What is Theosophy?

Theosophy or Theosophia (Gr.). Wisdom-religion, or "Divine Wisdom." The substratum and basis of all the world-religions and philosophies, taught and practiced by a few elect ever since man became a thinking being. In its practical bearing, Theosophy is purely divine ethics; the definitions in dictionaries are pure nonsense, based on religious prejudice and ignorance of the true spirit of the early Rosicrucians and mediæval philosophers who called themselves Theosophists.

H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary.

Theosophy is a subject that embraces the universe itself, its philosophy deals with problems as gigantic as that of the origin and destiny of the human race. It also deals with matter, life, consciousness and beyond and their relationship to each other. Yet the word Theosophy is defined neither in the constitution of the Theosophical Society nor in any official document. Theosophy is not presented as a revelation or dogma; it is not offered to one for belief, but for one's examination and judgement. It is evidently intended that each one interested should discover for himself what it is or of what nature it is. For one of man's basic needs is to know, to understand, to find meaning. He must have answers, especially to life fundamental questions.

Theosophy provides answers to these questions as it is the core of understanding, the ageless wisdom, the wisdom-religion which helps mankind to understand nature's unseen processes and laws. It studies the metaphysical principles which uphold the universe. Theosophy is a body of ideas which are very old. Some of them are found in the religious and philosophies of India, China, Egypt, Greece, Palestine and Arabia. Others come from the discoveries of scientists of the past and the present. So today Theosophy includes a body of ideas which are being corroborated by modern researches in Science and other branches of knowledge. These basic principles may be summarized thus:

  • There is one living, non-material, creative all pervading all sustaining, homogeneous reality or one transcendent self-existent life from which everything in the universe has sprung. All things which exist live, move and have their being in it.

  • For our World this Life is immanent and is manifested as the Logos, the Word, Shabda-Brahma, worshipped under different names in different religions, but ever recognized as the One Creator, Preserver, and Regenerator.

  • An important proposition of the theosophical philosophy states that there are periodical manifestations of this one life: at macrocosmic as well as microcosmic levels. The birth and death of stars, planets and universes is one example of a very long-range evolutionary cycle in nature. But the same cyclic process of "Periodic Manifestation" can be found everywhere. The Poet Shelley so effectively gave expression to this phenomenon when he said: "The One remains, the many change and pass/Heaven's Light for ever shines, the earth's shadows fly."

  • Human beings form one order of the creatures evolving on this earth and each human being evolves by successive life-periods, gathering experiences and building them into character, reaping always as he sows until he has learned the lessons taught by life.

  • The full blossoming of man is not possible in one life. Theosophy holds that man is not limited to the short span of one lifetime in his long-range purpose of actualizing the essential self. Each human soul passes through cycles of incarnation in accordance with the law of cause and effect. This is an ancient view - now more and more believed by an overwhelming majority of people of the world today - that there is a cycle of reincarnation for man.

    The doctrine of rebirth or reincarnation is one of the major keys to understanding the spiritual basis of existence. Death and the law of Karma are indissolubly linked with the process of reincarnation. Death is the gateway for the soul to pass from one life to the other. Death is the leaving of the physical body, just as one leaves one's old coat. The soul has its permanent body, the causal body, in which are absorbed all the experiences of all the different lives that the soul passes through. The spiritual self is always seeking for a more perfect expression through successive personalities. Each life is another step on the pilgrimage back to the source, back to God. Death is the only means by which the soul transforms the assimilated experiences of the earthly existence into faculties when the soul is "resting" in the astral and mental worlds in between two births. So with each birth we make definite advancement. Our wisdom ripens and deepens; our lower nature is brought more under control and gradually we come nearer to "Salvation" or "Mukti" or "Liberation". But these terms never signify something personal or selfish. Liberation means not the ending of activity, but rather the beginning of self-conscious and beneficent activities of far nobler types than are possible under ordinary circumstances.

  • One of the great contributions of Theosophy is the scientific study of the law of Karma. Theosophy tells us that from the moment the soul takes the human body (called individualization) the conscious evolution begins and this is by a law called the law of Karma. Everything we do or think or say comes under the impersonal law of cause and effect which in Eastern philosophies is called "Karma", a term which cannot be easily translated into English. Briefly summarized it means that as one acts rightly, that is, in accordance with the Divine Will, the result of his action creates for him conditions which help his unfoldment; whereas when one acts wrongly, that is, goes contrary to the Divine Will, the result creates for him conditions which thwart his unfoldment. From this standpoint good Karma is what helps the Divine plan of Evolution and evil Karma what puts obstacles in the way of that plan. In the Bible this law is stated as "As you sow, so shall you reap". Every cause shall be balanced by its effect. So when one clearly understands the operation of the Law one learns how to unburden oneself of the load or baggage of Karma. The more we eschew selfish desires and motives, the more we feel that we all are rooted in the one and work for helping evolution, the more and more the fire of wisdom will burn away all past Karma and we will fast return to the bosom of Truth. But this can only happen after hundreds of births and rebirths. This is how the Karmic Law is connected with the process of death and reincarnation. So the Law of Karma coupled with reincarnation is the great balancing force.

  • One field where Theosophy has made a great contribution is that of thought and its great potentiality. It is true in the real sense that thoughts are things. To clairvoyant sight thoughts take definite form and color. A study of the nature of thought opens up to us possibilities in various directions. Since it is easily possible to do harm by thought it is also possible to do good by it. Currents may be set in motion which will carry mental help and comfort to many a suffering friend and in this way a whole new world of usefulness opens before us. All who can think powerfully can help others, and all who can help others ought to help. By this altruistic work a man steadily moulds his character not only in his present life but he can decide exactly what it shall be in the next. Thought builds character. As a man thinks so he becomes. The power of thought is borne out by many modern scientific researches. Many experiments, under strict laboratory conditions, are being carried out in various parts of the world, showing how powerful a tool thought is.

So to an inquirer one can say that Theosophy is Divine Wisdom. In its modern form it is the study of science, philosophy and the religions of the World. It therefore, tends to unify the peoples of the East and the West as well as people of differing intellectual interests. It provides a rational foundation for enquiry into the emerging Science of Psychology as well as an intelligible frame of reference for the tumultuous events of our times. But above all - through its teachings of Reincarnation and Karma - it includes an explanation of the mysteries of human destiny and therefore gives a stabilizing sense of purpose and meaningfulness to life, no matter what its difficulties.

Theosophy does not offer short cuts or a panacea to solve the difficult or complex problems of our times. But it does give a hopeful long-range view of eventual fulfilment for all people. It gives a firm foundation on which to build one's life. As man advances, through deep study and meditation, he takes his life in hand and comes to feel and understand more and more within himself the essential truth of these timeless ideas and their directive power in his life. He realizes that Universal Brotherhood of mankind is not a mere phrase, it is a basic truth, for we all are really rooted in the One. Whether a speck of dirt or the galaxy of stars, through all runs the Divine thread, as rows of pearls are threaded on string. Theosophy teaches a great tolerance through the encouragement it gives to the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science. Theosophy also gives a great sense of self-reliance and confidence because a student of Theosophy through his investigations into unexplained laws of Nature and powers latent deep within himself learns beyond doubt that he is the sole arbiter of his destiny and the captain of his fate. A theosophist is essentially an optimist for he ultimately learns that "the soul of man is immortal and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit."

This material was taken almost in its entirety from the brochure: "What is Theosophy?," published by the Indian Section of the Theosophical Society in its Centenary Year: 1990-1991.

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