by J. D. BUCK, M.D.
Delivered at the Annual Convention of the American Theosophical Societies,
at Chicago, U.S.A., on April 28th, 1889.
reprinted from “Theosophical Siftings” Volume - 2 -
THEOSOPHY is the very last subject to be intruded upon unwilling auditors; but, on the other hand, no one in the least deserving the name, Theosophist, will withhold his testimony when given a fair chance and a courteous hearing. It is but just, that I should at the outset explain in what sense I am a Theosophist.
Theosophy is sometimes defined as "the Wisdom of God". I am not a Theosophist in any sense that implies the possession of such wisdom. When the tyrant of Syracuse asked Pythagoras, "Are there in your country no wise men ? " the sage replied, " No, we are not wise, but lovers of wisdom". In this sense am I also a Theosophist, and a member of the Theosophical Society. I could most sincerely wish that one more able to define and express that which for myself I know to be true, might address you in my place. Just as a fond mother dresses her beloved and bedecks her with flowers, anxious that she shall appear at her best and be somewhat to others what she is to her mother's heart, so would I desire that, that transcendent truth, not indeed a child of mine, yet beloved all the more, should appear to you comely and attractive, and so win your approval. I can, indeed, put forth no more than I apprehend, and give only as I have received; and so far as that contains the truth, you will, no doubt, receive and welcome it. Whatsoever of obscurity and unattractiveness my statements may contain, that is all mine; whatsoever appears beneficent and desirable, belongs to truth, and so much, at least, we may hold in common.
Science has made wonderful advancement in modern times, and philosophy is again coming to the front. With the ceaseless revolutions in human thought, old words gain enlarged and sometimes entirely different meanings, and hence our lexicons seldom keep pace with our vocabularies. Words are sometimes found to be inappropriate and very often inadequate to express ideas. To undertake to define theosophy from the basis of philology and phonetics would be as useless as it would be found difficult. Old speculations are constantly appearing under new [Page 2] names, though seldom without modifications and additions. It is thus that certain legends are found in many languages and in every age. Sometimes we can trace the direct lines of transmission, and discern very close relations and similarities; and again only faint resemblances, with one basic idea running through the group. The foremost scholars of the age are at present engaged in just this line of research. When in its earlier history philology was more closely confined to the phonetic values and relations of words, progress was necessarily slow and uncertain. The real genius of a people may be embodied rather than expressed in its language. Even with modern languages and contemporaneous scholars, the number of individuals who really and thoroughly master any language but their own is comparatively small; and they are fewer still who are enabled to habitually mould their thoughts to a foreign tongue, except after many years' residence in the foreign land, and habitual association with its people. When, however, the language is foreign and its people extinct or absorbed into other races, the difficulty is greatly increased. With every change in the range and form of human thought, comes a corresponding change in the mode of expression. Our religions and mythologies and most of our traditions come from the far East. We may trace all these to a people who, born under genial suns, were sensuous and imaginative to the last degree. Ideas there clothed themselves with fantastic garb, and words were rich in imagery. Myths, legends, parables, and allegories, were the common stock, and even the plebeian breathed a classic atmosphere. When these old forms of thought and speech have been brought down to modern times, and the attempt has been made to reduce them to plodding speech in an age of steam, the goddesses that once held open court on high Olympus and wove their silken veils in distant legends, are often reduced to country witches with wooden shoes; the dance is ended, and the music gone. The scriptures that are known to us as the old and new testaments, come from the Greek and the still more ancient Hebrew originals; and much of these can be traced to a still earlier source. In rendering these ancient manuscripts into modern English, the literal learning of the schools has had much to do, and knowledge of their original meaning, very little. Traditional authority, not as to what these books originally meant, but as to what they should now mean, has given a strong bias to all such translations. Greek and Hebrew words have been literally rendered into English prose, divested of all original imagery; or, when this could not be done, imagery has almost invariably been sacrificed to so-called orthodoxy. Not only do these two languages abound in imagery almost wholly unknown in modern times, not only are these writings full of art speech and ideographs, but with both Greek and Hebrew this art speech was embodied in a system of philosophy, [Page 3 ] dramatically represented in the mysteries of initiation. The text, therefore, if fully written, which was seldom the case, and correctly translated, which is still more rare, would be to the original, what one of the plays of Shakespeare is to its dramatic representation with star actors in every rôle, and with perfect stage appointments. Probably the only place where any adequate idea of the meaning of these ancient Hebrew ideographs can be gleaned is in some of the degrees of modern masonry; though unfortunately, the student would even here have himself to supply the key to the "lost word". Among the ancient Greeks there were the lesser and the greater mysteries. No complete description of these initiations has ever come down to modern times, for the very good reason that no such descriptions were ever allowed to be written. Vague references to them may be found in many places, particularly in the writings of Plato and the neo-Platonists, but when these references have been translated into English, unaccompanied by the key to their interpretation, they are fantastic, whenever they pass beyond vapid nonsense. If, however, one can gain some insight into the purpose and meaning of these ancient initiations, he will not only be able to bring order out of confusion, but he will be thereby enabled to interpret other ancient writings, with the unqualified assurance that he is deriving their real meaning. The key to one is the key to all.
One of the greatest of modern writers has declared that, "to go back to Plato is to make progress". but it makes all the difference in the world by what route we enter ancient Greece, and with what shibboleth we knock at the gates of those ancient temples, where, after purification and due initiation, men like Plato and Pythagoras were admitted to the banquet of the Gods. It may be stated in brief, that the lesser Greek mysteries constituted a school of training, in which the neophyte was prepared for the real work and grander initiation vouchsafed in the greater mysteries. In the lesser mysteries the neophyte's purpose was tried and his character formed; the science and the philosophy of life were inculcated. History informs us that many candidates were never able to pass these preliminary degrees. In the lesser mysteries the journey of the soul through time, and as embodied in matter was dramatically represented. The candidate thus informed and disciplined, fortified by wise counsel and repeated trial, at last undertook the great initiation. Here began the real conflict with evil, where the soul of the postulant was the field of battle. All this had been previously explained and dramatically represented in the lesser mysteries. The candidate must now fight with evil in every form, and fight single-handed for the possession of the empire of his own soul. It was said that he who endured to the end, was given a white stone, in which was a name written that no [Page 4 ] man could read save he who had received it. He who conquered was admitted to the banquet of the Gods. The coffer in the king's chamber of the great pyramid of Gheza was an altar, used in the last degree of initiation in some of these mysteries. The meaning of life, the nature, the ministry, and the destiny of man, thus became clear to him who had thus both theoretically and practically wrought out its varied problems in his own life, and so gained the supremacy of his own soul. Read again the writings of Plato with even this crude outline of a key, and see how pregnant they become with meaning, and how lucid many obscure passages now appear. The mason who comprehends the use made of numerals, and remembers the perfect points of his entrance, ought also to get a glimmer of light with his “working tools". No one will get any adequate idea of that which was and is accomplished in these real initiations, till he learns experimentally by intelligent and persistent effort to master his lower animal nature. Without this personal experience he will discredit, if he does not also ridicule any statement of the result of this self-conquest.
Among the ancient Hebrews a similar system prevailed. The Cabballah was to the initiated Hebrew what the mysteries were to the Greek. In “The Romance of Spinoza's Life", as related by Auerbach, may be seen a remnant of this ancient wisdom of the Jews. The graphic account therein given of the excommunication of Spinoza, the indignities and anathemas to which he fell a victim, remind one of the tragic fate of Socrates. Each paid the penalty at the hands of the rabble for unveiling the mysteries. Socrates was accused of corrupting the Athenian youth; Spinoza, of heresy and apostacy to his religion. The masses cannot endure, nor does an ignorant priesthood desire, the simple truth. The prophets of Israel denounced alike the sins of the people, and the profanations of the priests; and Jerusalem was hailed by the Master as, “Thou that stonest the prophets". In his very learned .and able treatise on the Jewish Cabballah, Ginsburg gives, no doubt, all that secular or profane history has to give in regard to these mysteries; but if one possess even a
little knowledge of the nature and purpose of these ancient initiations, and some slight ability to read between the lines, he will be aware of a deeper significance than Ginsburg discloses to the profane reader. Whether this learned scholar purposely conceals, and possesses more knowledge than he unfolds, is a matter of little consequence. Tradition is at this point far more lucid than history, and the Cabballah that Molitor discloses is to that of Ginshurg, as a living soul to a dead body. If a modern scholar, versed in the technical meaning of words, and the rules of grammar, and restrained by orthodox bias to certain limits and usages, attempts to translate the cabballistic books, he will make of the so-called lesser and [Page 5] greater "Holy Assemblies " little more than an association of lunatics, or a congregation of fools, as has often been done. These writings, so far as the profane world is concerned, were never meant to be understood, any more than the monitors of modern masonry are meant to reveal all that occurs in a lodge room. These writings were not meant to reveal but to blind, and to conceal from all but the initiated the real truths and the sublime wisdom to which they referred, and which to the initiated were common property. Just here a question naturally arises and presses for an answer. If this concealed wisdom was so profound and so beneficent, why was it so jealously guarded and so constantly concealed ? It is not my province to explain, nor my purpose to defend these mysteries. I desire only to show their existence, their general characteristics, and their co-ordinate relation through the ages. The purpose and the effect of this secrecy may, however, be explained. Let us suppose, for example, a community of ignorant and superstitious men and women, possessing but little intelligence, a low moral sense, and held in check by fear of the law, and by superstitious reverence for the outer forms and ceremonies of religion. Such a community would be unable to understand the philosophy lying back of all religious forms, or to appreciate any higher moral restraint than fear. By misinterpretation of that brighter light that blinds where it cannot illuminate, and by misapplication of that larger liberty that so easily degenerates into license with the selfish and the ignorant, the full truth would be destructive. Imagine such a community suddenly set free from all accustomed restraints. No law, no religion, no God, no Devil, in any sense that they could understand, every man and every woman a slave to the bodily lusts and a law to self. Everyone can foresee the result. Ask yourselves, my hearers, what would be the logical result amongst certain classes in our own land, were they to hold your own more advanced views regarding many of these things, without first having grown up into larger liberty, through loyalty to the higher light of reason, justice, charity and humanity. The natural relation between ignorance and superstition, vice and fear, are thus easily discerned.
If the truth is to make us free, loyalty to truth must first make us worthy of freedom. So long as superstition has its votaries, will fear exercise over the ignorant a wholesome restraint. The higher truth revealed in the mysteries of initiation served to illumine, not to dethrone religion; but where they could not illumine they would inevitably dethrone; they have therefore been always guarded from the profane, and veiled in symbols and allegories capable of many interpretations, only the most crude and harmless of which are likely to become known. The more intelligent often scorn these interpretations; they can, however, make no greater mistake than to suppose that none others are both possible and rational. [Page 6]
I have so far referred to but two forms of ancient initiations, selecting these for the reason that it is from them that we have derived the larger number of our traditions. It could easily be shown, however, that similar structures lie back of all the world's great religions, and mingle more or less with all our traditions and myths. While we may be unable to trace all these to one common source, they can all be shown to refer to the same great truth, viz., the divinity in man and his victory over himself. The clue to the labyrinth in one of these traditions is the key to all. The outer garb and form of expression differ, the principle is everywhere the same, and this principle was embodied in symbols and ideographs, variously interpreted, yet capable in the hands of an initiate of harmonious and co-ordinate interpretation. Paul sat at the feet of the wise Gamaliel and was learned in matters of the law; and Jesus is believed to have been an Essene, as his teachings are perfectly consistent with those of that sect of communists as recorded by Philo and Josephus.
If the foregoing conclusions are valid (and they are supported by the most overwhelming testimony), it follows, that any literal rendering of the crude surface meanings of ancient writings which in art-speech, glyph, and parable, refer to these deeper mysteries, fail entirely to give their real meaning. In modern times this literal rendering of ancient text is fast losing its hold on the minds and consciences of men. A portion, at least, of the present humanity have outgrown the bondage of sense that finds its counterpart in superstition, and its restraint in fear; and has but slight regard for these ancient records, which were formerly held to be so sacred that to alter a word or a letter of them was to be accursed. When, however, these records come to be regarded in an entirely different light, and are divested of all superstition, and when it is shown that our artists and architects have revealed to us only the scaffolding that was used in the construction, and which have been made to conceal these ancient temples, erected to God and dedicated to the service of Truth and the elevation of man, a new interest will again centre in these old truths, and the smouldering fires will be rekindled on ancient altars. But why, it may be asked, need we rehabilitate these ancient shrines, and re-illumine these ancient altars ? Why not create anew ? Man cannot divest himself of his past. We are involved in the history and the heredity of all past ages, and destined still to unfold their sequence. Man is involved in humanity, and humanity is without beginning or end. Man receives from the father and transmits to the son. The genius of humanity with one hand points to the past, till the vision is bewildered by the night of time; with the other she points to the future, till the vision fails in the light of coming dawn. Only as we correctly interpret the past, and wisely forecast the future, can we hope to apprehend the present. And I might add [Page 7] —only as we apprehend the present can we read the past or forecast the future. The present is but a point, moving ceaselessly around the endless cycles of time.
Enough has perhaps now been said to show that no mere dictionary definition of the words, Cabballah, and Mysteries, could adequately define them. Theosophy is a word of similar import, and to define it as the "wisdom of God", would be meaningless. Neither is the meaning of the word to be apprehended by a hasty glance at the history and outward promulgations and manifestations of the present Theosophical Society, though one at all familiar with ancient landmarks, will trace many resemblances.
Theosophy comprises that body of truths which in many forms, under many names, and in all ages, constitutes the substance, and the essence of the true initiation; and which undertakes to explain and to apply the everlasting principles of truth and righteousness to the individual life of man, and the elevation of humanity today. The fire of life and the light of truth are eternal; and the fires on ancient altars that for centuries were not allowed to expire or to grow dim symbolized this light of truth.
To the interested student and the searcher after truth, theosophy may be apprehended as unfolding on parallel lines. These parallel lines may be designated as the theoretical and the practical; or the ideal and the real; or again, as designated in scripture, as the doctrine and the life. Each of these lines pre-supposes the other. The theory that certain results will follow certain actions, suggests the act, in order to verify the result. It is true that in still another sense one may theorize in regard to theosophy as in regard to any truth; and such speculation may lead to opinion or to prejudice without leading to any real knowledge, or to any higher life. Hence comes very early in the theosophical quest the test of motive. Theosophy deals with the deep things of life, and the real and lasting interests of the human soul; and he who has but an idle curiosity in regard to these will hardly seek the truth in such manner as is likely to bring any lasting reward or satisfaction; though he may find food for speculation or even for ridicule.
The neophyte is therefore challenged at the outer gate: "What seek ye?" The body of man is the temple of initiation and both the challenge and the reply, come from within; and according as the neophyte makes answer, will be his entrance through the gates and his passage beyond the first veil of initiation. If to the challenge: "What seekest thou, O soul of man?" the answer comes, "O nothing in particular, I was just looking idly around to see what amusement I could find"; man would hear in response only the voice of the passions and bodily appetites which are always [Page 8] seeking fresh gratification, and be deaf to the still small voice heard in the soul only when all else is still. We are dealing with the journey of life and the experience of the soul; not as a matter of sentiment but as a sober reality. Suppose that each one of us were to pause just here and ask of his own soul the following questions: What is the real meaning of life ? What is my own purpose in life ? What are the chances of its accomplishment ? How far does it concern the welfare of others ? Can I conceive of a higher object with a better motive, and can I hope in any degree to accomplish that? This self-examination is the first step in the real study of theosophy, and for myself I can say, without a moment's hesitation, that satisfactory answers come to all such inquiries; not upon outside authority that must not be questioned, and in answers that cannot be understood, but in conscious agreement and co-ordinate harmony that satisfy the soul. The real self-conscious centre in man seldom governs in the affairs of life. We long for love, we lust for fame or power or gold; and we are led to this lusting and longing, not so much by conscious purpose and deliberate choice, as by the clamorous passions and the fickle appetites that hold us in bondage, and lead us in chains. Even here, when the mind and soul become consciously centred on any of these pursuits, and when man bends his will to the accomplishment of his object and is ready to sacrifice all else to win success, failure is well-nigh impossible; though dust and ashes are the result. Schopenhauer is right ; the will of man is supreme; and people fail even in ordinary pursuits because they scatter their forces instead of concentrating them under the guidance of the will. All such success, however, brings man back to himself, dissatisfied and hungry still. In the flood-tide of prosperity, when the soul is drunk with the purple flood of life as with the fumes of wine, we seldom pause to take account of stock; we seldom stand face to face with ourselves. When, however, love grows cold, or the beloved one slips from our embrace into the unseen, when the laurel wreath becomes a crown of thorns; when gold no longer glitters or when it takes to itself wings; when the power we sought to wield has become a very tyrant, and we realize the meaning of the saying, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"; then it is that man is brought face to face with himself, and the lesson deeper than words is burned into his soul. Man stands speechless and bewildered, benumbed and terrified, gazing into the mirror as though he had seen a ghost — the ghost of his higher self born of the pure ideals he has lost. For such a one the wine of life never again touches the brim, or bubbles into careless joy. He drinks cautiously, looking for the serpent coiled in the bottom of the cup.
"The wine of life is drawn,
And naught remains but lees. [Page 9]
Many who thus
for a brief space stand face to face with truth waken from
the dream insane; some rush to suicide, and others become
melancholy cynics. All who have carefully studied human
life know that this great awakening come sooner or later
to everyone who passes life's meridian. If the years flow
on with measured tread, and uniform health and prosperity
bring the neophyte in life's mysteries down to the grave,
the revelation still comes, even though it is the angel of
death that bears the challenge: “Awake thou that sleepest".
The awakening comes to sad-eyed children who hear a voice
in the midst of their play as an echo of the still eternities;
little ones become our guides or our inquisitors. The dial
of time counts not by years, save only when we are drunk
with the passions and are deceiving ourselves. Whenever the
sun of truth rises, the day of the soul begins; and man may
face to the dawn if he will, or he may wrap the mantle of
night about him and forever refuse light. The neophyte in
the mysteries of being may face his destiny without fear
of the sphynx. What holdest thou, O stormy hearted goddess
breeding by the fertile Niles of life ? Ho, marble effigy!
I conjure and I defy thee! “I will terrify thee with
thyself, O white-faced neophyte; divested of all thy trappings
and shorn of all thy glitter: nay, take them all; 'tis thus
I cast them in thy face, and still defy thee I know thy riddle,
and I scorn thy power ! Pass on, O neophyte; and may thy
head be gently pillowed on the bosom of Isis; may Osiris
protect and defend thee, I cannot harm thee". A Persian
monarch once propounded to a captive in chains this riddle: “Which
is the greater, the strength of the king; the strength of
women ; or the strength of wine?" and
the captive, himself a prince, made answer: "Great
are all these, O king, yet above them all is the power and
the majesty of Truth": and the king replied: “Blessed
be the God of Truth".
The real student of Theosophy is a neophyte, seeking initiation into the mysteries of life. He may have teachers and guides, and these may instruct and prepare him, but when he touches foot on the threshold of the greater mysteries he stands alone. Step by step must he feel his way, guided only by experience, and the light of truth in his own soul. All around him dance and glimmer the fitful rays of the will-o'-the-wisp. Nothing will hinder him from following these should he so desire. None of these can deceive him if he sincerely desires the light of truth, that brings to everyone the message, “He that seeketh me diligently shall surely find me". The ideal life is not fantastic and visionary as many suppose, nor does it take man out of the world and away from temptation; nor yet does it destroy his usefulness and unsettle his reason. The true ideal is the only real life. It despises not the common things, but holds them at their true value, and puts them to the most beneficent use. It is thus that the neophyte lives and learns, and learns to live. [Page 10]
As an integral factor of the great body — humanity — the neophyte is related to his fellow-men, and as body and soul are blended in man, so is man related to humanity. While, therefore, the physical life of the body outwardly unfolds and man adjusts his relations to his fellow-men, the spiritual life of the soul illumines and guides the life. As the spirit is informed, the body is transformed, and the neophyte slowly mounts the winding stairway of initiation. To learn, and to apply, to study and to unfold, is the method of all true initiations. The lines of doctrine and of life run parallel and must be continually adjusted, else all progress will cease.
The Theosophical Society was organised for the purpose of promulgating the Theosophical doctrines, and for the promotion of the Theosophic life. The present Theosophical Society is not the first of its kind. I have a volume entitled: "Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society", published in London in 1697; and another with the following title: "Introduction to Theosophy, or the science of the mystery or Christ; that is, of Deity, Nature and Creature, embracing the philosophy of all the working powers of life, magical and spiritual, and forming a practical guide to the sublimest purity, sanctity, and evangelical perfection; also to the attainment of divine vision, and the holy angelical arts, potencies, and other prerogatives of the regeneration", (published in London in 1855). The following is the dedication of this volume: "To the students of Universities, Colleges, and Schools of Christendom: To Professors of Metaphysical, Mechanical, and Natural Science in all its forms; To men and women of Education generally, of fundamental orthodox faith: To Deists, Arians, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, and other defective and ungrounded creeds, rationalists and sceptics of every kind: To just-minded and enlightened Mohammedans, Jews, and oriental Patriarch-religionists; but especially to the gospel minister and missionary, whether to the barbaric or the intellectual peoples, this introduction to Theosophy, or the science of the ground and mystery of all things, is most humbly and affectionately dedicated", in the following year(1856)another volume was issued, royal octavo of 600 pages, diamond type, of "Theosophical Miscellanies". Of the last-named work 500 copies only were issued, for gratuitous distribution to Libraries and Universities. These earlier movements, of which there were many, originated within the church, with persons of great piety and earnestness, and of unblemished character; and all of these writings were in orthodox form, using the Christian expressions, and, like the writings of the eminent churchman William Law, would only be distinguished by the ordinary reader for their great earnestness and piety. These were one and all but attempts to derive and explain the deeper meanings and original import of the Christian Scriptures, and to [Page 11] illustrate and unfold the theosophic life. These works were soon forgotten and are now generally unknown. They sought to reform the clergy and revive genuine piety, and were never welcomed. That one word, "Heresy", was sufficient to bury them in the limbo of all such Utopias. At the time of the Reformation John Reuchlin made a similar attempt with the same result, though he was the intimate and trusted friend of Luther. Orthodoxy never desired to be informed and enlightened. These reformers were informed as was Paul by Festus, that too much learning has made them mad, and that it would he dangerous to go farther. Passing by the verbiage which was partly a matter of habit and education with these writers, and partly due to religious restraint through secular power, and coming to the core of the matter, these writings were theosophical in the strictest sense, and pertain solely to man's knowledge of his own nature and the higher life of the soul. The present theosophical movement has sometimes been declared to be an attempt to convert Christendom to Buddhism, which means simply that the word "Heresy" has lost its terrors and relinquished its power. Individuals in every age have more or less clearly apprehended the theosophical doctrines and wrought them into the fabric of their lives. These doctrines belong exclusively to no religion, and are confined to no society or time. They are the birthright of every human soul. Such a thing as orthodox theosophy has never existed, for the simple reason that all of life's problems must be wrought out by each individual according to his nature and his needs, and according to his varying experience. This may explain why those who have imagined theosophy to be a new religion have hunted in vain for its creed and its ritual. Its creed is simply Loyalty to Truth, and its ritual "To honour every truth by use".
To the casual observer the sentiment of the majority of the members of the T .S., whenever and howsoever that sentiment may he determined, may no doubt appear to represent the doctrines and status of the society. Or again, the irresponsible utterances and erratic genuflections of the veriest crank who boasts of his membership in a society from which none are excluded who desire to enter, may be taken as "orthodox theosophy", as has often been done. Everyone must read for himself; not only the signs of the times, but the signals of truth, and far be it from true theosophy to say him nay. No intelligent theosophist follows blindly any outward authority, whether he be taught by the ancient wisdom, or by that noble "woman to whom every true theosophist owes a debt of gratitude, and whom every lover of truth will one day honour, for he knows that he must find his guiding star in the inner temples of his own soul. The two large volumes recently issued by Mme. Blavatsky are an aggregation of ancient literatures, traditions and mythologies, [Page 12] bearing on the real initiation of man into the mystery of being. The comments and explanations found on nearly everyone of these 1,600 royal octavo pages of the “Secret Doctrine" are both interesting and instructive to all who patiently and persistently seek the truth. Many a blind hint and obscure meaning are thus made plain. Such a mine of ancient wisdom has probably never been given to the world since history began. The truth is there for those who desire it.
Most persons nowadays are familiar with the phenomena of modern spiritualism, and those who believe all such phenomena to arise from fraud or self-deception, are still compelled to stop in the presence of the recent phenomena called hypnotic, and admit the fact of psychic phenomena. Theosophy has something to say in regard to both classes of phenomena, not only in the way of instruction, but also in the way of admonition. Between a medium under invisible control, and a hypnotic subject under magnetic control, there lies the unfolding of man's higher nature, and the development of psychic power independent of all outward control, and guided by the light of reason and intuition; and it is this natural evolution of the higher self in man that theosophy recommends and assists.
There are two terms frequently employed in referring to psychic phenomena. These are unconscious cerebration; and hypnotic suggestion. The former expression is now less frequently used since hypnotism has come to be the fashion, and may very profitably be discarded altogether, for it is based on a fallacy, born of presumption, and ministers only to pedantry. The phrase is made up of two factors, and refers to consciousness and to cerebral activity ordinarily giving rise to thought. The condition referred to is, in its way, as conscious as any other; hence to apply the expression “unconscious" to it is a misnomer. Designating this peculiar form of cerebration as “unconscious" gives rise to the idea that the more ordinary form is itself a matter of consciousness, and thus is a fallacy. Who among us at the present moment is conscious of the varied and complicated cerebral changes that every physiologist knows to accompany the process of thought ? We are conscious, and we are thinking. We may think of consciousness, and we are conscious of thought; but we are not conscious of the rhythmic flow of the blood, or of those intricate molecular changes that make thought possible. If we designate all these changes as “cerebration", and then re-christen them as “thought," we lose sight of the fact that we are aware of no such thing as thought apart from consciousness. Consciousness and thought are inseparable in all manifested intelligence. Therefore, cerebration without consciousness cannot be shown to give rise to thought at all; and cerebration without either thought or consciousness never manifests intelligence, but is purely [Page 13] physiological, and soon becomes pathological and destructive. The phrase "unconscious cerebration" is meaningless so far as the process to which it refers is concerned; but its use leads to still another fallacy, and that is, the supposition that by thus naming the process we have in any sense apprehended it. If we inquire of those who so flippantly make use of this expression, " What is clairvoyance and clairaudience?" for example; the ready answer comes: " Why, don't you know ? unconscious cerebration, of course", and we are correspondingly enlightened and so much obliged. The term hypnotic suggestion certainly refers to a fact in psychology, often demonstrated, and easily repeated; but it by no means enlightens us as to the real nature of man, the process of thought, or the nature of consciousness; though it suggests the relations of the last two factors in all manifested intelligence. The objection to all this nomenclature lies in the fact that it arises from the material side of the equation, and practically claims that there is no other side. The equation stands in this way: The sum of all manifested intelligence and all life equal zero. We cannot get rid of the cosmic form even here; would it then not be the part of wisdom to seek the true value of the zero side of the equation ?
The method of investigation usually employed, and that specially characterizes modern times, proceeds from a physical basis, and regards only the phenomenal existence. The idea that the phenomenal world of sense and time is really but one side of the present existence, seems very seldom to have dawned on the understanding of man. The average man of the world is likely to possess an average of the virtues, and equally an average of all the vices. To suppress the latter and to encourage the former is the aim of most codes of moral ethics, and is in every way commendable and desirable. It is generally supposed that when the vices are all removed, and when there thus results a life that is blameless, the highest point in human achievement has been reached. This blameless life may, however, be not only negative and colourless, but even imbecile. One has hardly accomplished the full purpose of being when he has ceased to harm himself or others. Viewed in this light, the last step in the ladder of human perfection is the first step in the life that is truly divine. It is in regard to this negative goodness that the sacred writer declares — "I would have you either hot or cold, but because you are neither hot nor cold I have spewed you out of my mouth." The wisdom religion not only reveals the purpose of life, but unfolds and develops the powers of man, so that he may become a god in the sense that the Platonic writers use that word. In the ancient mysteries all theoretical teachings and dramatic representations were followed by experimental efforts on the part of the neophyte. As to the result of such experiment, when wisely directed after due preparation [Page 14] and instruction, it is enough to say that it opened new avenues, and developed new powers, and introduced the candidate into the subjective world. This may seem a strong draft either upon credulity or imagination. To those, however, who are familiar with the method usually employed to develop so-called mediumistic powers, and with the results that often follow, even without any previous training, or any knowledge of the laws governing development, will readily see the force and meaning of the true initiation. Nothing can be more undesirable or dangerous than trifling with these unknown powers, for insanity and suicide lie that way. Nothing can be more beneficent than the unfolding of man's higher nature as the result of complete harmony of development. What but this is the aim of the true Christian life, which has the promise of being able to perform even greater works than Christ himself performed ? In everyone of these mysteries the theosophic life has promise of the same reward, for the wisdom religion lies back of one and all.
In organizing the present Theosophical Society three objects were declared to be its chief motive. First, to establish a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, sex, or colour; second, to investigate ancient religions and mythologies, for reasons that I trust are now plain; third, to study and unfold the latent psychical powers in man, for reasons now also apparent. In joining the society the candidate is required to subscribe to the first declaration only. Assent to the doctrine of the unqualified and universal brotherhood of man is made essential; the other two incidental; and the candidate is free to investigate ancient religions and the latent powers of his own soul, or not, as he sees fit. It could not otherwise happen than that some who have joined the society should have forgotten the essential brotherhood, and become phenomenon hunters; for no restraints have been imposed beyond the candidate's own declaration upon honour, and no trials for heresy or apostacy have been instituted or are likely to be. Neither coercion nor restraint are imposed. In all initiations ancient and modern, the candidate's first declaration is this: "I come of my own free will and accord".
Since the organization of the T. S. one thing is quite apparent, and that is, that investigation into ancient religions has greatly increased. Comparisons have been instituted, and if these comparisons have at times seemed odious, the odium, instead of resting always, as heretofore, upon some other religion, has sometimes rested upon our own. Tardy justice has thus sometimes taken the place of odium born of self-interest and egoism. All religions are found to contain an element of truth, and each religion formulates that truth, and designates its creed; and its ceremonies, according to the genius of the age in which it abounds, and the needs and abilities of the people where it exists. As each of these formulations [Page 15] differs from the rest, Theosophy seizes hold of the element of truth lying back of all forms, and holds this truth to be essential, and all else incidental. This truth of Theosophy is not a happy after-thought, a mere deduction or generalization from the outer forms of all religions, but arises from an apprehension of the core of all religions as revealed by the secret doctrine, or the process of initiation into the wisdom religion. The test of fellowship and the bond of union in all modern religions is the creed, or formulated belief, and conformity to their ceremonies and usages. All these religions hold as a secondary proposition, the principle of charity; though this principle is practically curtailed beyond the bounds of sect-communion, as has been illustrated in all religious wars, and most sectarian disputes. Theosophy makes this law of charity universal and unqualified, the bond of union and the principle of all correct living, and expresses it as, Universal Brotherhood. While, therefore, theosophy thus supplements many religions, it really antagonizes none; and in thus bringing charity to the front, it seeks the substantial unity of the whole human race. As a result of this common bond of brotherhood and basis of agreement, there are found in the society persons of all colours, nationalities, and religious beliefs; and according as they sincerely hold, and intelligently manifest and interpret this principle of charity and toleration, will be found the benefits which they receive and bestow.
When to each of these religionists it is clearly pointed out, that back of his own religion lies the secret doctrine, explaining the powers, the ministry, and the destiny of man, he returns to a study of his own religion with a new zeal and with an added inspiration. The Theosophical Society stands as a witness to these great truths, the apprehension and promulgation of which it was organized to promote; and in spite of misapprehension on the part of some of its members, and misrepresentation on the part of its enemies, it has promoted these great objects to an extent but little known and seldom realized. Theosophy has never sought to overthrow any religion, or to substitute one form of religion for another, but rather to purify, elevate, and reform all. When it is once clearly perceived that lying back of all great religions is the Old Wisdom Religion, to which not only Rawlinson, but many other writers refer, and that this stands to the outer form of all religions, as soul to body; and when the principles of this secret doctrine are clearly explained, it will be found to be a key to the interpretation of all religions.
The two large volumes of the "Secret Doctrine" recently issued by Mme. Blavatsky, furnish just this key, dealing as they do with the origin and nature of creation and with the origin and nature of man. After referring to the nations of antiquity that had lost, or partially lost, all [Page 16] knowledge of the primeval religion, Rawlinson says: "There were others again who lost scarcely anything, but hid up the truth in mystic language and strange symbolism."The only theory", he says, " which accounts for all the facts, for the unity as well as the diversity of ancient religions, is that of a primeval revelation variously corrupted through the manifold and multiform deteriorations of human nature in different races and places". In his "History of Secret Societies", Heckthorne makes a similar statement, and summarizes the tenets of this ancient religion.
The revival of this ancient wisdom, and the recovery of lost arts and long-forgotten learning, may not, after all, appeal to this utilitarian age with any degree of force. What, then, are its practical bearings on the present time and the needs of man today ? As it relates to humanity as a whole, it aims to bring about the reign of peace and universal toleration without persuasively or forcibly transferring sectarians from one cult to another, so that, with the largest liberty of thought, it aims at the practical unity of the race, and this no single religion has ever attempted.
The practical value of the wisdom-religion will be that it will reveal to individual man his own nature, and assist him to realize his high destiny. The inquiry will come, " Does not the Christian religion accomplish this much for man ? " I answer yes; and so do many others, if man but reads intelligently and wisely utilizes the lessons therein contained. He who imagines, however, that no divine star ever shone on this sin-stricken world till the Babe was born in Bethlehem a few hundred years ago, has misinterpreted both the divine beneficence, and the long and sorrowful journey of the children of men. The guiding star has shone over other cradles and been called by other names. Its rays brighten at the birth of every man and every woman who is to feel the common sorrow, and help to lift the common load that oppresses all humanity and degrades the toiling, sorrowing, children of men. The lonely captive loaded with chains, and the martyr in his chariot of fire, have seen the heavenly star, and the Comforter has come unto them when the divine voice has whispered in their souls, "They persecuted me, they will also persecute you, but blessed, thrice blessed are ye". This sublime exaltation of faith, and triumph of soul means far more than a formulated creed, or an intellectual belief. It means the foundation of the kingdom of heaven in the enlightened soul of man.
The most curious interest attaches to theosophy on account of its vein of so-called occultism. Whether or not this occult vein shall be able to justify itself, quite certain it is that it is this phase of the subject, which more than anything else has called attention to theosophy; and while this phase of theosophy invariably attracts the lovers of the marvellous, it has often repulsed the more thoughtful who have, nevertheless, given the subject [Page 17] but little study. Occultism may be regarded as a department by itself, with a literature of its own. It has so often been cultivated by charlatans, and made use of to impose on the ignorant and the credulous, that it has very justly fallen into disrepute. Let us remember, however, that where there is no true coin there can be no counterfeit. The more subtle forces of nature and the finer sensibilities of man are but little understood, and yet these form an essential part of nature and of man; and we are constantly surrounded by these powers and exercising these functions unconsciously. These things seem to us fantastic and unreliable only because we are ignorant of their nature and the laws that govern them. Because of this subtlety and our own ignorance, this is pre-eminently the domain of superstition. The antidote for both ignorance and superstition is real knowledge. It is a great mistake to assume that these things have no real existence, and those who do this are generally as superstitious in their way as anyone. Very few persons seem able to form any rational conception of the unseen universe, and yet it is from this invisible world that every object in nature comes, and to it all material things return. It is this process of appearance and disappearance that constitutes the phenomenal world which most persons imagine to be the only real existence. We fail to note the changes because they are so uniform, so silent, and so slow.
If we seek an illustration of the subtle forces of nature we have not far to look. Suppose we take a stroll some afternoon, and, pursuing a varying course, wander for miles from home. An hour or two after our departure, a favourite and intelligent dog that has regretfully seen us depart and been ordered back, escapes from restraint. He sniffs the air and dropping his muzzle to the ground, follows our every step with little regard for varying wind or weather, or for crossing footsteps. "O yes". you reply, "we all know that a good dog will follow the scent of its master". But it is not the dog that so much interests us as the logical deduction from the phenomenon. We are hardly conscious that we are so full of some subtle essence that it sifts from us at every step, and gives its secret qualities to every footprint, even through the heavy-soled shoes. We are hardly conscious that we leave this same invisible yet material quality of our peculiar personality on every object that we touch; yet such would seem to be the case; and there are persons in almost every community who possess the psychometric power of distinguishing it. Neither is this essence so subtle, nor are our senses so dull, that we always fail to detect these personal emanations. As our garments shape to our bodies, so do they become saturated with ourselves. Our dwellings are full of our presence even when we are invisible, and the very paper on our walls contains the tinctures of our lives. There are dwellings that are saturated with [Page 18] hate, with lust, and with greed. The ghostly echoes of evil thoughts and the shadows of still more evil deeds, ring their changes and come and go in the heavy laden atmosphere where degraded human beings abide. Who, indeed, has not felt this influence when meeting individuals, or when entering houses ? We call it natural sympathy or antipathy, but we seldom pause to examine and analyse it. Neither are these evil influences formless and powerless. They have not only material qualities and individual attributes, but they have form and malignity, and when the principle now called "hypnotic suggestion" is better understood, it will be seen that these malignant influences, born of the evil natures of human beings, have power to poison the weak and sensitive, and to induce disease or to suggest crime. There is no known principle of heredity which denies that evil propensities are equally inherited with the good. The atmosphere of vice is not a purely imaginary and immaterial thing, but a malignant, material reality. When we realize that we have it in our power to make our own lives just what we please, and that we may fill our homes with blessing instead of cursing; when we learn the importance of saturating the very walls of the habitation we call home, with love, with gentleness, and with kindness and forbearance, then these homes will be to the souls of all who enter them, like the balm of Gilead, and as the health-bearing breezes of the delectable mountains. Then we will realize that it is the invisible or occult forces of nature more than any others that work for human weal or woe. How insignificant compared with these divine guests, that come at our call, are costly draperies and trappings of gold and precious woods; and yet these benedictions may rest within the homes of the poor, and are as often found there as in the palaces of the rich. Theosophy studies and explains these subtle forces, and applies the real knowledge thus derived, for the benefit of man. Theosophy thus stands for righteousness; for manly and womanly lives, and for the health and the happiness of man. I have touched upon but a single picture in the realm of so-called occultism, and that the simplest and most easily understood. The bible is full of references to this very subject, and there are whole books, like those of Job, and the Revelation, that deal almost. exclusively with these occult phases of the subject. In the Cabballah, the building of the tabernacle, and the temple of Solomon, with all their measurements, details, and furniture, are made to refer to nothing else but man. These outer buildings and physical things were merely ideographs, used both to convey and to conceal the real meaning, and this principle of symbolism applies equally to the sacred books of all religions, and to all mythologies. There is, moreover, no essential difference in the principle or the truth so concealed. It is everywhere the same; viz., to reveal the divinity in man, and to assist him in recovering his divine inheritance: [Page 19] one truth in numberless forms running through the countless ages, and known to the initiated as the "Secret Doctrine".
He who would thus recover his lost inheritance, must put off his garb of selfishness, and be able to conceive of ideal truth, while he exercises universal charity. This is the way, the truth, and the life; revealed alike in the teachings and the life of Christ, of Zoroaster, and of all the Buddhas and Avatars since the beginning of human life on this old planet. I will close this somewhat disjointed essay with a Sufe (sufi) legend illustrating the quest of the soul for Divine truth. The Sufes (Sufis) , it may be remembered, are to the Mohammedans what the Essenes were to the Christians, viz., those initiated into the Secret Doctrine.
“A PARABLE OF JELLALEDDEN."
AT the beloved's door a timid knock was heard,
And a voice came from within, sweeter than morning bird,
Softer than silver drops that from splashing fountains fall,
"Who is there? and the stillness stirred
For a moment, and that was all.
And the lover who stood without, eager and full of fear.
Answered the silver voice—“It is I who am waiting here;
Open then, my beloved, open thy door to me."
But he heard the response ring clear:—
"This house will not hold me and thee".
And the door remained fast shut, and the lover went away,
Far into the desert's depths, to wait, and fast, and pray:
To dwell in the tents of Sorrow. and drink of the cup of Grief;
And Solitude taught him each day,
And Silence brought him relief.
And after a year he returned, and knocked at the close-shut door,
And he heard the Beloved's voice as it answered him once more;
" Who is there ? " And soft as the dew, or the velvety rose-leaf's fall..
And as low as when angels adore,
He said, " 'Tis thyself that doth call".
And his heart stood still with fear, and his eager eyes were dim;
Then through the silent night rang the sound of a marriage hymn,
And the bolts and the bars flew back, and the door was open wide,
And fair on the threshold's rim
Stood his Beloved, his Bride.
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