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van der Leeuw text (con'd)

Sep 17, 1995 01:42 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins

an illusion of bliss. The theosophist had such consolation and
such soporifics. No suffering could come to him, but he would
soothe his outraged humanity by a rationalizing process in which
he proved to himself that the suffering had to come to him, and
that it would be good for him. These attempts at explanations,
however, blind man to the true meaning of things that happen to
him; they tempt his attention away from the event itself, which
again is the here and the now, and lead it to some imaginary
cause or result. Thus the meaning of the event which lies in the
actual experience, escapes him and he is no richer, no wiser for
his suffering.

In a similar way, theosophy claims to have an explanation of the
great problems of life: why the world was created and how, what
happens after death, why man lives and what he will become. Here
again, the process of rationalizing leads the attention away from
the mystery of life which can only be experienced in the present.
Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be
experienced. It is the consummate ease with which theosophy
explained all problems and all events that has ever made true
artists and thinkers fight shy of it. They know too well that
life cannot be contained in any system, and that the purpose of
thought is not to explain life but to understand it, by

A system of thought always brings about a state of mental
certainty and repose in which there remains only one fear, that
of being disturbed by doubt. That is why there has been no place
for thinkers in the Theosophical Society; a thinker is always a
disturbing influence. Theosophy, by claiming to offer a system of
thought that would explain life and its problems, has not only
scared away thinkers and artists, but has attracted the mediocre
mind that seeks intellectual comfort and not truth. This explains
why the theosophical movement, in the fifty years of its
existence, has been so singularly lacking in creative or original
thought; these were excluded automatically.

Once again, the great change that has taken place in the world
has passed by the Theosophical Society completely. Modern man has
rediscovered life and has consequently lost faith and interest in
any systems of thought claiming to explain life or solve its
riddles. He knows but too well that life can only be understood
by the realisation that comes through experience, not by any
solutions or doctrines. Our modern age has emerged beyond that
narrow conscious life which previously was all that man
recognized in his speculations. He is now aware of the
unconscious without which the conscious remains unintelligible.
He knows that life, not being consciousness, is irrational and
neither logical nor just. It is therefore in vain to look for
ethical explanations of its happenings or moral results of the
sufferings it inflicts on us. These can neither explain nor
justify the events that take place. The meaning of the event can
only be approached through the actual experience of it, and all
search for shelter, refuge or consolation leads man away from it.
Modern man, therefore, has no interest in a system of thought,
however ingenious and elaborate, that would allay his fears and
offer him a false repose by its attempts at explaining life. He
does not want to be protected; he does not seek the warm and
drowsy comfort of the fireside, he would rather go out naked and
alone into the storm of life than be safe in a shelter that
excludes it. He would rather perish in that storm than live in a
false security. He does not seek happiness, but life itself,
reality. Therefore, a philosophy which offers him the supposed
security of explanations and solutions has no appeal to him, it
is no longer valid. He who in these modern days claims to have
solved the problems of life only succeeds in compromising

If there is to be any future for the Theosophical Society, it
will have to renounce utterly its claim of having solved the
riddles of life and being a repository of truth; instead it will
have to unite those who search for truth and for reality whatever
these may bring by way of suffering and discomfort. The seeker
after truth welcomes disturbance and doubt, the very things which
were and are feared most by theosophists.

In yet another respect does the Theosophical Society breathe the
atmosphere of last century. It is in the desire to unite in one
brotherhood all who think or feel alike. Thus the theosophical
Society aimed at forming a nucleus of brotherhood. Such a nucleus
however always defeats its own ends. It cannot escape becoming a
brotherhood with the exclusion of less desirable brethren. The
moment we unite a number of people in such a nucleus we have
created a sect, a separate group walled off from the rest of the
world and there by from life.

We show the truth of this each time we speak, as we so often do,
of the "outside world". The words imply that we ourselves are
inside something. Inside what? Inside some thing that keeps that
"outside world" outside that same something! Inside a barrier
which we have erected around us and by means of which we have
shut out those who think differently. That barrier of elaborate
beliefs and doctrines has so efficiently shut out the dreaded
"outside world" that no fresh air from that world has succeeded
in penetrating its inner fastnesses, and the Society has breathed
for fifty years nothing but the atmosphere of its own thoughts
and beliefs. At its meetings it was always theosophists who told
other theosophists about the theosophical doctrines which they
all knew already. The one thing that was prevented unanimously
was the introduction of foreign ideas which might challenge or
doubt the established doctrines. This exclusion of the outside
world has been most manifest in the lodge life. It was in the
snug and stuffy intimacy of lodge life that theosophical
orthodoxy could breed; there, in a small circle of mediocre
minds, all thinking and believing alike, a warm brotherliness
could arise, uniting all in the delightful certainty of
possessing the esoteric truth while the outside world lived on in

On my last lecture tour I visited a lodge, the president of which
told me that his lodge was "just one happy family". This roused
my misgivings, for I know what such happy families are like. Then
he continued saying that a few years back there had been a member
who was always questioning and challenging everything, causing
disturbance at their otherwise harmonious meetings. But now that
member had left their lodge, and all was harmony again. He meant,
of course, that the blissful drowsiness of their intellectual
slumbers which had for a while been disturbed by the one member
who happened to be alive had been re-established.

It is quite true that, theoretically, our platform is free, that
we have no dogmas, and that everyone is free to criticise. But if
he does, he will suffer a silent ex-communication which will
effectually cold-shoulder him out of the nucleus of brotherhood.
He will be made to feel that his conduct is scandalous and
unbrotherly, that he is in the throes of the
lower mind, that he is attacking theosophy, and laying himself
open to the influence of the Dark Powers. And this attitude holds
good not only among groups of ignorant members; I have found it
right up to the highest authorities. Therefore, the talk about a
free platform and the perfect freedom of thought does not impress
me; I know that there is no such freedom, but rather an
unconscious orthodoxy that has almost succeeded in killing out
the critical faculty among theosophists altogether.

If the Society, in its pride, had not been so certain that it
walked in the light and had been called to bring this light to a
world in darkness, it might have noticed that the barriers, which
it built up between itself and the outside world, prevented the
light of life from coming in, so that it lived in darkness, while
in the outside world a new and great light had arisen. That world
has rediscovered the life about which theosophists talked, and
consequently, it will not suffer any more barriers. Therefore
truly modern men and women will no longer be come members of any
Society, so long as they feel that its brotherhood is a sect and
its freedom of thought an orthodoxy. The "outsider" feels that,
by entering the theosophical Society, or any other spiritual
movement, he subscribes to a creed which excludes him from the
rest of the world, and enters a brotherhood which will make him
different from all who do not belong to it.

If the Theosophical Society is to survive, if it is to attract
those whom it has always endeavoured, and generally failed, to
attract, it will have to change its ways entirely. Above all, the
traditional lodge with its traditional meetings should be
abolished. There is no more dreadful mutual burden than that of
the lodge which has to meet every Tuesday night and then think of
something to do. The result must be a burden or an artificial
semblance of life.

Once again, if the theosophical Society is to continue, the old
form of membership which implies the silent acceptance of a
creed, must go, and a loose organisation take its place in which
membership no more makes a man part of a sect than would, for
instance, membership of the National Geographic Society. Modern
man will suffer no barriers that shut life out in a
supposed "outside world"; he seeks the
free and unimpeded contact with life.

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