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doctrinal and historical approaches

Oct 18, 1995 01:33 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


>Much of the conflict on this internet comes from a lack of
>clarity of what this theosophy is that we are all interested in.

Not just a lack of clarity, but a lack of agreement. We have
different models of what Theosophy is about, and talking from
different models, we find ourselves unable at times to understand

Actually I was on a slightly different track when I wrote the
above. I had in mind that the lack of clarity might be at the
root of the lack of agreement. Though the Adyar TS has no
prescribed definition of the word "theosophy", definitions do
exist. Some of these definitions are more formal than others,
and do not necessarily have anything to do with the TS; other
definitions were coined by early TS writers, and others have come
into being through the influence of the TS. I had listed some
examples of these definitions in an earlier post. The
definitions formed by early TS writers; i.e. "the Ancient
Wisdom"; teachings handed down by the Masters; etc. suggest the
existence of a body of teachings. On the other hand, the TS also
professes that it has no dogma, or that the first object is the
"sole dogma" according to HPB. Blavatsky's original meaning was
that the TS does not bind its membership to any doctrine as a
condition of membership. However, a common misinterpretation of
this no dogma statement is that there are no theosophical
teachings at all. With the freedom of belief clause, we have a
lot of people who define the theosophical teachings as anything
that suits their fancy. The TS, instead of clarifying the
confusion, long ago added to it by accommodating the error by
adding the notion of "big T and little t theosophy" Big "T"
theopsophy is anything written and published by theosophical
writers (HPB, AB, CWL, CJ etc.), and "little t" being anything
else that "sounds theosophical." This, and the notion of
continuing revelation has created a mulligan stew of conflicting
ideas that we now call theosophy.

A second form of disagreement is regarding the specific teachings
themselves. We have the HPB model, the Besant/Leadbeater model,
the Purucker model, etc. Talking from one model, we'll disagree
on philosophical points.

If the problem was only over the models, a solution would be
rather simple. We could have an open discussion comparing the
HPB model to the Purucker model, for instance. I see two other
problems however: The first problem comes in with one begins
with the assumption that there are no conflicts between the two.
At that point, an objective comparison of differences becomes
impossible. The second problem is when the student creates a
unique model out of the pieces of several other models. Jerry
S's "Gupta Vidya model" is a familiar example on this board of
such a compilation. In this case, any meaningful comparison is
impossible, unless each party undertakes to learn the other's
model. Otherwise, one ends up using the same terms with
different meanings, as we all recently witnessed.

"Lack of clarity" does not simply mean lack of agreement with
your definition of Theosophy nor your understanding of the actual
doctrines. Nor does it mean lack of agreement with *mine*, nor
with any particular participant in 'theos-l'.

No, but it does mean a communication barrier that prevents one
from discovering whether or not an agreement exists.

>Thus we tend not to repeat the doctrinal answers but rather seek
>historical answers to questions concerning the teachings.

Would you prefer to tell me the year that the apple fell on
Newton's head, or the natural philosophy that his insights led

It appears that you completely missed my meaning here.
Historical answers are concerned with what people believed at
which time. Doctrinal answers are concerned with those answers
that the organization would have us believe. For instance: a
doctrinal answer to "what are the theosophical teachings" might
include "seven principles of man"; "karma"; "reincarnation" etc.
A historical answer would ask: "At what year are you referring
to?" "The seven principles of man" was not presented until 1880,
and was later modified; "Reincarnation" was introduced around
1883; The "inner government" teaching was introduced in 1908 etc.
Therefore, an historical understanding of what the theosophical
teachings are allows for the fact that they changed from year to
year. A doctrinal answer, on the other hand, does not take this
into account, thus leaving one to assume that the theosophical
teachings appeared full blown with the Theosophical Society. So
in answer to your question, I would submit that by beginning with
the knowledge of the year that Newton published his gravitation
formulas, I can trace their influence through the scientific
revolution. This is done by an historical approach, not through
a doctrinal approach. In other words: that an apple fell on
Newton's head is a doctrinal answer. That Columbus sailed the
ocean blue in 1492 is a doctrinal answer. What Newton thought
and said about the apple falling, and how his thoughts affected
our understanding of the universe is an historical answer. How
humanity was affected by Columbus' voyage is an historical
answer. dates are not the issue to distinguish doctrinal and
historical answers. The issue has more to do with whether the
ideas are viewed in or outside of their own contexts.

>From my standpoint, a study of history can allow us to examine
the external lives of others, but does not take us closer to
making the philosophy a living reality in our lives.

On the contrary, an historical approach gives meaning that cannot
be found in a doctrinal approach. It is precisely the historical
approach that brings us closer to "making the philosophy a living
reality in out lives" ; whereas the doctrinal approach turns the
teachings into religious dogma.

There is a spiritual practice that involves the theosophical
doctrines. This practice goes beyond an intellectual
understanding, although that understanding is generally a

Yes. HPB called it Jnana Yoga; it is an intellectual approach
that takes us beyond the intellectual understanding.

The teachings are *the starting point* for answers, and leave
much work to be done by the student.

Depending upon what kind of "work" you have in mind to be done,
we might be saying the same thing here.

There is a bewildering assortment of different views offered to
the seeker in the New Age movement. The variety of views within
the theosophical community is few by comparison. But we are still
faced with the same problem of personally having to find what is
suitable for ourselves, and gradually work our way closer and
closer to an understanding of the real nature of life.

The tool one needs to cultivate in order to navigate through
these views is what HPB called "discrimination." Its development
is part of the above mentioned Jnana Yoga practice.

Jerry HE

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