as published in "Theosophical Siftings" - Volume -2- of 1889

WE hear a good deal at present about " Practical Theosophy". Is such a thing possible ? If so, in what does it exist ? To many Theosophists, Theosophy is an individual internal thing, a system of cosmogony, philosophy, ontology, to which the term practical is completely inapplicable. As well, they think, talk of practical metaphysics! Others, again, feel that to love your neighbour and still neglect to help him in the material things in which your aid would evidently be to his advantage, is a barren mockery. One meets people continually [Page 17] who hardly stir a finger to help others, and yet who talk glibly about the “Rounds" and the “Rings", and the “seven principles" of man; who long for Nirvana, even for Paranirvana; who ardently desire to be joined to the infinite, absorbed into the eternal; who feel that all men are their brothers, all women their sisters, and that thought makes them oh! so happy, gives them such peace of mind! The convict is their brother — their caught and locked-up brother — the tramp is their brother — their idle, unwashed, whisky-soaked, good-for-nothing brother; the workwoman is their sister — their poor, friendless sister, who has to sew sixteen hours a day to keep body and soul together; even the prostitute is their sister — their fallen, wicked sister, who is hurrying to an early grave; the famine-stricken Irish, Chinese, Hindus, are their brothers and sisters — their skin-and-bone brothers and sisters, who are dying of starvation. Theosophy teaches them these beautiful truths, they say, and it does them so much good to know it all! Speak to these sentimentalists about “Practical Theosophy", and they look suddenly stupid. Tell them that in a garret not a hundred yards from their back door there lies a fever-stricken family — that you know of fifty cases of genuine distress that they could aid by their money and sympathy, and they look at you as if you were something they had eaten which had not agreed with them. Perhaps they tell you that Theosophy is a spiritual affair, something of a private and confidential nature between their “higher selves " and the Great All, into which no vulgar, earthly considerations enter. These people are probably quite unaware what a wretched sham their “Theosophy " is, and what miserable frauds they are themselves when they pose as Theosophists. They don't know they are selfish. It has never entered their heads to think what would be their thoughts, their words and their actions if they really felt what they say they feel, if they realized in their hearts the meaning of the words “my brother", “my sister".

These people do not trouble themselves to think what their sentiments would be did they learn that a real brother or sister was in want of their aid. Suppose they heard some fine morning that their brother was starving to death, without the means of procuring food, what would be their sensations? Would not their hearts stop beating in horror ? Would not every nerve tingle with excitement and with anxiety to save him? What pictures their imagination would draw! Their beloved brother lying helpless on the floor of some wretched hut, while the wife he loved and the children of his heart, emaciated to skeletons like himself, lay dead or dying around him. Would not any woman under these circumstances fly to her banker and make him instantly telegraph money to his agents in the nearest town, with instructions to send messengers at any cost to her brother with immediate relief ? Were she a poor woman, would she not hurry with her trinkets, her clothes, her furniture, anything, to the poor man's banker, the pawnbroker, thankful and proud to be able thus to raise the money to save her brother and his family from horrible death ? And [Page 18] then what feverish anxiety, what sleepless nights, until she learned that the relief she had sent had reached her brother in time! Or, Suppose a man were told that his pure and innocent sister had been morally tripped up and socially knocked down by some selfish brute whom she had trusted — had been psychically drugged by him, “ruined," deserted, cast out, reviled and spat upon by people morally and intellectually unworthy to be her scullions; handed over in cold blood by the “moral" and the “pious" to the tender mercies of the most selfish and most brutal of both sexes, to be trampled hopelessly into the mud, the helpless slave of the demons of drink and lust. Would not every spark of manliness in him be fanned into a blaze of indignation and rage ? Would he not employ every conceivable means to discover the poor girl's hiding-place ? And when he had found his sister, would he not throw his protecting arm around her and fight his way with her out of the hyena's den, past the toads of scandal and the vipers of malice, and give her an asylum in his heart and hearth, where the poor wounded, terrified, half-demented girl could recover her mental, moral and physical health; while those who had never tripped, or who had never been seen to fall, howled, and snarled, and hissed, and grimaced before his door in impotent rage that a victim had been rescued from the hell to which they had consigned her as a sacrifice to their demon-god — the great infernal trinity of hypocrisy, cruelty and selfishness ?

No! those who descant upon the brotherhood of man seldom realize, even in the faintest degree, the meaning of the pretty sentimental words they utter. If they did, there would be no question as to the nature of Practical Theosophy. If they did, a great unrest would seize them, a supreme desire to help the thousands of suffering brothers and sisters that cross their path every day of their lives, and from whom they shrink because cowardice, selfishness, and indolence inhabit furnished lodgings in their hearts.

The Australian savage murders any black-fellows he meets who do not belong to his little tribe. He kills them on general principles — because they belong to “another set". The civilized world has advanced so far upon the road to Practical Theosophy, that we do not actually murder or maim those who do not belong to our tribe, we merely let them suffer and die, and the advanced ones, the pioneers of the race, write on their tomb-stones, “Here lie my dear brothers and sisters".

The fact is, however, and a staggering one it is too, that Practical Theosophy, in its full acceptation, would mean a dissolution of society as at present constituted. Of that fact there cannot be the slightest doubt, for it would mean a reign of kindness, of sympathy, of unselfishness, of tenderness to the weak, of forgiveness for the erring, of mutual helpfulness, of happiness in seeing others happy, and there is not a single one of our present social institutions that is not founded upon principles diametrically the opposite of these, and which would not swell up and burst to pieces were the ferment of [Page 19] altruism introduced into it. Only fancy what the result would be of introducing Practical Theosophy into our treatment of criminals, and into our legal processes. What would become of that dignified and learned profession, the law, were the object of the solicitor and the barrister to make people friendly and forgiving, instead of being to fan their enmity, spite and hatred ? What would we do with our great prisons and convict establishments, were jurymen, judges and legislators to really look upon criminals as their ignorant, misguided, erring, stupid, neglected brothers and sisters ? Or, again, what would become of our arsenals and iron-clads, of our generals and admirals, our colonels and captains, and our be-feathered and be-belted warriors generally, were the people of various nationalities to refuse to shoot and stab and blow each other to pieces at the word of command, for no better reason than that they were brothers and had no quarrel, and did not want to harm each other, or each other's wives or children ? Another noble profession would go to the dogs ! What would become of the churches were the clergy to treat their fellow-creatures as brothers and sisters ? Would not the bishops hasten to convert their palaces into asylums for the homeless wretches who now lie shivering at night in the road before their gates ? Would not the lesser clergy quickly follow their example ? Then they would have to feed these unfortunates, for the bishop's brothers and sisters are starving all the time as well as shivering; and how could they do that and at the same time maintain au establishment ? What would the Lord think of His ministers if they neglected to keep up their place in society ? The next thing would probably be that the clergy would open their great empty churches for wretched and homeless women and children to take shelter in, instead of letting them lie shivering in the rain and wind before the barred doors of those gloomy temples of their jealous God — and then what on earth would become of religion ?

But let us be reassured! The social order is in no danger just yet of being upset by the introduction of Practical Theosophy into the lives of men. Practical Theosophy to exist, except in fancy, requires Practical Theosophists — in other words, people who value the happiness of others more than their own enjoyments, and such people are a rare exception in any place in life — in the law the army, the church, the legislature, in agriculture, trade, commerce or manufacture. If anyone feels today that his sentiments are those of Practical Theosophy, and seriously proposes to sacrifice his worldly prospects and enjoyments in order to spend his life in doing what little he can to benefit others, he runs a risk, that is not far from a certainty, of being treated by the world as all incorrigible lunatic. It is a fact which few will deny that anyone would be considered a madman who openly and confessedly followed the injunction of the great Practical Theosophist of Judea, to sell all that he had, and having given the proceeds to the poor, to follow him — that is to say, who devoted his life, in complete forgetfulness of self, to the great and glorious task of raising humanity [Page 20] out of the quagmire of ignorance, selfishness and cruelty, in which it flounders. If he had some reasonable object in view, well and good. The world can understand a person being altruistic for the sake of a good living and an assured position in society — there is some sense in that; it can even excuse a man for loving his neighbours, if he firmly believes that he will thereby be entitled to a reserved seat in the hall of the gods; but “utter forgetfulness of self", that is quite unnatural, and amounts to a sign of weakness of intellect!

When people talk of Practical Theosophy as a thing that is possible in the world today, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they are thinking of practical benevolence and charity; for if the very foundation of Theosophy be the sentiment of the brotherhood of man, Practical Theosophy, by the very laws of society, as at present constituted, is an impossibility. Law, religion, politics, our very system of morality itself, are all incompatible with the existence of the sentiment of the brotherhood of man. All these institutions were invented by and for people imbued with the opposite sentiments; they are fitted only for such people, and could not exist for ten minutes in a world inhabited by Practical Theosophists.

The natural laws that govern the manifestations of Practical Theosophy are as different to those that obtain in our present system of egoism and destructive competition, as the laws that govern the phenomena of steam are to the laws of hydraulics. We know full well that no steam will be generated in a boiler until the whole of the water therein has been raised to boiling-point. Even so we also know that in order to raise the world to the point at which men will “generate", Practical Theosophy, the spiritual temperature of the whole of mankind, must be raised; all men and women must be made kinder and still kinder in heart, and stronger and still stronger in spirit; and this call only be done by acting on them en masse, and raising the standard of kindness and of spiritual strength in the whole race.

Will works of benevolence and charity do this ? Are they not in themselves a consequence rather than a cause, a fruit rather than a seed ? Such works are indeed a fruit, the immature fruit which the tree of kindness bears in the half-grown stunted condition it necessarily presents when planted in the uncongenial soil of selfishness. Benevolence and charity belong to the time when men stone and crucify those who tell them that all men are brothers and ought to treat each other as such. They are the tithe grudgingly paid by vice to virtue, by egoism to altruism, and their existence shows that egoism and vice take nine- tenths, or rather ninety-nine hundredths, of the produce of human life. Were Practical Theosophy the rule of life, benevolence and charity would not be needed, for they owe their existence to the greater prevalence of malevolence and injustice. They are the exceptions occurring when the rule is in force, and disappear when the rule ceases to act. Benevolence has become an anachronism since the idea of universal brotherhood dawned upon the world. Charity, [Page 21] under the higher law, is no better than a flattering deceiver, for it tells people that they are worthy of praise and reward for doing the things which Theosophy declares it to be criminal to leave undone, because not to do them, and a thousand times more, is to do injustice. Active works of benevolence and charity are therefore not Practical Theosophy. They belong to the old regime of egoism, of which they are the flowers and the fruit; and, however good in themselves, they should not be mistaken for Practical Theosophy if a dangerous delusion is to be avoided.

If, then, Practical Theosophy be in reality a form of human life — of morality and of society — far higher than those which exist in the world of today, and for the coming of which we can but prepare the way, can we, nevertheless, not give a practical turn to such Theosophy as we already have, so that it will hurry on the reign of Brotherhood ? Or must our Theosophy remain for long centuries only a self-centred and self-ideal thing ? What form can we Theosophists give to our efforts as to make our Theosophy an influence in the world for good ? If Theosophy is to be the guiding power of our lives, in what manner, and to what end, is it to guide us ?

We cannot, at the present day, exercise Practical Theosophy and still remain in such harmony with our surroundings as would entitle us in the world's eyes to be called sane. We cannot even realize in our imagination, soaked through as we are with egotistic modes of thought and standards of value, what it will be like to live in a world peopled by Practical Theosophists. But, without the slightest doubt, we can turn what Theosophy we have in us to practical account; for we can each of us add his or her warmth to the general heat, and thus help to raise the moral and spiritual temperature of the world a little nearer to the point at which the free generation of Practical Theosophy will naturally take place among men. We must remember, however, that for the exercise of Practical Theosophy, as it will one day exist in the world, reciprocity is necessary. If the person you treat as a brother treats you in return as an enemy, the real effect of the principle of Brotherhood cannot manifest itself; and at present, as society is constituted, it is not possible, and not in human nature, for any man to carry out that principle in all his intercourse with his neighbours. Practical Theosophy in isolated individuals, if it is to avoid an opposition that would paralyse or destroy it, must of necessity take on a somewhat different form to that it would assume in a society where all were Practical Theosophists.

The Practical Theosophist of today is the individual who is animated by that spirit of brotherhood which will one day become universal; and, as such, he is none other than the man who at all times tries to impart to others the Theosophical knowledge he has got himself, and to imbue them with the Theosophical principles by which he guides his own conduct; who tries to stir up in others the spirit of kindness, of patience, of gentleness, of courage and [Page 22] of truth; who tries to induce his neighbours fearlessly to think out the problem of existence for themselves, and to feel the dignity and the responsibility of their own manhood and womanhood; who tries to make others self-respecting and strong. Those who become penetrated by these sentiments and qualities do not need any stimulus to make them engage in works of so-called charity, for these will be for them the natural outlet, in the present order of things, for their overflowing impulse to benefit others. The feelings that prompt to all kind actions belong to the domain of Practical Theosophy, but the actual works of benevolence and charity to which they prompt are not Theosophy; they are accidents in the growth of Theosophy, just as the useful inventions of modern times are accidents in the progress of Science. The object of Science is not to discover new bleaching powders, or murderous explosives; its object is the intellectual conquest of material nature. Even so the object of Theosophy is the moral conquest of man's animal nature, irrespective of the soup kitchens and orphan asylums that spring up during the process. It seeks to subdue or chase out the toad, the vulture, the wolf, the pig, the viper, the sloth, the shark, and all the rest of the menagerie of lower animal natures that now howl and croak and hiss and grunt and caw in the hearts of men, and it knows that this is an operation which can only be performed by each man for himself. Each must purify his own mind and make his own spirit strong, and the difference between Theoretical and Practical Theosophists is that the former talk about these things and the latter do them. But though this process is a self-regarding one, the effect is not. He who is a Practical Theosophist, who tries to make himself strong and pure-hearted, is, even unconsciously, a powerful influence in the world, and he becomes a centre of energy potent in proportion as he forgets himself, and merges his hopes and fears, his likes and dislikes, his thoughts, words, and deeds, in the great life of humanity — dissolving his personality, so to say, in the race to which he belongs; feeling with it, thinking for it, bearing its burdens in his consciousness, and its sins upon his conscience; and knowing that to sacrifice himself for the good of humanity is therefore in reality but to ensure his own salvation.

The Practical Theosophist, in proportion to his own strength, gives strength to all with whom he comes in contact, through a process somewhat similar to that of electrical induction. Colonel Ingersoll was once asked if he thought he could improve upon the work of “the Creator". He replied that had he been consulted he would have made good health catching, instead of disease. Had the great American orator and wit looked a little deeper into his own heart, he would have seen that ”the Creator" is not so stupid as he thinks Him, for health is in reality catching, especially health of mind and heart; and Ingersoll himself owes most of his great influence in the world of thought, not to his logic, powerful as that is, not to his wonderful command of illustrations and similes, not to his rapid flow of brilliant language, but to the healthy [Page 23] contagion of a heart overflowing with the magnetism of kindness, generosity and pity, and charged with the electricity of a love for the good, the true and the beautiful. The Practical Theosophist, wherever he goes and whatever he does, causes those with whom he has to do to “catch" Theosophy. A hint dropped here, a word said there, a question asked, an opinion expressed, become through the power of his vitalizing magnetism the seeds of Theosophy in others.

Practical Theosophy then is the sum of those institutions into which human life will spontaneously crystalize when men and women become Practical Theosophists; in other words, when they feel in their hearts that all men are brothers, and act accordingly. Practical Theosophists today, those sporadic and premature instances of all altruism that will one day become universal, are the drops that precede and presage the rain. They cannot, under the rule of the present morality, and with existing social religious and political institutions, live and act as they would were all men as they themselves are. The most they can hope to do is to try their best to prepare the world for the reception of human brotherhood as the foundation of all our ideas of life and morality; and this they can best accomplish by each one making himself pure and strong, for then they become centres of a spiritual health which is “catching"; they become laya points", so to say, through which there flows into the world from another plane of existence the spirit of brotherhood, of mercy, of pity and of love.

Practical Theosophy is the great edifice which will be constructed here below by the invisible, intelligent Powers of Nature as soon as there exists on earth the material necessary to build it. Practical Theosophists are the bricks with which the edifice will one day be constructed; and the builders only wait until the lumps of mud that now cover the earth have been converted by the fire of misery and sorrow, of painful effort and sustained aspiration, into hard and shining bricks, fit to build a temple to the living God.


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