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Core teachings

Jul 15, 1996 10:26 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

Thanks to Daniel C. for forwarding discussions from
alt.theosophy so that theos-l can continue to reverberate with
pro- and anti- Alexis controversy :)  Just when we thought it
was safe to go back in the water!

But since the subject is on the table, here's a comment.  I
have read, on theos-talk, comments from Eldon and Dara that
frankly disparage Theosophists (not by name, but as a group)
who do not adhere to the "core teachings" to their
satisfaction.  The gist of the messages was "unfortunately,
some Theosophists have different approaches than ours."  That
almost provokes a "back-at-ya" response from me that *I* think
it's unfortunate that some Theosophists have different
approaches than *ours*-- meaning the liberals.  But in fact, I
*don't* consider it unfortunate that there are Theosophists who
are theologically conservative, focused on preserving
tradition, suspicious of new ideas.  There's a bell curve in
almost any movement from liberal to conservative, and I don't
mind being far out on the liberal end of the Theosophical
spectrum.  (Meaning those who are eclectic in orientation,
value relevance and applicability more than tradition, and hope for
a more open-minded approach in the movement at large.)  What I
*do* find *most unfortunate* is having the conservatives constantly insinuating
that my (meaning anyone with progressive views) being a Theosophist
at all is "unfortunate."  What kind of dialogue is possible
with someone who says "I find it unfortunate that someone like
you is in the Theosophical movement?"

So this business about core doctrines is being misused and
misunderstood, IMO.  Of course there are "core doctrines" in
the sense that HPB's teachings have a certain integrity and
internal consistency, that Purucker for example tends to stay
within that framework while Bailey or Leadbeater go outside
it.  "Core teachings" are simply a matter of fact.  But the
argument does not seem to be over the "is" but rather the
"ought."  Meaning, do we as contemporary Theosophists privilege
certain texts over others, and if so which ones and how much?
How do we define some things as central, others as peripheral,
and others as out of bounds?  As I understand HPB, it was NEVER
the intention of herself or her teachers to create a sacred
canon or to encourage exclusivistic, patronizing attitudes
toward those outside the bounds of the "core teachings."  But
I'm afraid those attitudes are quite prevalent in the movement.
That makes the "core teachings" a weapon used to silence
or at least to marginalize ideas that are new and threatening
to an orthodoxy which is all the more powerful because its
advocates are in deep denial about their own orthodoxy.  (I
know, being a recovering Orthodox Theosophist myself.)

To evoke Richard's theme, I see here a figure/ground reversal
problem related to Theosophy/theosophy.  The "core teachings"
conservatives say in essence, "yes, theosophy uncapitalized is
a common noun referring to a broad category of doctrines and
practices, BUT that is of little importance compared to the
authoritative pronouncements of the Masters and HPB which we
know as Theosophy."  For them theosophy is of secondary
significance and Theosophy's the real attraction.  Whereas for the
liberals who are suspicious of all this "core teachings" talk,
it's theosophy in general that is the main attraction, the
reason for the society's existence, the eternal source of
inspiration and joy.  Theosophy is one particular expression
thereof, bound by the spatio-temporal circumstances under which
it was given out, worthwhile in itself but ultimately
meant to be used as a pointer to the wider, generic theosophy.

I don't defend the rhetoric Alexis has used in carrying on this
discussion, or his speculation about HPB's books being
rewritten by others.  But his essential observation is correct,
I think.  HPB never intended that "core teachings" be used as a
weapon whereby orthodox Theosophists make eclectic theosophists
feel unwelcome in the movement she founded.  And it has
happened, not just in the Judge wing of the movement but now
increasingly in the Adyar TS as well.  Lately hardly an AT
issue goes by without some message to that effect.

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