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van der Leeuw text 1

Sep 17, 1995 07:26 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

The Conflict in Theosophy

J.J. van der Leeuw, LL.D.

[Lecture delivered to the London Federation of the Theosophical
Society on June 15th, to the Dutch Convention on June 21st, and
to the Geneva Congress of the European Federation on June 30th,

There was a time when no doubt seemed possible about the future
of the T. S. We had been told that the Masters of the Wisdom had
founded it and that it was to be the key stone of the religions
of the future. Consequently the possibility of its failure hardly
occurred to members; empires might crumble, churches might cease
to be, but the Theosophical Society would continue throughout the

Of late, however, very serious doubts have arisen in the minds of
many concerning this future. The world at large is no longer as
interested in theosophy or the theosophical movement as it was
forty years ago. Then the Society was opposed as a dangerous
pioneer movement, now it is regarded with indifference and looked
upon as a relic of the past rather than a promise of the future.
In almost every Section there is a serious falling off of book
sales showing that the literature which once appealed to the
public, is no longer desired.

More serious even than the indifference of the modern world with
regard to the movement is the conflict within it. I am not
speaking about a conflict between personalities; these do not
matter. The conflict is one between different standpoints, views
of life. I would define these as the conflict between revelation
and realization. This conflict has been inherent in the
theosophical movement from its inception, and has become acute
since 1925. It was then that on the one hand revelation became
fantastic and thereby questionable and on the other hand
realization was emphasized by Krishnamurti as the way of life.

A system of revelation is only possible when there is one oracle,
or channel of revelation, the authority of which is not to be
questioned. A plurality of oracles is death to revelation. When
in I 925 it was announced that the World Teacher would have
twelve apostles as before in Palestine and when Krishnamurti
himself denied having any apostles or disciples at all it was
inevitable that members should begin to ask whether this
revelation as well as previous ones was to be trusted or not.
Previously the ceremonial movements had gained their adherents
largely because they were announced as a preparation of the work
of the coming teacher. In his name and on his authority were they
launched forth and those who took part in them felt they were
doing the teacher's work. When he began his teaching and denied
the value of ceremonial, calling it an obstacle to liberation,
there were again many who asked themselves how this contradiction
could be explained. Many and ingenious were the explanations put
forward, but the fact remained that the faith in revelation had
been shaken forever. The consequence of this has been that the
work and self-sacrifice of members in so far as these were based
on such faith in revelations, has fallen off considerably. In the
hearts of many doubt and despair have taken the place of
unquestioning belief. The inevitable result is a process of
disintegration, in which many of the most serious members leave a
movement in which they no longer have confidence.

It is my intention in this lecture to seek out the causes of this
disintegration and, if possible, to find a cure. I shall
therefore criticize quite frankly. Now criticism has always been
exceedingly unpopular in the Theosophical Society. In theory our
platform is free, but in practice one who thinks differently from
the rest, though perfectly free to do so, will find no platform
to express his thoughts. There has always been fear of any idea
that might disturb the harmony among the members. Criticism,
however kindly expressed, was immediately branded as "cruel and
unjust attacks", as "unbrotherly" and in the last resort as being
under the influence of the Dark Powers. It is the mediaeval
attitude of mind where the sulphur smell of satanic activity is
detected whenever an opinion is expressed different from its own.

I speak for love of truth, not to attack theosophy. The one thing
I should like to ask you is to credit me at least with the
sincere desire of helping our members in the present state of
confusion and not to suspect me of sinister intentions. I feel
like a doctor at a patient's bedside; he must look for the organs
that are diseased and can only help the patient by seeking out
every cause of ill health. When a doctor says that the patient's
heart is diseased we do not call him unbrotherly or say that he
is attacking the patient most cruelly; we do not tell him that he
should look only for the good in the patient and not for the
evil, and that he should rather emphasize the sound state of the
lungs than the diseased condition of the heart. I have to speak
of the unhealthy symptoms in the theosophical movement and it is
only by a thorough criticism that we can hope to analyze them.

In criticizing theosophy we must first of all ask: which
theosophy? Historically the word means the experience of the
divine, in distinction to theology which is discussion about God.
This experience of the ultimate, of reality, of life, of truth,
is beyond all discussion. It exists wherever a man has it and
cannot be criticized or denied. Secondly, the word has been used
in an early theosophical manifesto as "the archaic system of
esoteric wisdom in the keeping of the brotherhood of adepts."

I shall refer to this conception later on, but at present I am
not dealing with it. Thirdly, theosophy is taken to mean the
system of doctrines put forward in literature or lectures since
the beginning of the Theosophical Society. This is what the world
at large knows as theosophy. Finally, there is the practice in
important centres of theosophical work, where, in the work
actually done and in the aims held before people, we can see what
is looked upon as valuable. At the moment I am speaking only
about these last two forms of theosophy, that is to say, about
that which has been presented to the world in books or lectures
or can be seen in centres of theosophical work.

This theosophy was born in the Victorian Era. The end of the
nineteenth century was a period divorced from life. Man had lost
the sense of vital relations and had made objective absolutes out
of things which have meaning only as living relations. Thus he
looked upon the world surrounding him as an objective universe
standing opposite him, independent of his consciousness. Actually
what we call the world surrounding us is the way in which we
interpret the reality that affects our consciousness. This
interpretation in terms of our consciousness is our world-image
which is real only with relation to the consciousness of which it
forms part. As long as this relation is recognized all is well;
life or reality affects man and through him is externalized as a
world-image in his consciousness. Man is the focus through which
this process takes place, and there is an unimpeded flow of life,
reality affecting him and, through him, becoming world-image.
When however, man forgets that he is only a focus of reality and
feels himself as a separate being, a soul or a spirit, all
changes. Instead of recognizing that what he calls the world is
his interpretation, in terms of consciousness, of the reality
that affects him, he objectivates that world-image and makes it
into an absolute, opposite him: the world of matter. In a similar
way he separates himself from that life which creates the
world-image in him, he objectivates that too and calls it God or
Spirit. Thus he finds himself isolated between two worlds: a
world of gross matter outside and a world of subtle spirit
within. This duality henceforth rules his life and in practice he
has to choose between its two elements. This choice is one
between materialism and idealism.

In the 19th century this antithesis was a very real one, and
theosophy, based on that dualism, identified itself with the
idealistic world-view as against the materialistic. It fought the
materialism of its day and was frankly idealistic or spiritual in
its philosophy. It still is; in theosophical doctrine the
spiritual world is looked upon as the real world in which man,
the higher Self has his true home. From that world he descends
into these lower worlds of matter where through his "lower
bodies" he gathers experience. When, through this experience his-
Self has become perfected, it returns to that world beyond,
whence it came. Thus theosophy is a philosophy of the Beyond; its
ultimate reality is not this physical world but a world removed
from it by several stages, its fulfilment is not in the present
but at a future time when perfection shall be reached. Thus, in
space and time, it is a philosophy of the Beyond.

The world has changed considerably since the 19th century. The
greatest change has been that it has rediscovered life and
thereby re-established the vital relations which were lost in a
period of dualism. Thus modern man no longer recognizes a duality
of spirit and matter or, in scientific terms, force and mass, but
sees these two as convertible quantities which appear as one or
the other according to the position of the observer. A new
outlook on life has been born which is neither idealistic nor
materialistic, still less a compromise between the two. We can
define it as a new realism in the light of which idealism
appears as out worn as materialism. Its reality is not a world or
worlds beyond, but the meaning of this world as of any other
world, man being as near to reality in the physical world as in
any other world in which he i might live. Similarly the
fulfilment of life is not seen as a far off apotheosis of
ultimate perfection but in the realization of life here and now.
Man himself is the open door to reality, he is the focus through
which reality becomes world-image and in his own actual
experience of the moment he can therefore find the open door to
all life. This is no mystic state, no "merging into the
absolute", if such a thing were possible; it is a process taking
place in the actual common experience of the actual present
moment at the actual place where man finds himself. The
experience you have at this actual moment at this place is the
open door to reality-nothing else. It is in the here and the now
that the way of life is to be found.

The men and women of the new age have therefore no time for a
dualistic philosophy which preaches an outworn idealism, they
have no interest in a philosophy of the Beyond. And such, in
their eyes, is theosophy. It was born in an age of dualism, it
allied itself with one of its two elements, the spiritual, it
elements, its reality in a world beyond and its perfection at a
future date and is in that respect a relic of the past rather
than a promise of the future.
Unless its philosophy becomes one of the here and the now,
recognizing that reality or life can only be approached through
the actual experience of the moment, and nowhere else, there is
no future for it and it will cease to have other than a
historical interest.

Another characteristic of the 19th century was its fear of life.
Where man has disconnected himself from life he is afraid of it
and seeks a shelter or refuge. He looks for a final certainty, a
system which will solve all problems of life so that Life, which
he dreads, shall not be able to take him unawares or upset his
comfortable existence. A system of philosophy therefore which
claims to solve the problems of life and to be able to explain
all that happens has a very strong appeal for such a, man.
Theosophy was such a philosophy; it claimed to have an answer to
the problems of life, to have solved its riddles. Even its
enemies must acknowledge that theosophists are unequalled in
explaining all that happens, how ever contradictory. With a true
virtuosity they perform the mental acrobatics by means of which
they can assert or believe one thing and yet find an explanation
when the facts of life contradict it.

Here the desire for truth is not so great as the desire to make
life fit in with a preconceived system. Man feels safe only when
nothing that happens to him in daily life escapes the system of
rational explanation which he has built up. When something
happens to him he wants to explain why it happened and what it is
"good for" ultimately. Thus he fits it in into his system of
thought; he has rationalized the event. When Krishnamurti began
his teaching the difficulty for most theosophists was not so much
that they could not understand the teaching as that they could
not fit it into their system of thought. The question was not:
What does he mean? but: How can this be reconciled with what we
have been taught before? Life, however, can never be reconciled
to preconceived thoughts, neither can it be rationalized. Life is
not an intelligence, therefore it is neither rational nor
logical; it has no cause and no purpose. The attempt to
rationalize the suffering that comes to us in life, to show that
we have deserved it, and that it is "good for something"
ultimately, is therefore doomed to failure; we cannot tame life
in this way.

It is curious to see how man dreads the thought of life being
beyond explanation. He wants consolation, a drug which will dull
his suffering or a soothing sleeping draught which will give him
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