Theosophy is a Coined Term
Jun 07, 1996 11:50 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker
[writing to Jerry S]
>Capitalized ~Theosophy~ has already been defined by John
>Algeo, Eldon, and others as basically those ideas found
>in the writings of HPB (and perhaps a few other associated
I'd make a few subtle distinctions here. I wouldn't put it
as "those ideas found in the writings of HPB", but rather
say that it is a body of ideas consistent with what HPB
wrote. HPB may have made mistakes at times, and was
limited by the lack of terminology and words to use in
English to describe the grand truths. But HPB was, I
think, a *known source* of certain materials, not the
*originator* of the materials.
This would be like saying that ideas about calculus would
be consistent with the writings on calculus by a known
professor of mathematics. That is different than saying
that calculus is basically the ideas found in the writings
of a particular mathematical teacher.
>John even seems to want to make the ~Theosophical~ in
>~The Theosophical Society~ officially stand for just this
>definition; Eldon has never actually gone that far, but
>one suspects that this development would not disappoint him.
I would see a use for a diversity of specializations
among theosophical organizations, including one or a
few with a -- gasp! -- actual interest in preserving and
passing on the source teachings of Theosophy.
>I have more or less given up trying to persuade people
>that capitalized ~Theosophy~ should be restricted to two
>meanings: 1) the organization/movement, and 2) the ineffable
But there are more things in life that the word could
refer to than we can cover by making "Theosophy" into
two words: Theosophy and theosophy. Yet a third use of
the term would be for the body of Mystery Teachings that
has passed down from generation to generation of Adepts,
fragments of which are in the theosophical literature.
This is not the finger pointing at the Moon, not writings
about the ineffable, but rather deals with several
levels of ordinary knowledge about life, levels that
match the deeper understanding of the Mahatmas,
Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas.
>The "convenient habit" of simply referring to the ideas
>in THE SECRET DOCTRINE etc. as "Theosophy" seems just too
There's nothing wrong here. It's just that the word
"Theosophy" is being used in a *third* sense, different
than the two that you prefer.
When someone might insist that their one or more definitions
of "Theosophy" are the only ones, they go beyond promoting
their personal worldview, and start implicitly denying
>If I cannot get someone whom I respect as highly as you to
>consider the crystallizing implications of this undoubtedly
>E.S.--approved usage, I know I am defeated.
You're not defeated, in talking to Jerry S. or any of us.
Why do you need a flavor of the word "Theosophy" to label
the appreciation of the ineffable?
It seems that by wanting to use the capital-T Theosophy to
refer to that, to the in-finite, rather than to the finite
and attainable Mystery Teachings, that you are simply
wanting to point out our lack of interest in this equally
important object of contemplation?
We can study psycho-genesis, "theosophy", and we can
study the Mysteries, "Theosophy", and still have this
third object of study or reflection, the ineffable, "That",
Tat, the ultimate mystery about which the first fundamental
proposition of "The Secret Doctrine" refers.
>However, other than for the purpose of possibly formally
>announcing that you are "signing on" with the majority in
>regard to the capital ~T~, I guess I do not understand the
>intent of your post.
I think that Jerry S. is indicating that there is something
to the theosophical ideas themselves. Perhaps he recognizes
that there are definite doctrines to be written about and
presented to the new student, and that there's more to
Theosophy than a seeker's club where people compare opinions
but have nothing to come together to study apart from
playing "show and tell".
>Is it to suggest an alternative to the party line or
>something? In other words, do you possibly want to
>establish a ~fourth~ (!) definition for capitalized
>~Theosophy~ to mean subject matter related to the topics
>you listed, irrespective of whether or not a person's
>understandings about their content/workings agree with HPB
Here we've jumped from two to four definitions of Theosophy.
Somewhere I've missed your third definition, unless it's
the one that I've been talking about.
We're facing with Theosophy the same situation as Col.
Olcott faced in Sri Lanka when he was wanting to reform
Buddhism. There were a number of different sects with
contrary beliefs. He had the challenge to write a treatise
on Buddhism that all the different groups would agree to.
It was astonishing that he actually succeeded, and he
became a national hero.
Our task is more difficult since there is far more
reliance upon personal opinion among Theosophists, so
that the diversity of conflicting ideas tends to bury the
key ideas in a cloud of smoke. One says the sky is blue,
the next says it's pink, the third says it's dark yellow.
They're all good T.S. members, and who's to say which is
right? We might be able to find a HPB passage that also
says the sky is blue, but maybe not. What are we to do?
>If this is the case--oh, what the hell, I'll go along
>with you: maybe if we can get about a thousand
>definitions for capitalized ~Theosophy~ people will
>sooner or later throw them all out and take another look
>at the broad definition (basically stolen from multiple
>dictionaries) I offered for uncapitalized ~theosophy~:
>"Knowledge which has its base in, or at least originally
>derives from transcendental, mystical, or intuitive
>insight or higher perception."
Our knowledge of how to walk is both conceptual and
comes from personal experience. As does our knowledge of
gravity, how to boil water, and how to read a book.
When we actually know about something in the world,
about how it works and how it related to our lives,
we come to truth, and that truth is one and not many.
It's just in the world of fantasy where the imagination
runs wild and a dozen people come up with two dozen
opinions about life.
There are flavors of Theosophy relating to both of these.
There's a version that is based upon wishful thinking
and subjective experiences that tend to confirm what one
already believes. (This can happen both for book learning
and for subjective psychic perceptions.) And there's a
version that is based upon the real way that the world
This second version, when it goes beyond the everyday
experience of our personal lives, is the Mysteries, and
fragments of it, I think, are to be found buried in the
writings of HPB (and others).
>(By the way, I was interested that one of Eldon's posts
>on alt.theosophy--it has disappeared now for some
>reason--chose to define small ~t~ ~theosophy~ in an
>ultra-vague, short-shrift way as something like "an
>individual's spiritual path" rather than use any variant
>of the more substantial-sounding foregoing--which I
>know he has seen several times.
I would personally just use the one version: Theosophy.
This is because the personal quest, that some define
under "theosophy", is inseparable from the Mysteries,
"Theosophy", and I'd leave "theosophy" to refer the
use of the term prior to its adoption by HPB with the
formation of the Theosophical Society.
>It seems that "newbies" will get many definitions of
>both T/theosophies depending upon the purposes and
>generosity-toward-opponents of those who are there to
>help them. . . .)
The simplistic and most plain, direct, and unassuming
approach to telling someone about Theosophy is to
describe the basic theosophical concepts and give
references to good textbooks.
One can also talk about personal experiences and
play guru, psychologist, and social worker to the
people, but that may not be what they want, and it
may be presumptuous to do it without their first
indicating an interest.
>Anyway, Jerry, are you now numbered with those who
>feel there exists somewhere a properly catholic answer
>to the question "What do theosophists believe (!) in?"
You'd have to first mention to him which "Theosophy"
you were talking about before he could answer you. From
one version, the answer might be: it's possible
to give such a "catholic" answer, limited of course
by one's individual understanding.
Someone could give the proper mathematical answer to
what mathematicians think about trigonometry. That
person might not be able to give a proper answer to
the best way to contemplate the ineffable. The answer
with regard to Theosophy would depend on *which*
Theosophy that you're talking about ...
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