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van der Leeuw text 2

Sep 17, 1995 07:31 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


So far I have dealt with the causes of the decline of the
Theosophical Movement in its relation to the world at large. Now
we must consider the more serious causes of disintegration within
the movement.

>From its very beginning the Society has suffered from an internal
conflict which I characterized as that between realization and
revelation. In its historical meaning theosophy means
realization, the experience of the Divine within man. In that
sense, it was used in Neo-Platonic philosophy and by mediaeval
philosophers. This conception of Theosophy has been present in
theosophical teaching from the beginning. Alan was to find the
higher self within him and thereby come into conscious unity with
the Life in all things. At the same time, however, theosophy is
characterised as "the archaic system of esoteric truth in the
keeping of a brotherhood of adepts." Here Theosophy is not a
truth to be experienced by man in himself, it is a body of
doctrine possessed and guarded by a group of Adepts in whose
power it lay to reveal it to others. Thus the way of knowledge
became one of discipleship; only by becoming a pupil of one of
the Masters could man hope to partake of the esoteric truth. The
aim was to gain initiation into the Brotherhood, to enter the
Hierarchy that guarded the esoteric wisdom. This way of knowledge
is one of revelation; the divine Wisdom is received by the pupil
from his Master and handed on again by him to those less
enlightened than himself. Thus a hierarchic system of revelation
arises in which the authority of superiors is not be questioned
and the slightest hint is an order not to be criticised but to be
obeyed. The spirit is that of a spiritual army where obedience
and efficiency are greater virtues than individual creative
activity and genius. The way of realisation is the way of the
individual; its highest product is the creative genius. The way
of revelation is the way of the group; its highest product is the
perfect channel, obediently transmitting orders and power from

We must sharply distinguish revelation from authority. Authority
is a fact in nature; where a man is superior in wisdom or power
he will automatically have authority over others. That this
authority can lead to abuse of power or to tyranny and impede the
freedom of others does not invalidate the fact that superiority
in any respect means authority.

But when I speak of revelation, I mean all information claiming
to come from an unseen source, from an inaccessible authority.
Primitive man looked upon some few as being intimately related to
the gods he feared and being able to reveal their will and power.
Thus the priest was a channel through whom the will, the
knowledge and the grace of the deity could be transmitted to the
masses. Man sought for guidance of his own life by the
revelations coming to him through the appointed oracle. The
priesthood thus gained power over men's souls and were able to
enforce their own will by clothing it in the garment of
revelation from above. Therefore, revelation in the meaning in
which I use it here, is a message from an unseen authority coming
through an appointed channel.

In ordinary speech, we sometimes talk of things being "a
revelation to us," but that is not the sense in which the word is
used here. I can say that the Einstein theory is a revelation to
me, but it will be clear that no scientific work ever partakes of
the element of revelation. It does not speak in the name of an
unseen authority, the scientist speaks in his own name and what
he says can be questioned, criticised, proved or disproved. The
authority is always available, the source of knowledge is
accessible and, even though not every man has the means to prove
whether the Einstein theory is true or not, he knows that
Einstein's brother scientists have done their utmost to discover
a flaw in it.

The bulk of our theosophical literature does not partake of the
element of revelation. If a theosophist writes a book describing
his experiences in this or other worlds, or expounding his ideas
on life and its problems, there is no revelation in such a work.
The one who wrote it is available, can be questioned and
criticised, the argument of the book can be discussed and
contradicted; the entire subject remains within the realm of
reason. Yet even in the time of H.P.B. the element of revelation
was present in the Theosophical Society. Thus, in the Mahatma
Letters we find messages coming from an unseen authority through
an appointed channel. Later on, when letters were no longer
forthcoming, messages came directly through certain recognized
theosophical authorities. In these messages, the Masters would
express their desires as to what should be done or not done, what
activities undertaken or opposed, and give hints guiding the
lives of prospective pupils. Here we find real revelation:
messages from an unseen authority, inaccessible to others.
Theoretically, of course, the unseen authority is accessible to
all who succeed in raising their consciousness to its level;
practically it is not, and should any claim to have come into
touch with the same authority from whom messages were previously
received through another. that authority usually speaks through
him with a very different voice. We only need to compare the
letters from the Master K.H. produced in the time of H.P.B. and
written in her Bohemian manner interspersed with French
expressions, often somewhat racy in style, with the messages
revealed as coming from that same Master in recent years. They
breathe an utterly different spirit; where the former denied the
existence of God in any form, seen or unseen, personal or
impersonal, the latter have reintroduced him in a very personal
way indeed. Where in the Mahatma Letters the Master K.H. speaks
of religion as being the greatest evil in human civilisation, and
denounces all churches, priesthoods and ceremonials in definite
terms, his more recent messages speak with great reverence about
religion and church and endorse ceremonial and priesthood most
vigorously. One is therefore inclined to think that the source of
unseen authority for each is a strictly individual and subjective
one, an exteriorisation of their own unconscious motives. This is
still more evident with regard to all messages revealed as coming
from the World Teacher during the last fifteen years.

When Krishnamurti began speaking in his own authority, and in his
own name as the World Teacher, the things he said were widely
different in spirit and purpose from all messages thus received.
First of all, he emphatically denied being the vehicle of another
consciousness or being used by anyone who spoke through him or
inspired him. He claimed to be the World Teacher, not because
some other intelligence possessed or used him, but be cause he
had gained liberation and become one with life, which is the only
Teacher. He utterly denied having any apostles or even disciples
and rejected ceremonial, however and wherever used, as an
obstacle on the path to liberation. Neither would he have
anything to do with the occult path of discipleship and
initiation, characterising all these as "unessentials". It was
therefore inevitable that theosophists all over the world, should
have begun to doubt all previous revelations and to suspect that
these were more in the nature of subjective opinions.

It takes the mental acrobatics of trained theosophical students
to reconcile the contradictory facts contained in the earlier
revelations and the subsequent teaching of Krishnamurti. Even
though he himself strongly denies being used by another
consciousness, they claim to know better than he does what is
actually taking place in his own consciousness, and still
maintain that there is another person, the "real" World Teacher,
living in the Himalayas, who occasionally speaks through
Krishnamurti. This real World Teacher entirely endorses all
previous revelations, he has apostles and approves the ceremonial
movements, especially the Liberal Catholic Church. The fact that
Krishnamurti denies the value of all these is then explained by
the fact that he, being "only a vehicle", cannot express fully
the "glorious consciousness" which they, the speakers, know so
much more intimately than he. Thus it means nothing that he
should contradict things previously revealed, it only shows that
at that time, it was not the World Teacher speaking-but only Mr.
Krishnamurti. The interesting situation arises that a few people
are to be credited with the ability to tell us when Krishnamurti
speaks and when the World Teacher is speaking. The result would
seem to be that when the opinions agree with their own, it is the
World Teacher speaking, while otherwise it is Mr. Krishnamurti.
The only one who evidently is not to be believed, when he says
the World Teacher is speaking, is Mr. Krishnamurti himself.

It is needless to expound further the length to which
theosophical casuistry can go; the tragical fact remains that
there appears to be less desire to understand what Krishnamurti
says than to fit it in with revelations previously given. It
would be far simpler to recognize the previous revelations to
have been erroneous. But this, of course, would discredit the
cause of revelation.

Enough, however, has been said to show how fatal the effects of
revelation arc in any movement. The fact that revelation is a
message coming from an unseen authority, inaccessible to others,
places it beyond the realm of reason and makes it impossible to
criticise or discuss its value. In all discussions, which I have
ever had on the subject, the adherents of revelation would always
end by saying, "Well, all I can say is that the Master told me to
do this, and so I do it." This ends any discussion, and puts the
question beyond reason. Thus I maintain that the evil effects of
revelation are caused by the fact that revelation can only be
accepted or denied, but never criticised in the light of reason.
I know that theoretically this can be done, and whenever the
subject is brought up, we are told that theosophical leaders have
always urged their disciples to judge for themselves and not
accept anything because they said it. This, however, is theory;
in practice, one who ventured to criticise or doubt a message
coming from the Master, would suffer the silent excommunication
of the heretic, and be made to feel that he was unfit to be of
the elect. Of what value is the freedom to criticise and to judge
for oneself when, in the rare cases, where some brave soul has
ventured to do so, we are told that "in incarnations to come, he
will, through untold suffering, grope in vain for the light which
he thus wilfully rejected"? This is but Eternal Damnation in
another form. It is the threat and fear of punishment to come
which terrorises the would-be critic back into an attitude of
obedient submissiveness. In the Mahatma Letters and the
correspondence between H.P.B. and Sinnett, we can read what is
said about those who do not take a hint once given, or who dare
to argue about an order coming from above. Even Sinnett himself
was repeatedly threatened with the breaking off of all further
intercourse with his Master if he did not follow the orders
given. And there is no doubt that, if a theosophist at any time
criticises or rejects a message coming to him from the Master
through an appointed channel, he will thereby be said to have cut
himself off for a long time to come from any further such
privileges. Where simultaneously discipleship and a drawing
nearer to the Master are held up as the goal of life, it is clear
that the theoretical freedom of criticism means the giving up of
all that is held dearest and highest in the life of theosophists.

I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am in no wise denying
the existence of the Masters or the possibility of communion with
them. If I think that the Master has spoken to me, this fact
implies no revelation, but only experience: I have an experience
which may or may not be of value to me. Revelation only begins
when I transmit to others the messages thus received as coming
from that unseen authority. I should like to suggest that anyone
who thinks he or she has received a message or order from a
Master or higher authority should first see whether he himself
agrees with it, whether it awakens a response in his own soul. If
so, let him, when speaking about it to others, speak in his own
name and say, "I think this, and I will this". But never let him
say, "The Master thinks this or the Master wills this". Should
he himself not agree with the communication thus received, let
him say nothing at all. But let him never speak in the name of an
unseen authority. Revelation is still more fatal when it
interferes with the life of the individual and attempts to guide
his life, to tell him what to do or where he stands. It has been
the custom in theosophical centres to look to a few as being able
to tell others where they stand in their spiritual evolution,
whether they have taken a step forward or not. Thus spiritual
progress is made to depend on revelation, and power is given to a
few to tell others where they stand. The consequences of this are
always fatal. The absurdity of the situation becomes clear when
we consider that if these few people, supposed to be able to tell
us where we stand, were to die, we should be lost in uncertainty.
Again, if the appointed channels should disagree, as has happened
before, we have to choose whom we are going to believe and whom
not! It is inevitable that where such power in placed in the
hands of the few, their own personal likes and dislikes will
unconsciously influence the occult standing they confer on
others. These, on the other hand, may be afraid to contradict or
oppose one who has the power to bestow or withhold steps, but
will try to keep in good standing, and do what they are asked to
do. Thus a host of spiritual inquiries are born, detrimental to
the individual and to the cause he serves. But above all, the
fact remains that it is impossible at any time for any one to
tell another where he stands in spiritual progress. No one can
reveal that to you but the life that is in you. Each individual
is as a ray going forth from the centre of the circle; he can
only enter the centre of life along the ray that is his own
being, never along another. Life expresses itself in each one of
us in a way which we alone, and no one else, can know; there is a
sanctuary of life in each of us where we alone can enter and hear
the voice of we cannot enter that sanctuary by the backstairs of
revelation; there is only the royal road of our own daily
experience of life. No one can tell you what to do in life, what
work to serve but the voice of life that is within you, your own
inner vocation, your individual uniqueness. To go to another, and
to ask him what you should do or where you stand. is to violate
the life that is within you, and to shut yourself off from it.

I wish to emphasize that I do not deny the existence of the
occult path or the steps on it such as discipleship or
initiation. Their existence or non-existence lies outside the
subject I am dealing with. The element of revelation only enters
where any one, in the name of an unseen and inaccessible
authority tells others where they stand and what steps they have
taken, so that no one is supposed to have taken a step unless one
of the few acknowledged channels of revelation has affirmed him
to have done so.

Nothing would be lost if this practice with all its fatal
consequences were discontinued. If the taking of a step means an
expansion of life within, that expansion will be there and show
itself whether anyone else says you have taken a step or not.
What would it avail you if everyone acknowledged you as having
taken a step and the expansion of life were not within you, and
on the other hand, what do you lose if everyone should agree in
saying you have not taking a step and the expansion of life is in
you and shows forth in your daily life? The telling or not
telling is wholly unessential and wholly mischievous in its
consequences. It makes for a spiritual snobbery in which the
elect sit in the seats of honour, while the common herd are

Though the results of revelation are always fatal, and opposed to
the spirit of theosophy, which is realisation, it is most
dangerous where it interferes with the individual lives of people
and attempts to make them cease from work they are doing or
undertake work they have no intention of doing. Especially where
young people are concerned such interference is inexcusable. I
know cases where, on the basis of revelation, young people have
been taken out of their university studies in order that they
might dedicate themselves to "the Work". As if the Work for each
one were not that which the life within him urges him to do,
instead of the revelation coming from another! In modern
education, especially in the Montessori method, it is fully
recognized that the way of life is the way of realization. The
child is surrounded by didactic material, the only purpose of
which is to draw out its faculties and to enable it to learn by
experience. In this way the child will spontaneously grow into
that which the life within it means it to be.

Opposed to this spirit of life is the army spirit where orders
come from above and have to be obeyed without argument or delay.
It is this spirit which inevitably accompanies revelation; a
spiritual hierarchy is like a spiritual army where orders are
obeyed and not questioned. In this army-spirit individual
uniqueness and creative genius are crushed out. We cannot
therefore wonder why there has been so little creative work in
the Theosophical Society; it is because the ideal of the "band of
servers" has been obedience to revelation, and not self-
expression through realization.

There is no reason why anyone should not occasionally seek the
advice of those wiser than himself, and discuss with them his
difficulties. There is no reason why we should not try to learn
as much as we can from teachers and books, so long as we realize
that we have to make our decisions in our own name and that it is
weakness to shift the responsibility on to others. We must have
no fear to guide our own lives. Better to perish in the attempt
than go safely along the way of another.

There is no future for the Theosophical Society unless the evil
of revelation be shaken off, never to return. It is wholly
incompatible with Theosophy which is essentially experience of
the Divine, or realization. It is not another "path" or "aspect";
superstition is no path, but an error. There is a
pseudo-tolerance which agrees with the most conflicting views,
admiring them all impartially, and trying to get "some good out
of each one". This tolerance is in reality a lack of backbone, an
absence of vigorous life.

Let no one say that in my address I have denied occultism. There
is a future for occultism if it will conform to strictly
scientific methods, and submit to tests and proof. It can only
develop if it renounces entirely all spiritual or religious
claims; it has as little to do with these as ordinary science.
Just as science could not develop until it shook off the mystical
and spiritual glamour with which it was enveloped in the Middle
Ages, so the condition of progress for occultism as a science is
that it should likewise discard the halo of mystery in which it
is enveloped.

When the question is asked: Has the Theosophical Society a
future?, I can only answer that I do not know. But what I can say
with utter certainty is that iv has no future unless it breaks
free from the outworn mentality that still permeates it and is
born anew in the spirit of the new age. That spirit is one of
love of life instead of fear of life, one in which life is
welcomed even though it may destroy the beliefs in which we found
refuge hitherto.

Theosophy must cease to be a philosophy of the Beyond; it must
conquer the duality in which it is still rooted and realize that
the open door to reality lies in the here and the now, in man's
actual daily experience and nor in some higher world or some
distant future. None can open this door for us and none can close
it. It is no mystical experience for the few alone; it is for all
and it is only our fear of life that makes us incapable of
seeing it.

Theosophy has to realise that its claim of being a philosophical
system, explaining the problems of life, has no appeal to modern
man who knows that life is not a problem to be solved; to whom it
is a search and an ever increasing experience.

The Society must cease to be a brotherhood with the exclusion of
less desirable brethren; it must break down the barriers which
make it possible to speak of an "outside world", and create a new
form of membership which does not involve sectarian allegiance.

Above all, theosophists must learn to recognize the conflict that
has been inherent in theosophy from the beginning: that between
realization and revelation. Theosophy, as the realization of life
by each man in his own consciousness, is incompatible with a
hierarchic system of revelation where truth and enlightenment
come to us through others and where the guidance of our life
rests on orders received from superiors.

Modern man no longer desires a shelter or a refuge, consolation
or security. Rather than stagnate in the false repose and
happiness which these can give, he will go out alone and face the
storm of life in his own strength.

The aim of theosophy is to breed, not weaklings, but strong men.

N.V. Theosofische Vereeniging Uitgevers Maatschappij, Amsterdam

Copyright 1930
by the Author

Originally printed in Holland by Firma H. Tulp, Zwolle

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