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ethics and confidential materials

Jan 20, 1994 05:53 AM
by eldon

A comment of Jerry H-E's got me thinking about the ethics of having
other people's confidential materials. Here are my thoughts.


An interesting ethical question for us to consider confidential
materials. Is it ever right to possess and study materials
belonging to other people, materials that were considered confidential
and not entrusted to oneself?

Does the right to possess and to utilize the materials depend solely
upon how they were acquired, or are their certain ethical principles
involved that are independent of anything one may have agreed to? Are
there certain principles that are right to follow regardless of whether
we can be sanctioned or found at fault by others?

Say that we've found a photocopy of someone's diary in a trash bin, or
perhaps in a folder at a used bookstore. Is it okay to freely use it
without the writer's permission? What is a fair use of the materials in
these circumstances?

One of us may have materials of the Esoteric School of Theosophy, an
organization associated with the Adyar Theosophical Society. We all may
come across materials in bookstores, or from friends. How do we handle

When we have materials where their owner intends to keep them secret,
and it is clearly known that those entrusted with the materials are
sworn to secrecy, does it matter if we came into possession of them
through an round-about way?

For us to obtain something like the Adyar E.S. materials, someone had
to intentionally or inadvertently break their trust with the
organization, to allow the materials to come into our hands. Are we
ethically bound to keep them secret, or can we say that because we've
made no specific pledge to do so, that we are free to reveal them at
our own discretion?

I would say that there is a karmic responsibility to the person whom
betrayed the secrecy, and that we may add to their bad karma, and make
some for ourselves, depending upon how we handle the situation.

It is not a cut-and-dry situation, where a blanket rule can be made.
But when we read materials meant to be secret, and talk about them, we
are in a delicate situation, one where we could possible do harm.

I'm not trying to make a case that the Adyar E.S. secrets are
especially esoteric--except to those who believe in the
Besant/Leadbeater variant of Theosophy--but there is a direct analogy
to the real Mysteries. Would we reveal their secrets if we were to come
across them?

There are different degrees of betrayal of a secret. We could join an
organization, but be unfaithful to our pledges, and reveal information
entrusted to us. We could secretly copy materials that were not meant
for us to see or have. Or we could obtain materials that were lost by
their owner, or inadvertenly released, materials never intended to be
let go of, and only coming to us due to someone's mistake.

It is not always, though, in the best interest of others that secrets
be kept, beyond a certain point. Consider the Mahatma Letters. They
certainly needed to be secret at the time that they were being written.
But by the 1920's, things had changed, and they were needed to help
bring to public attention again the original Theosophy that HPB taught.

In our time, we have seen similar decisions being made regarding the
Point Loma esoteric materials. The higher E.S. materials were published
as "The Dialogues of G. de Purucker." Then the first degree E.S.
materials were published, first by Theosophical University Press,
revised and edited into a book called "The Fountain-Source of
Occultism." They were later printed, in nearly the original form of the
twelve books, by Point Loma Publications.

A case could be made that times change, and that materials that were
meant to be esoteric in one time could be published at a later date.
But we are always faced with the question: When does our need to
present some materials exceed the right of others to keep it hidden?
And is the exposing of the materials a form of our intervention in or
interference with the karma of another, the karma of the person whose
decision or mistake allowed the materials to get into our hands?

Maybe the distinction could be made between the theosophical doctrines,
as presented within the esoteric theosophical groups, and the actual
Mystery doctrines, which come to us through special training or through
some form of inner contact or guidance. Perhaps the materials taught in
the outer organizations were meant to eventually become public, and
that is why they were allowed to be written down and given wide
distribution. The other secrets, of the Mysteries, perhaps, only come
to those whose lips are already sealed against their betrayal.

We hear that we are to Know, to Dare, to Will, and to Keep Silent! I
think that we are capable of such. I think that we know when we have
something that should go unmentioned. And that we will simply forget,
or lose touch with, or never really know those great Truths that we
would betray. It is not that we are talking about things that are
beyond words, just beyond *our* words, beyond our right to speak of
them. And we will know, too, when our lips are unsealed, and we should
share what we have learned.

                            Eldon Tucker (

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