historical and doctrinal
Oct 20, 1995 11:12 AM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins
>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.
My point is that the commonality of the Organizational
definitions of theosophy suggest the existence of a body of
teachings. I am not disputing the existence of those 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.
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
Yes, and this argument has often been used to justify
activities and classes in Lodges that go far afield of what one
normally thinks of as "theosophy." As I understand it, part of
the objection Wheaton expressed concerning Boston Lodge was that
its activities were "new age" rather than "theosophical." Yet,
by the very loose definitions that the Adyar Society has for
theosophy leaves them wide open for this kind of problem. The
Danish section was expelled because of a devotion to Alice
>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 HPB quote.
If studied according to her own guide lines, HPB's writings
need not to be at all limiting. She warned against making her
writings a dogma, as we both know. I think it is also
significant that in the ~Key~ she specifies that every Lodge
should have a library containing the religious and philosophical
classics. Surely she did not want this for the purpose of
decorating the walls, but to fulfill the second object of the TS.
I submit that the study of theosophy is much more than the
reading of books published by the theosophical organizations.
>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.
I believe that the distinction that you are pointing out is
a rather recent one that probably surfaced no earlier than the
mid 1980's. Before that time, big "t" and little "t" theosophy
was understood as I had described it. Ask any of the old timers
at Wheaton. However, the newer definition is evidence of the
growing confusion, since it drifts further from the original
understandings of the word "theosophy" and further confounds it
with the distinction HPB makes with "truth" and "TRUTH."
>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 regard.
It is this "revelation" that has been so close to the
underlying causes of the fragmentation of theosophy and
theosophical organizations into so many camps. HPB tried to
downplay her teachers (notice that none of her teachings are by
the authority of Master so and so). The Mahatmas tried to
impress their humanness and fallibility to Sinnett. Yet AB and
CWL played the master card, and teachings were issued under their
authority. Of course it is a matter of discrimination (which I
addressed further on) as to what is wheat and what is chaff.
However, the sudden appearance of teachings under the authority
of the Masters is for me, an alarm to be cautious.
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 impostors
in the world.
Nor has their existence been proved.
>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.
It can be. Yet, the point is that such discussion is
impossible when the discussion rests upon the undisclosed biases
that one is of a superior revelation than the other.
>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.
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.
First we need to level the playing field by bringing out
into the open biases and assumptions. For instance your
statement: "For these we'd consider how Purucker expanded upon
what HPB had said..." already reveals the assumption that GdP
"expanded" upon what HPB said." That would have to be discussed
since it represents am assumption that probably contrasts with
those held by the HPB student.
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
Or, this very conjecture may be a rationalization to justify
the (alleged) differences. We have to watch our thinking on many
>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
Because the playing field was not evened out in the
>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.)
Making clear that the model is such a personal compilation
is a first step in leveling that playing field.
>>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.
Awareness of our changing beliefs is important too--in the
evaluation of our own ideas. But I was not referring to our
beliefs, but to the prevailing beliefs of others at any given
time. Ideas themselves are born out of a background of beliefs
and values. We have to understand those beliefs and values to
fully understand those ideas.
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?
It "buys us" insight into where Besant got her ideas; how
she regarded them; how and why they came to be accepted; who and
what was a major influence upon her; etc. This background of
information gives us a foundation to evaluate her ideas far
beyond the "they feel right to me" way of measuring ideas. IMHO,
whether or not ideas "feel right" is most more likely an
emotional decision than an intuitive one. My observation is that
most people don't make much of a distinction between the two.
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.
Too bad that it isn't that simple. Our current situation is
a child of the past. If we have no past, then there is no
context for the present. We must be cogniscent of both.
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.
That would be a doctrinal approach, and most people live by
>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.
They did not start out a "organizational propaganda", but
once ideas are embraced by an organization, they by necessity
become so. It is the historical approach that side steps the
"organizational propaganda" aspect in order to look at the
>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
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.
If you want to teach theosophical doctrine, then this is
fine. No historical understanding of the teachings in necessary.
Just read the books and parrot the teachings until you can put
them into your own words. This had been done for years and is
IMHO DEAD. I taught theosophy this way for many years, and
don't teach it this way any more.
>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.
Yours is a good doctrinal approach.
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,
Can you prove that somebody had not "made up in an ad hoc
fashion" these teachings? Of course you can't. Is it important
whether they we "made up" or not? From a doctrinal point of
view--yes. From a historical point of view--no. From an
historical approach, the questions of veracity; how people are
affected by the teachings; and how one is personally affected by
the teachings are the important questions. Whether or not the
teachings were "progressively put into words..." is a belief that
cannot be confirmed by ordinary experience. Personally, I prefer
as much as possible not to lean on that which I cannot confirm.
If and when I learn to astral project to the snowy Himalayas and
have tea with the Mahachohan every other thursday afternoon, I'll
let you knom.
>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.
Right. But more importantly, doctrine within a vacuum
creates a canon of dead letter teachings.
>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
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.
Yet we have the published writings to indicate the nature of
>This is done by an historical approach, not through a doctrinal
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?"
It not only deals with this question, but gives context to
>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.
"Historic facts"; perhaps--"commonly held beliefs";
definitely. In other words: doctrine.
>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
Yes. It is the historical understanding that gives the
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!
This is a classic doctrinal position you are presenting
here, and is not what HPB had presented. Even those "living
truths" were communicated in an historical and cultural context.
of Christianity and its relationship to gnosticism. HPB explores
magic, science and phenomena through an historical context. In
the flowering and oppression of the theosophical movement trough
the cultures over the centuries. The teachings are one by one
discussed through the comparison and contrast of historical
religions and cultures ancient and modern. ~The Key to
Theosophy~ opens with an account of the relationship of theosophy
to neo-platonism. In fact, take any of HPB's books or articles
and you will find the subject matter in each of them to be
treated in a historical way. Even ~The Voice of the Silence~,
which is a translation, has footnotes explaining the teachings in
a historical and cultural contexts.
>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 our 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.
This is one approach.
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.
Whether or not Plato's archetypes are "real in their own
right" is a matter of debate, as the transcendental reality of
the teachings. One may come to that personal realization, but to
accept this transcendent view of theosophy from the start is a
doctrinal and religious approach. IMHO it is better to begin
one's study of theosophy in a historical context and not as a
revelation. As one's understanding of the ideas grow, then one
will come to deeper realizations concerning them.
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