everlasting". No comment. Happy with that. Even an atheist would be fool to attempt to prove that the universe stops with his or her demise from this world. Even if the atheist is not part of it, the world goes on.
A further point is about the "founders of religions". As Mrs Blavatsky points out in The Secret Doctrine, the founders of world religions were all transmitters, not original teachers. But the founders of great religions suffered an unenviable fate; they became elevated over time to the status of Godheads or similar by their followers. That is certainly true of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. A common thread too is the compassionate and Godly nature of the beginnings of all religions which later transforms itself into a religious / administrative system purporting to continue the word of its founder. I liked the postface of the engraver Robert Gibbings to one of his books: All religions are the same when they are alive; it is only when they begin to die that they begin to differ.
None who have read the foundation texts of Buddhism or Islam can deny their profoundly Divine nature. But the interpretative texts are less clear, and as dogma and politics set in, the interpretation becomes ever less clear, and the call to "believe" becomes ever more strident.
A word about God and Gods. I also have difficulty with the concept of "personalising" God. But that is a personal trait, one which fits me better as I am more at home with abstract thought. To quote Bilmoria, another theosophist from the United Kingdom: "…….. religious dogmatism has invented a personal God who created the universe instead of realising that there is a Deity (or rather a Deific or Divine Principle), impersonal and absolute, behind the universe drawn from its own essence. What however, may be quite plausible is that we may not be top of the evolutionary tree. Other entities and forms may be more advanced than we. In fact an infinite multitude and complexity of other entities, other forms, could be more advanced than we are? What or who could be ahead? And to what extent is there an interplay between superior entities and ourselves, just as on the physical plane there is an interplay between ourselves and less evolved forms – one where we are self-conscious of the interplay, but the less evolved forms probably not, or at least less conscious? For example, our interaction with a domestic pet is probably reasonably clear to the pet. But I would venture to suggest that our interplay with a block of lava is not self-consciously clear to the block of lava. Angels and other beings as reported in religious texts. Intermediary evolving beings, as yet imperfect but more perfect than us, may influence us and matter. May indeed deliberately seek to influence us.
Some of the less open forms of Western spirituality, from the ancient Hermetics and Orphics, Kabbalists, to more modern schools of spirituality, and I think particularly of Rosicrucians, have the "entities" we consider Gods – Jehovah, Lucifer (if I can put him in here) as advanced but intermediary entities who can and who have chosen to influence humanity. Further, entities such as archangels who not only choose too interplay with humanity, but who are considered to have been entrusted roles as guides, tutors or guardians.
The concept is pushed further, as Joy Mills reports in a recent issue of The Theosophist, when she quotes from the Secret Doctrine: The whole Cosmos is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of hierarchies of sentient Beings, each having a mission to perform … while many of the units are simply following a kind of automatic course, at the upper reaches of the hierarchies there must be those who know what they are about.
There is nothing wrong with these theories; they are as rational as anything else. The only difficulty for an enquirer lies in making them objects of faith.
As by products of the great Truth, as sub-products of the over-arching values of religion or its substitute, social mores and ethics exist. I would argue that they are, they certainly should be, sub-products of the Truth and not of religions. I think they probably are. Other than that I have little comment on them. As a means of cohabiting in peace and evolving sensibly, they are usually – not always – useful tools. They do however, sometimes, serve to avoid looking the Truth, reality, in the eye. That would be a shortcoming I would want to flag. But, in the last analysis, every comparison of religions points to underlying Truth, which is of course the matter of Theosophy.
Unexplained laws of nature
And we can now turn to the third Object. Now, did we deal with the unexplained laws of Nature in the previous analysis, with our presentation on the study of sciences and religion? I think not, in the sense that I read the Object. All the more as it is qualified by "the powers latent in man". Here, I think, and this is a very fundamental point, we are invited to attend to that which may exist beyond the physical matter and form that we treat as our environment and our only environment; to an environment which is perceptible only, or mainly, with the use of super-sensible faculties, and thus through the investigation of consciousness on planes other then the physically sensible plane.
Before undertaking our brief review of the components of the laws of nature and the powers latent therein, we must postulate that the key to the mystery lies in the principle of unity. Every manifest thing is in itself the whole, and the whole is the part, however small or however great that part may be. The concept again is difficult but it becomes understandable when it is realised that the subjective principles of being are dimensionless, at least relative to the physical one.
Theosophical literature, as the bulk of Oriental religion, and as referred to more or less obliquely or symbolically in Western religions, as also deduced quite clearly in psychological science and less clearly but nonetheless present in natural science, talks of seven planes in man. I shall present them, and then make some pointers about the possible powers latent in them, and their use.
A brief digression first on numbers. It’s not always clear to me, so I hope I can help make it clear to you. There are seven planes in the constitution of in the "monadic entity". These are: the physical body (I think we can all recognise that); an ethereal sheath, of which we shall treat later; the astral, or emotional, or desire, body; the linga sharira, or astral double; the mental body, of intellect, intelligence and intuition – which is technically subdivided into lower and higher mental bodies; the buddhic body, the body of the soul, the body of pure inspiration; the atmic body, the body of the spirit. There are seven planes, or principles, of consciousness, five planes we have noted as bodies present in the constitution of the "activated", liberated, Monad, (physical, desire, mental, buddhic, atmic), and two superior planes (Anupadaka and Adi, about which we will not deal further in this talk, beyond saying the Anupadaka may represent the Logos manifest – with Mondas "waiting to be liberated", and Adi the Logos latent, potential.). There are also seven stages in each cycle, or round, of evolution, from the buddhic to the mental, to the desire, to the physical, and then back through the desire, and the mental, to the buddhic. Also each body or sheath, has sub-bodies or sheaths on each plane, and further that these sub-bodies or sub-sheaths are largely interpenetrating with sub-bodies of the contiguous planes.
Theosophy divides the seven body hierarchy into two. A lower quaternary of the physical body, the ethereal body, the astral body, and the linga sharira. These four attributes allow for full operation of the individual at the sensible level. The full "operating" gamut of action, will and desire, thought and memory, are present. To quote Annie Besant: It is the field of elemental, mineral, vegetable, animal and normal human evolution.
But, as we are warned in the enlightening book, At the Feet of the Master: "Do not mistake your bodies for yourself – neither the physical body, nor the astral, nor the mental. Each one of them will pretend to be the Self."
The upper triad consists of the mental body, the buddhic or soul body, and the atmic or spirit body. The atmic and the buddhic bodies together constitute the differentiated, liberated, monad (another term I’ll come back on), in a state of evolutionary volition. The mental body may be seen in two sections. A higher mental body, which allies with the bodies of the soul and spirit, incorporating the accrued wisdom and the wise thought; a lower manasic or mind body which "teams up" with the bodies below. The lower mind stores experience based on willed action, and in turn influences will by past experience, and influences action by past practice.
The Secret Doctrine states that: Atman and Buddhi (the Monad, a single unit though dual in structure) "can have no individuality on earth unless there is (a) the Mind, the Manas-Ego, to cognise itself, and (b) the terrestrial false personality, or the Body of egotistical desires and personal Will, to cement the whole. It also states, elsewhere, that: Every so-called "Spirit is either a disembodied or a future man.
Theosophy advances that the constituents exist both in the individual entity, as successive bodies of the individuality, and as spatial planes on which karmic evolution is carried out. Each plane has universal, spatial, and individual attributes, not necessarily together in the same time and at the same place. It is to be noted that each plane is, importantly, not a "field of action", but rather a "field of evolution". Another "functionally-important " predication is that planes, and principles (bodies as applied to the individual entity) are very largely interpenetrating.
We have introduced above the ethereal body. Theosophical writing explains that this should be seen as a link between the physical sheath, the body of action, performance and fulfilment on the plane of operation, and the other composing elements of the manifested Self. Why the link is necessary, I can’t explain to you. I have as yet, as per scientific process, no irrefutable proof that it does not exist, so in my convictions I let it stand. The ethereal body is described as extinguishing with the death of the physical body, albeit with some delay. This could constitute an explanation of the phenomenon quite frequently described of a continuation of the feeling of presence of a deceased person by his close entourage. Interesting to note, too, that certain oriental religions have "thirty-day" type ceremonies, I won’t call them memorial ceremonies, I don’t think they are. They are connected with the release of the ethereal body; and interesting too, that the period differs with the form of cause of death of the deceased (violent death has a different period) or the status of the deceased (stillborn child, infant). Note, too, that the astral and mental bodies or sheaths of an incarnated entity also disappear following the decease of the physical body, but with some considerable delay.
We should also note resonances with Western spirituality. The desire plane, or plane of will, is also the place of kamaloka. Kamaloka can loosely equivalate with purgatory in the Christian sense. Between incarnations, it can be the place to play out the previous physical existence’s desires. That sounds effectively like purgatory, although I would not afford it the dread connotation premised in the West. I have more trust in the system than that. The mental plane, or Devachan, likewise, is the heavenly plane. Like kamaloka, it has a long, but finite, existence for the disincarnated entity. We may, as Christ intimated, be at the table of the Father, but the time will come to ask: please may I get down.
I am going to have to, at this point, make some reference to the "operational guidelines" as presented in theosophical literature and by the body of theosophists. We have seen previously that there are seven operating principles inherent in man (and as such recognised by psychologists today), and there are seven evolutionary, operational, planes of the same nature. Right now, our operating principles, in this life and at this stage of our evolutionary development are operating – playing themselves out, as it were – in the physical plane, the densest plane. That is now; it probably was not, I would say it definitely was not, the situation all the time in the past; and so nor will it be in the future. Imagine for a moment the operating plane to be the astral, or emotional, or desire or will, plane, or the devachanic, or mental, plane. In the first case our operating or action environment would be the desire plane. We would be in a continuum of will or desire as the operating plane; the physical world of form and matter would not be available as an operating platform. Material or physical action – taken in the sense of consequence – would be internalised just as will is now. Thought – the mental plane – would be internalised as it is now. On the other hand, when we will be called upon to again operate on the mental plane, as we have certainly been in the past, our operating world will be one of thought form, the physical and astral worlds being internalised. Now, it can also be seen as a not very far-fetched flight of fancy that when we are operating on higher planes, such as the astral or devachanic planes, nonetheless our collective self-consciousness on those higher planes may have an influence on operations at the physical level, although we may not be there ourselves!
Some comments on theosophical theory and the evolutionary process. All matter is evolving, from the lowest, least complex, forms of physical matter to the highest levels we know, that is to say ourselves. As we perceive it, evolution is from dense, seemingly inert matter toward spiritual consciousness. The process of evolution, as generally explained, is a series of chains and rounds within a great cycle of action (mahaanvantara) and inaction or repose (praalaya). The rounds go through a cycle of seven phases, descending from the environmental manifestation of the spiritual, through the soul environment, the mind environment, denser and denser, through the lower mind, to the desire environment, and to the physical environment. And then back up again. Our present humanity, some call it race, or root race, is evolving its present state of consciousness in the physical environment, but other forms of humanity, other forms of manifested matter, will conduct their evolution when in the same state as we are now most probably in a different space-time environment. Essential the rules of the game will be the same, but the playing field will differ. I hope this is reasonably clear to you. It’s not always clear to me.
Annie Besant describes the nature of planes in her A Study in Consciousness: "The different responses which the matter of the planes will later give under the impulse of consciousness depend on the work of the Third Logos (I’ll come back to this), on the "measure" by which he limits the atom. The atom of each plane has its own measure, and this limits its power of response, its vibratory action, and gives it its specific character. As the eye is so constituted that it is able to respond to vibrations of light within a certain range, so is each type of atom, by its constitution, able to respond to vibrations within a certain range. One plane is called the plane made of "mind-stuff", because the "measure" of its atoms makes their dominant response that which answers to a certain range of the vibrations, of the knowledge aspect of the Logos, as modified by the creative activity. Another is called the plane of "desire-stuff", because the "measure" of its atoms makes their dominant response that which answers to a certain range of the vibrations of the will aspect of the Logos. Each type of atom has thus its own peculiar power of response, determined by its own measure of vibration. In each atom lie involved numberless possibilities of response to the three aspects of consciousness, and these possibilities within the atom will be brought out of the atom as powers in the course of evolution."
The next question we must address is: what constituted this multiple sheath of individuality, and the planes of evolution, in the first place. To quote Besant again: The formation of the atom has three stages. First, the fixing of the limit within which the ensouling life – the life of the Logos in the atom – shall vibrate; this limiting and fixing of the wavelength of the vibration is technically called "the divine measure"; this gives to the atoms of a plane their distinctive peculiarity. … in every atom we have the measure of its ensouling life, its axes of growth, and its enclosing surface or wall. Of such atoms the Third Logos creates five different kinds, the five different "measures" implying five different vibrations and each kind forms the basic material of a plane; each plane, however various the objects in it, has its own fundamental tyupe of atom, into which any of its objects may ultimately be reduced.
This becomes clearer when we get a description of the Logos, and the Third Logos – essentially an original volitionary will. The trinity of the Logos is, first, Self, which equals Life, or self-consciousness, or consciousness, or proto-consciousness. Then, second, non-Self, or matter. Then third, the relationship between them. It is this third constituent which constitutes the volition to evolve. (I can’t help making another short aside here. Modern astronomical theory states that the ratio of matter to anti-matter was very very nearly equal, initially. A small cosmological "glitch" changed the balance significantly. Or did it? It’s what they are saying at the moment, anyway) The origin of consciousness is described by the Chhaandogy Upanishad as: THAT willed: I shall multiply and be born. Divine fragments, monads, are become separate from the whole as individual entities, separated by the rarest film of matter, so that while it gives a separate form to each, it offers no obstacle to the free intercommunication of a life thus encased with the surrounding similar lives. I am quoting Besant again.
The Secret Doctrine states in the first stanza that the Logos could not produce the world until the unliberated Monads were all ready to contribute their portions of karma representing their psychological states. Indeed, it is probable that a Logos is but a collection of unliberated Monads going together.
For those uncomfortable with the formulation, Logos, let me refer to phrases so familiar to us as: The Word was with God, and the Word was God, and The Word was made flesh. Logos is simply the Greek for Word.
I take the following statements from an article by Marathey in the September 2000 issue of The Theosophist: The whole process of evolution of life and matter must have begun with the desire of this cosmic consciousness to know itself, causing it to split into the knower and the known. …. September 2000) ……. The next step must have been a desire to move; but motion at once entails matter moved by energy in space and time. ……. All manifested existence consists only of interaction between the six principles of matter, energy, space, time, life and consciousness. ….. Form, life and consciousness are not three independent entities, but three expressions of one existence.
Our process of perfection has been nicely described as: the evolution of souls through countless incarnations, governed by the law of just retribution or karma, and the writer (van der Hecht) goes on to state: most of humanity is still in its infancy, while a minority of souls, having gone through more incarnations, fulfil a high moral ideal of altruism and self-sacrifice. Yet further: As consciousness approaches the fulfilment of its potential at one level in the developmental process, as this movement occurs, the previous level in which consciousness was working appears increasingly objective, while the level at which it is currently working remains largely subjective. (eg physical sensations recognised as contact with an external world, thoughts considered wholly subjective)
These readings infer by deduction a cessation of individual life at some point into the community or group life. But the predication is that the individual life we are describing is not a single physical life, but an immensely long series of "changes of uniform" (to use again an earlier analogy) over very very long periods of time.
It also infers that when "perfection" of the sum of entities is reached the process turns to a state of involution or rest. This is the praalaya mentioned previously.
What, if anything, is beyond these seven planes? After the Logos manifest, then the Logos unmanifest, latent, potential. I must leave that to your imagination!
We have described a bit the space of evolution – the planes, the bodies, the properties of planes and bodies, the concomitant constitution of monadic entities, the drama played out by each principle and on each plane and in each body. Let’s talk a little about time, and karma. Time as we understand it is the course of action played out in the spaces provided – and as said earlier – action of a given maturity of evolution can be carried out on different planes according to who you are and where you are. Will is the cause of action, but there is another cause, karma, or the result of previous cause and effect; it can play through the will, it can also play without an apparent act of individual will, particularly in the case of collective karma. The well-used phrase "you are responsible and will suffer the result of your actions" gives a reasonably clear explanation of the operation of karma, but it is more encompassing than we may first think. All matter is subject to the law of operation of karma. An earthquake, a random trajectory of a sub-atomic particle. In human terms, many people assume that the responsibility for and result of actions terminate at death. I doubt it. As I have said, I doubt too the over-simplified religious rationalisations of eternal damnation or eternal salvation, depending on whether you were in the first class or the second class compartment of a train when it crashed. What is more plausible, more sure, I would think, is that the will, through ever-increasing self-consciousness and deductive and devotional reasoning, can decide on course of action which become evermore skilled, or good if you like, and thus progressively counter the effects of negative karma. I believe this to be actually quite an essential task in life.
Powers latent in man
So what are the powers latent in man. We have just now looked into the laws of nature. They themselves provide the powers latent in man.
There is, however, some confusion about their use. The Theosophical Society was founded in the 1880s, the time of the "golden age" of the Victorian era in England and Ireland. Social habits like "supernatural manifestations", table turning, and all that sort of thing were in fashion in society circles. The times of peasant magic were not too far distant, nor were superstitions like witch burnings. In the early days there was some interest in spiritualistic phenomena by the founders of the Society, and there were some examples of "supernatural happenings" in the early writings of theosophists. Personally, that is neither particularly important nor relevant, just a sign of the times.
The twentieth century was categorised by half a century of war and power, and a smaller half of a century in the search for a different type of life, particularly emphasising the need to protect nature and to develop individuality, albeit with a large segment of more developed humanity grasping for material possessions, the amassing of wealth, and an even greater number of have-nots too numbed by deprivation and misery to search for anything beyond the next meal. Phenomena attached to the search for alternatives have included public interest into and the search for ways and means to harness "novel technologies", particularly in developing the self. So-called "occult sciences" have been dug up. I think the essential points on this are: methods of divination are what they always have been. They point to the Truth when they can, and this is not too hard because it is all around us. The practitioners of occult sciences are usually aware of this, and with some training can anticipate – through brief study of the subject and a preliminary conversation, gestures and mannerisms observed – the type of verbalised discourse and result that the subject will want to hear, can hear, relates to, and can react to. I have no quibble with this. I just don’t feel it’s terribly important. Of course, there are cases where misconstrued consultations, or malicious divinations, can bring harm to an individual or society. I don’t think that is a terrible danger at the moment. I may be wrong.
What I feel is important is, first, to be conscious of the latent powers.
And to live in a fashion commensurate with understanding of this enormous power, and capacity of love and knowledge. Such a life can be lived within the confines of a Western society, or an Oriental society, or even on a desert island. Various spiritualities have described the "noble life". Two models come to mind the Buddhist eightfold path (the wisdom element: right understanding, right aspiration; the morality element: right speech, right action, right livelihood; the concentration element: right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration), and the Hindu concept of Integral Yoga (I’ll touch on this in the conclusion). There are of course equivalent Christian, even new-age, prescriptions of similar nature. They are however, a little more occluded than the Oriental expressions – I suspect the Oriental mind is less self-conscious when talking about self-consciousness.
And, as I have used Buddhist terminology, let me use Buddhist terms to say that the desire to express latent powers and wisdom, to place oneself in a sense on an evolutionary fast track, is fine as long as it is not driven by the desire, or the craving to do so, because in that case it’s useless. It has to be a desireless desire.
Then, I believe, one will have a more satisfactory individual passage in this life, the shift toward group cooperation rather than group competition will be increased, and an impetus to evolutionary development in the passage of form through the physical world will be provided.
Goethe said that: We are here for the very purpose of making the transitory imperishable and this can be done only if we know how to appreciate both conditions.
What does it take to make a brotherhood these days? Two motivations seem to be, first, groups of people with an asset of some sort the sharing of which they wish to retain and enjoy among as small a number as possible. Second, people allying together through fear and insecurity. In each case there has to be a concomitant, excluded, mass, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. What’s the point of protecting your assets if there’s nobody else to protect them from? What’s the point in protecting yourself if there’s nobody for you to be protected from?
It has also been said ( in The Theosophist magazine, November 2000) that it is a perverse characteristic of human nature to underplay major areas of concord and unnecessarily exaggerate and gloat over petty discord.
And Joy Mills, an internal vice-president of the Theosdophical Society, wrote recently: The more an individual seeks to advance his or her own aims, the more dependent he or she becomes on the group as the ones to be exploited and to be used to advance those aims. But, she continues in more positive vein, the more the individual is committed to the purposes and functions of the group, the more he or she sharpens and defines his or her own individuality. In the first instance, while seeking to enlarge himself, he loses all he seeks, while in the second, with no thought for his own advancement, he finds himself.
It is interesting to dwell for a moment on the original draft of the Objects. There were four. The first was Universal Brotherhood full stop. The second took up the concept of "no distinctions" as today expressed in the First Object. And we should also note that the original reading did not use the concept of "a nucleus" of Brotherhood, but Brotherhood per se. The third stated: to study the philosophies of the East – those of India chiefly, presenting them gradually to the public in various works that would interpret exoteric religions in the light of esoteric teachings. (And that’s what we’ve been doing earlier in this talk) And the President of the Theosophical Society, in her 2000 Presidential address, contexted this by saying: let us look back to the conditions ate the end of the 19th century, when HPB re-proclaimed the ancient wisdom teachings. Outside India there were hardly any people who realised that life is one, is a whole, and that all is consciousness in the vast universe. Today, however, there are many thoughtful people – philosophers, scientists, ecologists and others – who see interconnections and unifying forces in the whole universe. The fourth Object was then: to oppose materialism and dogmatism in every possible way, by demonstrating the existence of occult forces unknown to science, in Nature, and the presence of psychic and spiritual powers in man. …….. Superstition to be exposed and avoided; and occult forces, beneficent and maleficent, demonstrated to the best of our ability. It is in a way a mirror image of the current _expression, no doubt driven by the preoccupations and practices of the day, albeit much more detailed. It was essentially a call against materialism where rich and poor seek only to acquire or increase material possessions; where dogmatism awakens fundamentalism, becomes a refuge against feelings of insecurity, in their turn fostered by possession or its lack.
We have to ask ourselves, was a brotherhood of initiates, of adepts, a Great White Brotherhood envisaged? Was it rather a brotherhood of self-conscientious objectors, rebelling against materialism and fundamentalism? Was it possibly the type of brotherhood Joy Mills expressed as: a movement towards individual awareness and self-development and self-fulfilment, involving group participation, social involvement, community action. And Mills goes on to assert: The next evolutionary step will be a movement both in individual and in group consciousness towards an even deeper awareness of the true meaning of brotherhood. We may put the matter this way: when the manasic impulse has completely fulfilled itself, an opening for the influx of buddhic consciousness is made and a new principle of organisation becomes apparent. Each individual within the group is wholly self-responsible, mature, without the pulls of passion, and the entire group is effective in its compassion and concern for all humanity. In essence, a Brotherhood born of the excitement of mutual exploration and discovery. Because, learning to work in groups and as individuals in the creation and maintenance of a universe means developing a consciousness that is at one and the same time individually unique and mutually supportive and participatory. It is this parallel development that is surely necessary for a genuine brotherhood, or for its realisation.
Another theosophical writer van der Hecht) recently said, and I rather like it: "The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself" (Sermon on the Mount) The morrow is none other than the collectivity of beings, great and small, acting daily depending on circumstances, and the Universal Consciousness embracing them all in one.
The Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad declares: When one realises the unity of life, there is no fear at all. The feeling of separateness causes fear, and fear, sorrow.
All these writings have one thing in common. They show the need for a brotherhood. There make the call to a brotherhood. Possibly the initial description of the brotherhood is outdated at this time. But HPB, and I shall quote the passage in my conclusion, anticipated this. Humanity uniting in brotherhood has to be so manifestly obvious in the manifest Unity of our universe. It has to be equally evident in the life practices that seem appropriate for proper evolutionary diligence. The sense of compassion for humanity also calls theosophists to brotherhood – not to "whack the laggards" but to assist others with more difficulty in their individual evolution. This latter is not a call to "conversions". It is disinterested except in the collective interest of all humanity; it calls for free thought and will and not for forced adherence; it carries no financial tab (some conversions do – Indians and Sri Lankans, for example, get quite annoyed about certain Pentecostal churches for doing that).
Even what is described as the "civilised world", the materially advanced industrialised world, continues to change in the right direction. Time magazine, a periodical not particularly noted for its non-materialist evolutionary tendencies, published in its 19 February 2001 issue, "Numbers section": 2 billion +: the number of college graduates worldwide by 2025, forming a global educated elite who may be questioning the role of the armed forces and be reluctant to fight each other.
So what I have tried to show is the sense, as I understand it, of our Objects. The second Object describes the way the theosophist will investigate with relation to the science of the world of matter or form, the natural sciences, our environment, our relationship to it and our consideration of the purpose of this relationship. The third describes, I do believe, the need to investigate our relationship with the world of consciousness which, perhaps, unbeknown to us, pervades all matter and form, is another dimension of existence as is matter and form. The first Object is an unavoidable consequence; on our becoming aware of our truer nature and purpose, and of the so largely unitary nature of all that is, and that the purpose of differentiation and individuation if the phenomenon can be so described is an evolutionary one, then the concept of the need, the existence spoken or unspoken of a Brotherhood, becomes so evident. Even in the cynic’s perspective, as someone – I think it was Sean McBride, said about the United Nations Organisation – and I have to paraphrase the actual quotation: "It is a terribly deficient organisation, but it is an absolutely necessary organisation and it is all we have." Even as cynics we have to admit we need a Brotherhood, but possibly we can be better than cynics and have a relatively decent Brotherhood. Not one with membership cards and a member’s enclosure, just the fact of being here together this evening is a manifestation of that Brotherhood.
As a theosophical writer said recently: HPB challenged us to work for a brighter tomorrow. She indicated that the Theosophical Society was formed a hundred years prior to the time when it would be possible for humanity to take a great step forward. She said that although this would not happen in the twentieth century, there was a distinct possibility for humanity to take this great step forward in the twenty-first century providing certain conditions had been met.
To lead a productive, and evolving Life in a theosophical bent, I would suggest that three ingredients are required. First, enquiry, and continued enquiry and selfless enquiry. That has been the object of our attention this evening. A Buddhist, I think, would argue that the process and practice of enquiry are more merit-worthy than the results of enquiry. Second, concentration or single-mindedness, a virtue that needs to be practiced. Third, a style of life that is conducive to enquiry and appropriate to one’s aspirations at an evolutionary level.
I shall touch on the last of these three ingredients as my last contribution of substance.
I shall suggest that an appropriate path is that of Integral Yoga as proposed by Sri Aurobindo. Now Yoga in the West usually involves deciding to do it, purchasing a couple of expensive designer gym tunics, and doing some physical yoga, which either does you good or ends you up in the hands of your osteopath. That is Hatha Yoga.
Aurobindo says of that that it aims at the conquest of the life and the body whose equilibrium is the foundation of all Nature’s working in the human being. But the disadvantage, he points out is that the technique attains large results, but at an exorbitant price and to very little purpose. Rajayoga, he goes on, takes a higher flight. It aims at the liberation and perfection not of the bodily, but of the mental being, the control of the emotional and sensational life, the mastery of the whole apparatus of thought and consciousness. But, he adds, the weakness of the system lies in its excessive reliance on abnormal states of trance. And, I think, even Aldous Huxley would have admitted that experimental trance-inducing substances are not material elements of progress on the evolutionary path.
Yoga is the union of that which has become separated in the play of the universe with its own true self, origin and universality. The triple path of devotion, knowledge and works attempts the province which Rajayoga leaves unoccupied. The Path of Knowledge aims at the realisation of the unique and supreme Self. It proceeds by the method of intellectual reflection, to right discrimination. The Path of Devotion utilises all the normal relations of human life into which emotion enters and applies them no longer to transient worldly relations, but to the joy of the All-Loving, the All-Beautiful and the All-Blissful. (That is an easier path to comprehend in the absence of a personal deity, and consequently without the traces of voluptuous devotion – and I indicate the writings of St John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila as examples of this voluptuousness.) The Path of Works aims at the dedication of every human activity to the supreme Will. It begins by the renunciation of all egoistic aims for our works, all pursuit of action for an interested aim or for the sake of a worldly result.
And I leave the last word to Ernest Wood, a powerful peace of counsel on how to live in yogic practice and rational enquiry.
What will you choose?
- Will you have power? Then let others be freer and more powerful because you are so.
- Will you have knowledge? Then let others be wiser because you are so.
- Will you have love? Then let others enjoy it because you have so much to give.