Buddism vs Theosophy
Dec 30, 1994 09:03 PM
by Jerry Schueler
Daniel posts 5 good questions. I couldn't help jotting down my
(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
(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
(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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