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more on theosophy historical and doctrinal

Aug 29, 1995 06:36 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

Bee Brown,

>I cut my philosophical teeth on him in 1977 when I read 20 odd
>volumes of his works. I nearly fused my neural pathways trying
>to see the huge picture he was describing. Not being church
>inclined, I found his constant references to the Bible a bit
>hard but he was a man of his times and the station in life he
>found himself in really precluded him doing it any other way. I
>did expand my mental horizons enormously and began to play with
>re-incarnation as an alternative explanation. He was the
>catalyst that eventually ended in theosophy. I have studied the
>Cosmology of SD and feel able to see an even larger picture,
>thanks to him. Sadly I find myself unable to cope with the
>biblical quotes, trying to read him again.

 I'm impressed with your success in getting through twenty
volumes of Swedenborg. I can only take him in small doses.
Swedenborg was one of the greatest of the 18th century Christian
theosophers, and continues to be influential. The poet William
Blake was an admirer of Swedenborg's writings and belonged to an
organization dedicated to their study, ironically called "The
Theosophical Society." To Blake's disappointment, the
organization was re-organized into the present day Swedenborgian
church. William Butler Yeats was also very interested in
Swedenborg, as well as William Blake.

 Though Swedenborg was a product of the Christian milieu
of the time, he was still a mystic and, I think, able to
translate some of his teachings into something quite beyond it.
To what extent he succeeded might be more of a question than
first meets the eye because of language problems. I'm thinking
of an old friend who is a student of theosophy, a natural
clairvoyant, and who used to teach Latin and Greek. She told me
once that she was hired by the Swedenborgian Foundation to re-
translate his writings from the original Latin into English.
Because of a limited education, Swedenborg's Latin was not up to
par with the intelligencia of the time, and in order to be
recognized, all scientific and philosophical works were expected
to be written in Latin. When my friend began to read these works
in their original Latin, she discovered that Swedenborg was
describing mystical experiences that were very familiar because
of her own clairvoyant experiences. But the meaning of these
narratives were obscured in the translations because the
translators were not clairvoyant, and they also had Christian
sentiments that ran counter to much of what Swedenborg had to
say. Therefore, they translated according to their own
experiences and sentiments. Needless to say, when my friends
presented her translations to the Swendenborg foundation, they
found the occult subtleties too unchristian to be comfortable
with, so her translations were rejected.

 You might be interested in a series of articles that ran in
~The Theosophist~ about 1887. It was a study of Swedenborg's
teachings compared to Theosophy, written by a Los Angeles

Rich Taylor,

>Yes, I am concerned about your definition number 5., Theosophy
>is everything and anything. That is a sure recipe to end up
>with NOTHING.

 Yes, and unfortunately the Adyar Society moves in that
direction in a very strange way. A classical definition I used
to often hear was that theosophy is of two types: small "t" and
big "T" theosophy. Big T usually referred to the theosophical
doctrines of Blavatsky, Besant, Leadbeater etc., without
distinguishing between them. Small t theosophy is everything
else that "sounds theosophical." For instance, David Bohm and
Rupert Sheldrake are supposed to have "very theosophical ideas."
With this definition, we have a loosely defined doctrine with
examples outside of the classical theosophical writers to give
more credibility to them. My experience (32 years worth) is that
most of the Wheaton membership seems to be comfortable with this
definition. Yet some find even this definition too constricting.
Thus we have the late Emily Sellon's statement (quoted by John
Algeo recently in the ~American Theosophist~) that "theosophy is
everything, but everything isn't theosophy." I think the appeal
of this definition is that it captures the spirit that students
intuitively sense of the universal nature of theosophy, not as a
doctrine, but as an approach to the development of a philosophy.
But, I stress the word "intuitive" here, because most people in
the various theosophical organizations think of theosophy as a
label for a set of doctrines more or less expounded upon by the
classical theosophical writers (e.g. Blavatsky, Judge, Besant,
Purucker etc.) thus suggesting by Sellon's statement that
theosophical doctrine is simultaneously infinitely expandable and
excluding of an un-named something that is not theosophy. This
is of course, a logical absurdity of the very type that HPB often
harangued against in her writings. Another interesting
definition was recently expressed by Patrick here on the net when
he expressed his "humble opinion" that "everything that is true
is theosophy." This implies that "theosophy" and "truth" are
synonymous terms. Once we inquire into what is met by "truth",
this definition become wrought with land mines. Are we talking
about relative truths; universal truths; ultimate truths...? If
ultimate truth is met here, then this term is often confounded
with "God." Now "theosophy", "truth" and "God" become
interchangeable. In our postmodern mood of today the very
concept of the existence of an ultimate Truth is under attack.
When you have ultimate truths, we always ends up with ultimate
authorities defining them and building a personal power base
around them. For example in a proper classical Protestant
family, the husband answers to God, the wife answers to the
husband, and the children answer to the wife, and ultimately to
the husband. This structure is not unfamiliar in the Adyar E.S.:
The head of the E.S. answers to the masters; the E.S. members
answers to the head. But even in the outer T.S., the modernist
authority structure is expressed in its ever tightening political
structure that reserves certain offices to the inner circle. But
I don't want to get into this, so if you don't follow me here,
don't worry, it isn't vital to my overall argument.

 For myself, I would prefer to define theosophy (in context
of the organizations) as a philosophy expounded by Blavatsky,
based upon the same approach used by theosophers of the past
(i.e. moving from universals to particulars). With Blavatsky as
the modern proponent that later writers take off from, the next
logical move is to use Blavatsky's writings as a bases of
comparison to the later writers. Since key terminology and
concepts have changed meaning over the last hundred years via
later theosophical writers (For instance the use of the words
"astral" and "etheric" or concepts concerning after death states,
globes and rounds and the seven principles), it is logical to
divide Blavatsky's writings and those consistent with it as
"theosophy," and later writings where terms are used differently
as "neo-theosophy." We make this same distinction between
Platonism and Neo-platonism, yet we resist this distinction for
theosophy? Why? My guess is that we resist this distinction for
the same reason that the neo-platonists resisted making such a
distinction: they honestly thought that their doctrines were
consistent with Platonism. My prediction is that history will
make this distinction for Theosophist, just as it did for the

 Since most Adyar theosophists don't make these distinctions
between the terminology of one writer as opposed to another
("After all aren't they are all expressions of the same
revelation"-- goes the argument), the flood gates are open. The
LCC is theosophy, Co-masonry is theosophy, fringe physics (Capra,
Bohm, Bentov etc.) is theosophy--where do we end up? To rewrite
Emily Sellon's phrase into something more meaningful for todays'
situation: theosophy is everything, but anything that doesn't
sound theosophical isn't theosophy.

 This of course means that theosophical statements in one
era, may take on a definite untheosophical tone in another. Thus
theosophical books must be edited. For instance, regarding CWL's
writings: the current edition of ~Man Whence How and Whiter~ is
about 1/4 the size of the original edition. His statements
alluding to darker races as being inferior doesn't fly in our
post 60's society of racial equality, so they have been removed.
References to Krishnamurti as the world teacher have all been
quietly removed. In ~The Inner Life~, a fifty page clairvoyant
description of the Martian civilization was quietly removed in
the edition immediately following the 1976 Viking mission to
Mars. It reminds me of the scene in the movie ~1984~ where
undesirable historical statements and events and people are
removed from the official records--thus cease to exist.
 In an odd way, one could somehow argue that this editing is
done in the interest of our model "There is no higher religion
than truth." But perhaps these actions are more reflective of a
variation of that model: "There is no religion higher than a
carefully edited version of the truth." In this scenerio, it is
the responsibility of the editors and publishers to help us
determine what that truth is.

 Since these editorial changes are never documented
(sometimes not even acknowledged that changes were made at all)
in the later editions, most members are completely unaware that
changes were ever made. The assumption is that the latest Quest
edition is faithful, or at least only "slightly abridged" from
the original. Thus our trusting readers believe that they are
getting the true words of say: CWL, just as he intended them to
be. Add to that, the general lack of interest in historical
inquiry, instead of a timeless wisdom, we have a theosophy that
evolves according to the decisions of the publishers, the whims
of the editors and the changing tastes of the public. Theosophy
then, becomes a rather eclectic mix of whatever we and the
Theosophical Society either actively or passively promotes it to
be through its publications and editorials and changing tastes.

 On the other hand, this view is not very far from what most
of those present in October of 1875 thought about theosophy.
They saw theosophy as superior knowledge coming from invisible
forces. This is an idea that is just crude enough to fit into
almost anyone's idea of theosophy. The question is, which
"invisible forces" are responsible for what we understand to be


>Theosophical history is useful and has it place, although I'd
>agree that there is much more awaiting us. The important
>question is what is the living reality behind the Teachings, and
>how can we engaged that reality in our everyday lives! Certainly
>whatever could happen with the Path and Masters and their work
>that went on in the 1880's can just as readily happen today!

 And I would answer that we need every tool available to us,
including historical inquiry in order to determine the difference
between "the living reality behind the teachings" and the
confusion that we have today.

[Quoted in Eldon's reply]:

>The Mahatma letters were published in the 1920s, and have been
>a steady object of attention in the Point Loma/Pasadena
>tradition. In the Adyar TS, there has been a continual growth
>of interest in the original source teachings, including those
>letters. Yet the ULT discourages its members from reading the
>Mahatma letters. So if there is any tendency towards not
>recognizing where we started from, it would seem to be more
>institutionalized in ULT than anywhere else in the movement.

 I haven't been active with ULT since 1990, but for the
previous 15 years I fairly regularly attended meetings at the
Parent Lodge in Los Angeles, and sent my daughter through
Theosophy School there. The Mahatma Letters published in ~The
Occult World~ and the letter from the Maha Chohan have always
been permitted reading for ULT people. The other 145 odd letters
to Sinnett were discouraged because they were private
correspondence, and the Mahatmas never intended for them to be
published, according to ULT wisdom. Those associates who accept
this and operate from deontological principles do not read them.
Others, with more flexible ethical systems, quietly do.

Jerry Hejka-Ekins
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