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Buddism vs Theosophy

Dec 30, 1994 09:03 PM
by Jerry Schueler

Daniel posts 5 good questions.  I couldn't help jotting down my
own answers:

(1) What is the relationship between Theosophy and Buddhism?

       Actually, rather little, except that both HPB and HSO took
       vows and became Buddhists.  HPB suggests that she was taught
       esoteric Buddhism in Tibet.  But the language of Tibetan
       Buddhism was difficult at that time, and she had to translate
       as best she could.  However, HPB was probably the very first
       person to teach the Mahayana doctrine to the West.  Until her
       works, nost folks in the West knew only Hinayana.  Probably
       the best discussion of this can be found by G de Purucker, in
       his Dialogues.

(2) Why study Theosophy and its interpretation of Buddhism when
the seeker nowadays has access to genuine Buddhist traditions and
also has access to many Buddhist teachers?

       A very good question.  If you want real Buddhism, I would
       suggest Snow Lion Publications or Dharma Books rather than TS
       material, which is at best confusing for folks today.  H.H.
       the Dali Lama has some excellent books in print, if anyone
       wants the real true basics of Tibetan Buddhism.  However,
       theosophists do not really want authentic Buddhism for the
       simple reason that few are Buddhists, nor do most want to
       become Buddhists (I fall into this category myself, though I
       love to read Buddhist texts and have great respect for the
       Mahayana).  There is, however, a strong parallel between
       esoteric (i.e., what you find in the "higher" teachings, such
       as those found in Alexandra David-Neel's 'Secret Oral
       Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects', one of my personal
       favorites) of the Mahayana and theosophy.  Also, theosophy
       follows the path of the Bodhisattva (probably the chief
       difference between the two Buddhist factions); thus most
       theosophists disagree with the Hinayana (Theravadin)

(3) A Buddhist lama personally told me that Theosophy does not
give a valid presentation of Buddhism or of Tibetan Buddhism.  He
said that Madam Blavatsky even distorted some of the teachings of
Tib.  Buddh.  Why read Blvatsky's distortions when one can
encounter geniune Budd.  teachings by various Buddhists teachers?

       Good questions.  The lama is correct.  The reasons are as I
       have stated in no.  2.  One distortion, for example, is HPB's
       disapproval of sexual magic.  If you read much Tibetan
       Buddhism, you will come across the term "action seal" or
       karmamudra (H.H.  the Dali Lama, in accord with 'real'
       Tibetan Buddhism approves of this, though I doubt that he has
       ever practiced it).  To put it bluntly, this is a person of
       the opposite sex who is to become your sex partner in the
       traditional yum-yab position - objective: development of
       bliss.  While I personally approve of this in theory, I have
       never practiced it.  I regard it as being a little too
       dangerous (the name itself suggests this - 'karma-mudra.' I
       suppose that this is also why HPB gave it so many bad raps.
       Her definition of nirmanakaya is also different (I personally
       prefer hers).

(4) Isn't it true that Theosophy is more dependent on Hinduism
for its teach- than on Buddhism?

       I don't think so.  As I said, HPB and Olcott both prefered
       Buddhism to Hinduism.  Theosophy attempts to combine all
       religions in what it perceives to be the fundamental truth
       behind each of them.

(5) My limited understanding of Buddh.  is that the Buddha taught
the doctrine of anatta "no soul" yet Theosophy talks about all
kinds of souls, etc.  Isn't there a definite conflict between the
two systems of thought on this issue of "soul"? Mme B.  talks
about "Atman" in the Key but I thought it was a fundamental
teachings of Buddhism (especially the Southern School) that there
was no-"Atman." I'm confused.

       Here is another very good question.  If you can get some of
       the past dialogues from this theos-l, you will find where
       Eldon Tucker answers this question very well.  There are two
       modes of viewing the world: as monads or as streams.
       Theosophy takes the monad approach while Buddhism takes the
       stream approach.  I also prefer the stream approach.  I think
       that the monad theory is misleading as often stated (i.e.,
       exoterically) because actually all monads but the divine grow
       and evolve, and thus change over time, and thus are really
       streams.  Many theosophist have the idea that even the divine
       monad evolves.  Since it is outside of spacetime (evolution
       is a progress of some kind over time) I prefer to think of
       our union with it as a return home having completed a large
       circle.  The monad doctrine lead early theosophist into the
       idea of group souls; a term which implies a lack of
       individuality but rather a collective individuality rather
       like insects.  G de P suggests that animals have group souls
       while humans do not (I think ?).  I personally think that all
       living beings have one group soul, humans included, but that
       we somehow retain individuality in it - the oneness and lack
       of any sense of personal self experienced by all the world's
       mystics, for example.  Anyway, the idea that animals have no
       personality can be challenged by anyone who has lived with a
       pet.  All living beings have an individual personality, but
       this changes over time and so is really a stream and thus has
       no suchness or think-in-itself-ness to it at all.  So
       theosophists and Buddhists are both right, but approach the
       idea from different angles.

    Hope this helps.   Jerry S.

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