Re: doctrinal and historical approaches
Oct 18, 1995 10:25 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker
>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.
The word "Theosophy" is indeed used in many different ways.
>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.
And I would say that there is such teachings, regardless of our
choice to apply the word "Theosophy" to them or nor.
>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.
This is a good idea, and allows for an open study of Theosophy.
>However, a common misinterpretation of
>this no dogma statement is that there are no theosophical
>teachings at all.
We've heard that far too many times! Or that since there is freedom
of thought, that anyone's views, based on the teachings or in total
disagreement of them, may be taught from a theosophical platform.
>With the freedom of belief clause, we have a
>lot of people who define the theosophical teachings as anything
>that suits their fancy.
Agreed. But on the other hand, we shouldn't be afraid to explore
the teachings, and to go farther with them in our personal studies,
even when unsupported by the authoritative texts. We'd be no better
than a fundamentalist Christian that seeks Bible quotes for everything,
if we could not entertain a thought that was not first found in a
>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"
>theosophy is anything written and published by theosophical
>writers (HPB, AB, CWL, CJ etc.), and "little t" being anything
>else that "sounds theosophical."
I've heard distinctions made on 'theos-l' regarding differing
perferences for the use of the big and little 't'. One is that
the big 't' is reserved for some form of absolute truth, and the
little one for the literal doctrines of the T.S. I don't myself
go along with this, and would always use the big 't', considering
Theosophy to be a religious philosophy or the Wisdom Religion.
>This, and the notion of
>continuing revelation has created a mulligan stew of conflicting
>ideas that we now call theosophy.
When someone is authorized by the Masters to present to the public
certain occult knowledge, that could be considered revelation. We
cannot speak for the Masters as to when and how *they* choose to
do so. We know what HPB has said, and what is said in "The Mahatma
Letters", and by others we might consider authoritative in this
I agree that the conflicting views arise from various individuals
claiming to represent the Masters when they do not. Their mix of
theosophical ideas and personal views can be confusing. We cannot,
though, deny the Masters, when and where they actually work, simply
because there are so many pretenders and imposters in the world.
>>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.
This can be a useful learning exercise.
>I see two other problems however: The first problem comes in with
>one begins with the assumption that there are no conflicts between
We would need to examine the differences. Some may be additional
teachings on the same subject, like moving from a sevenfold
scheme to a tenfold or twelvefold scheme, or in making the distinction
between the Inner Rounds and the Outer Rounds. For these we'd consider
how Purucker expanded upon what HPB had said, and if what he said
seemed useful and to make sense.
A second type of comparison is regarding where Purucker conflicts
with Blavatsky, or disagrees with her. I'd need to judicate in my
mind the differences and see if it was just a matter of emphasis or
viewpoint, or if one of the two was wrong. Having made that comparison,
I'd then have to make a choice in my thinking.
The fact that there are some differences does not mean that one of
the two represents the Masters and the other does not. It can mean
that people are subject to error and either could have made a
mistake or have misunderstood their own training in the Mysteries.
>At that point, an objective comparison of differences becomes
Why? We examine the differences then make a choice. It's a separate
choice as to *which* individuals are representatives of the Masters.
>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.
This would be an example of one's personal understanding, that if
taught as such is fine. (That is, with an open recognition of the
differences between it and the HPB or CWL models.)
>>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
While I agree that our beliefs change over time, and what we
believe as teenagers may be entirely different than what we
entertain in our 60's, I'm not sure how important this is.
The historical aspect may be useful to determine, for instance,
that Annie Besant wrote a certain way when Blavatsky was alive,
and another way in the 1920's while Krishnamurti was being promoted
as the coming Christ. It may help explain why her books may differ
from each other a bit. But what does this buy us?
What we face at this moment in time is our current beliefs, and
the current beliefs of others. It is in the living present that we
have to deal with our thoughtlife, and how it enables or blocks us
from a direct experience of the living reality of life.
We can look at what our teachers and gurus have thought in
different stages in their lives, but more important is *what they
teach us now*. It is our current challenge in learning about and
gaining insight into life -- this is what is important.
>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.
There is both a *content* and a *process* involved in coming to
the Mysteries. The doctrines taught us are a mild, fragmentary
version of the content. I would find the thought that these grand
truths are "what an organization would have us to believe" to be
a form of discounting them. True, they are much more than the
mere words on the printed page, which can leave us empty-handed,
but they don't consist of organizational propaganda.
>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.
If we want to know what people were being taught in 1880, 1883, or
1908, that would be useful. But more important is what we're
being taught and teaching others in 1995. We should concern
ourselves with its quality.
>Therefore, an historical understanding of what the theosophical
>teachings are allows for the fact that they changed from year to
I don't think that the theosophical teachings change from year to
year. Initial teaching may be followed by further occult knowledge
over years, decades, or centuries. The initial teaching, of course,
could also be followed by corruption and be lost over time, buried
in speculation and personal opinions. How will we know? We can
observe the introduction of ideas over time, but this does not
tell us which are new teaching and which are error. The only way
to know for sure is to undertake the Path ourselves and come to
other ways of validating *to ourselves* what is correct.
If we were to say that the teachings change from year to year, that
would imply that they are being made up in an ad hoc fashion, which
I would disagree with. I would rather consider them being progressively
put into words, in a Western language, over time.
>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.
It does not take into account that less teachings were available
at first, and that both further teachings along with possible
error were introducted over time since then.
>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
With Theosophy, what teachings are accessible to the public may
change with each generation. And also changing is the purity versus
degree of adulteration of the teachings. We can examine this in a
historical context. But for us, *as individuals*, we are not limited
by what is available to the public in this or any particular generation.
We are only limited by the depth of our spiritual practice and how
far our studies take us.
>This is done by an historical approach, not through a doctrinal approach.
Yes, and it's akin to spiritual sociology or anthropology, rather than
spiritual psychology which deals with *our* individual practice. It
asks "at this time, what was openly available, and how did it affect people?"
or "how did this idea in that age affect subsequent generations?" But it
does not deal with the question: "what are the Mystery Teachings and how
can a student approach them today?"
>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.
Those are historic facts, and they are commonly held beliefs.
>What Newton thought
>and said about the apple falling, and how his thoughts affected
>our understanding of the universe is an historical answer.
The philosophy and knowledge, as it is today, is doctrine of the scientific
community. The history of science tells us how we came to the current
scientific thought. History tells us how we got here, the geneology of
ideas, but in the doctrine we have the treasury of what is now known, and
working with that treasury leads us into the future.
>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.
This is a slightly different point now. Instead of history dealing with the
evolution (or degeneration) of ideas over time, we're now talking about
taking ideas inside or outside of their cultural context.
Since Theosophy deals with timeless truths, and with things that go far
beyond our current cultural context, they would of necessity be doctrines.
And since when we initiate our personal evolution, and step outside the
cultural norms, we're personally outside that context in our inner lives,
if not the outer lives. The popular conception of Theosophy may change,
and when viewed as a social phenomena, could be considered in a historic
sense, but the living truths are an entirely different matter!
>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.
The value to seeing how the popular conception of Theosophy changed
over time can aid us in being more flexible in our approach to it,
not getting too rigid in accepting the mere words that we're currently
offered in the books.
Making the philosophy a living reality in our lives deals first
with understanding the teachings in our own words, then going further
with them, approaching an inner sense of *knowing*. It is a spiritual
practice. We don't take things dogmatically, but learn to question and
freshly reconsider things not only upon first hearing them, but each
time we think about them.
The historic approach objectivizes the teachings, treating them as
a historic phenomena, something to observe, whereas they are an
integral part of the Mysteries. They should be accepted, I'd say, as
something real in their own right, like Plato's archetypes, rather
than considered as the byproduct of history and specific individuals
that seem to originate ideas.
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