The Final Authority


This article has been transcribed from the December 2000 issue of "The Theosophical Movement," a publication of Theosophy Company (India).
We implicitly believe that in this curve of the cycle, the final authority is the man himself. In former times the disclosed Vedas, and later, the teachings of the great Buddha, where the right authority, in whose authoritative teachings and enjoined practices were found the necessary steps to raise Man to an upright position. But the grand clock of the Universe points to another hour, and now Man must seize the key in his hands and himself—as a whole—open the gate.

—W.Q. Judge

In these words the student of Theosophy has an important idea to reflect upon. Even earnest students are sometimes apt to overlook that there can be no "Theosophical authority," One of the objects of the Theosophical Movement was to make men think for themselves and to break down that reliance upon acknowledged authorities which has been the bane of man for ages. Sometimes the impression has been conveyed that the final arbiters in matters of belief are the Masters, or H.P.B., but at no time has any of them given out such an idea. Theosophists are engaged in trying to develop a truer appreciation of the Light of Life which, however dimly, shines in every man not hopelessly sunk in bestiality; and so, for each, the only true and final authority for anything lies within. H.P.B.'s words are unequivocal:

It is just because we have devoted our whole life to the research of truth...that we never accept on faith any authority upon any question whatsoever; nor, pursuing, as we do, TRUTH and progress through a full and fearless enquiry, untrammelled by any consideration, would we advise any of our friends to do otherwise. (The Theosophist, Vol I, p. 279)

What, after all, is an "authority" upon any question?

No more, really, than a light streaming upon a certain object through one single, more or less wide, chink, and illuminating it from one side only. Such light, besides being the faithful reflector of the personal views of but one man—very often merely that of his special hobby—can never help in the examination of a question or a subject from all its aspects and sides. Thus, the authority appealed to will often prove but of little help, yet the profane, who attempts to present the given question or object under another aspect and in a different light, is forthwith hooted for his great audacity. Does he not attempt to upset solid "authorities," and fly in the face of respectable and time-honored routine thought? (Lucifer, Vol. XI, p. 9)

What gauge, then, shall we use for the acceptance or the rejection of any doctrine? The only authority on which we can rely is Faith, defined by Mr. Judge as "the intuitional feeling— 'that is true'." Any other kind of authority is mere presumption. Even the Buddha admonished his disciples not to accept anything without knowing it for themselves: "Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves, and do not rely on external help. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in the truth."

Constant and consistent devotion to truth is all we need. "There is no religion higher than Truth." What one really knows of Truth, which knowledge is not of the intellect but of the heart, is authority for the one who knows, but not for anyone else. Mr. Judge has written:

As far as our private conclusions are concerned, use your discrimination always. Do not adopt any conclusions merely because they are uttered by one in whom you have confidence, but adopt them when they coincide with your intuition. To be even unconsciously deluded by the influence of another is to have a counterfeit faith. (Letters That Have Helped Me, p. 23)

It might be argued that newcomers to Theosophy do not always possess the capacity to test the truth of the Philosophy, to perceive its constancy and consistency. Their inner feeling, an expression of the inherent idea of Original Devotion, moves them; otherwise they would not have felt drawn to Theosophy. After all, "no one was ever converted into Theosophy. Each one who really comes into it does so because it is only 'an extension of previous beliefs'." There is in each the inner monitor who knows, who can discriminate between the true and the false. This internal voice, in the words of Mr. Judge, "strikes within us the bell that corresponds to truth...It is just as if we had within us a series of wires whose vibrations are all true, but which will not be vibrated except by those words and propositions which are in themselves true." Professor Max Müller's definition of this faculty of intuition can hardly be improved upon:

The faculty of apprehending the Infinite, not only in religion but in all things; a power independent of sense and reason, a power in a certain sense contradicted by sense and reason, but yet a very real power, which has held its own from the beginning of the world, neither sense nor reason being able to overcome it, while it alone is able to overcome both reason and sense.

This intuition is the only authority the student of Theosophy can acknowledge. It is the common heritage of man and only needs unselfish effort to develop it. In our age, when "the world is too much with us" and we are inclined to look without instead of within ourselves, the intuitions of the little child are stifled until at last they are almost lost, and man is left at the mercy of judgments based upon exterior reason. But intuition can be developed by giving it exercise, by constantly referring mentally all propositions to it. Inevitably at first we shall make errors, but from sincere attempts at use it will gain strength. Practice and an unselfish motive purify the covers of the soul and permit its light to shine down into the brain-mind and illumine all things.

If each one is his own authority, are we to infer that we are left entirely to our own devices in determining the veracity of any proposition? These words of H.P.B.'s need to be reflected over:

There is a canon of interpretation, which should guide us in our examinations of every philosophical opinion: "The human mind has, under the necessary operation of its own laws, been compelled to entertain the same fundamental ideas, and the human heart to cherish the same feelings in all ages." (Isis Unveiled, I, xv)

There are statements and teachings of Theosophy that are difficult to understand. The credulous who opine that it is not possible to demonstrate logically the truth of certain teachings and that therefore they should be accepted as matters of belief; the impatient who drop the pursuit of a subject without adequate effort, saying that it is beyond them; the egotistic and the cocksure who ultimately arrive at the position, "Behold, I know," are all misguided. The earnest and sincere student says to himself: "Here is a 'philosophical opinion'; what 'canon of interpretation' will guide me? What are the 'laws' which will enable my consciousness to gain an appreciation of this profound truth? And how can it come to cherish the feeling of reverence for this truth?"

The canon of interpretation of each student is limited and coloured by the particular constituent of his make-up that he uses to look at any teaching. Does he look at it with the senses, aided by the lower mind, Kama-Manas? Or with the internal organ called Antahkarana, the bridge between the higher and the lower Manas? Or with the higher philosophic mind? Or with his intuitive faculty? When intuitive perception is gained, conviction, i.e., enlightened faith in the teachings, arises. Dependence on outside authority is no longer tenable.


W.Q. Judge

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