Core teachings (to Paul), long post
Jul 16, 1996 01:33 PM
Paul>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
Paul: I've read these messages too, but evaluate them (slightly)
different than you do. There is a definite concern in these postings
about the Theosophical teachings getting obscured by, tampered with by
While it probably is a valid concern, it can also block any further
development of Theosophy as an *organic* set of teachings.
It is a most difficult topic of discussion, because of the many
aspects that are involved here.
Let me comment on a few salient points of your post:
Paul>"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?
That's a personal preference (or group preference)
for which should be ample room in lodges.
P>How do we define some things as central, others as peripheral,
and others as out of bounds?
Who is the authority for that? Again, a matter of individual
or (sub)group preference. It may be a different matter on the level
of official spokespersons/ a president of a TS, etc. These may prefer
to proceed in a conservative way.
P> 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."
True. In the beginning phase of the TS there probably was
a more open attitude of mind toward these issues. Based upon my studies
of theosophy and Theosophy (and Gnosis,spiritualism and religions
in some degree) I have come to some conclusions which might interest you:
1. Theosophy tries to provide the thread that is common to different
religions, esoteric philosophies, etc. It is also *eclectic*, ie
it uses every material available to prove or substantiate the points
made in its system. Examples: Hinduism, Buddhism, Gnosis, Kabbala,
esoteric interpretations of holy scriptures, etc, etc.
It has synthesized many ideas into an elaborate system of philosophy
and , in my opinion, is more interesting and clearer in content
than many of the religions, philosophies, etc. from which it borrowed
Pondering about this eclecticism, I see no reason why the effort
of synthesis should not be extended to present day philosophies,
scientific findings, etc. In practice, however, this
is not what has happened. Times have changed, charismatic figures
are not appearing or maybe the attitude of people toward charismatic
leadership has changed. What has happened instead is that people with
fresh ideas may learn about and from Theosophy but do not wish to be
identified with any TS and chose to found a new organization as a vehicle
for promulgating their ideas. I've no problem with that, of course.
It would be a challenge however, if T/theosophists would cooperate and
provide extensions to Theosophy and some new ways of looking at the
doctrines (which are basically working hypotheses, not dogmas).
The power of the internet offers new possibilities in this respect.
To give an example: I'm currently studying Vitvan, an American teacher
of Gnosis (deceased in 1962, I think). I recognize many worthwile
aspects in his teachings (he rephrased the Wisdom-tradition teachings),
so I've made a link (through a little note) on Spiritweb to the site
where his teachings are stored. In this way I point readers of my articles
to new approaches to the perennial philosophy.
Otherwise, people will read many articles relating to spirituality on the
internet, and pick from that what is appropriate for them.
Times have changed forever, I think.
People will decide for themselves what to think and what ideas are useful
to consider. (although I believe that there is some guiding principle
at work, leading people to consider the paradigm of wholeness as a very
2. It still is an interesting system of doctrines, which can help (many?)
people to find their way on their spiritual path.
It is, however, clothed in terms which may be partly outdated
or not adequate for this era. I'm currently studying this area
and may post something about it at some time. Rephrasing some terms,
providing new interpretations, extending teachings into the psychological
realm may be very necessary to do, in order for people to be able to relate
better to the teachings. Some people have done that already, so,
in a sense, Theosophical Societies are lagging behind the facts.
It's not a disaster, but it can be seen as an omission by the members,
I think. It is interesting to note that many theosophists on this list
do perceive this omission (even Eldon is beginning to acknowledge the
need for rephrasing of part of the teachings, I think, but he must speak
for himself). Maybe TI will become a forum for renewal of Theosophy,
I don't know. It would probably require a great effort of quite some
T/heosophists to do so.
I can see at least two areas where Theosophy should be updated/extended:
psychology (a lot of work has already been done by transpersonal
psychologists plus some others I know of; one area that
has been painfully neglected is that of understanding the
feeling faculty of humans. Theosophists have focussed largely
on the thinking faculty, without acknowledging enough the
necessity of, say, empathy. There's a buddhic quality
in feeling that is essential to develop, to put into practice;
without that you can forget about Theosophy. Empathy is
essential in bringing about the first object of the TSs!)
science (this will be very difficult; Theosophy does not offer
a sufficiently clear and developed framework for that;
It may contain some fundamentals, but it is not a suitable
ontology for the current state of affairs in science.
Note that philosophers of science have searched in vain
for a suitable ontology for quantummechanics that would
account for non-local effects. I think that it must be
some kind of wholistic philosophy, incorporating well
defined characteristics of relatedness-in-and-through-
P> 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.)
HPB herself has warned us to be very critical about believing
anything she wrote. That's an attitude we should keep in mind.
As an aside: I remind my readers in my article on death (written one and
a half year ago) to be very critical about what I write, that one's own
experiences must confirm the validity of the Theosophical teachings
(if Alexis would have taken the trouble to read it, he might have understood
me a little bit better..). In my article on the seven jewels I make
another relativizing remark about Theosophy near the end of it.
P>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 agree with this evaluation of yours. In practical terms
I see it like this: Theosophy can be useful to inquirers, spiritual
seekers. If they develop their understanding of life, they may find
their own particular interpretation of Theosophy, add some ideas
from other systems (eclectic, in the best Theosophical tradition)
and lead a happy life :).
The only issue that will probably never be fully resolved is the issue
of providing extensions to and/or reinterpretations and rephrasings
of teachings. TI members may give it a try :)
Anyway, with or without the help of Theosophy people *will* develop
new epistemologies and ontologies, I have not the least doubt about that
and in fact I've seen some attempts of that already in past and present.
Theosophical and Eastern notions have entered Western thought already
for a long time, so I don't worry a bit about that. The exciting thing
is to be part of that current of thoughts and to feed that current
with fresh ideas and syntheses in order to further the establishment
of wholistic paradigms. I didn't mention Western Hermetic teachings
but these are playing an important role too, I think, judging the many
organizations that promulgate these teachings.
Paul>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.
Well, I think Theosophical organizations have become
too crystalized in the past. Although they have something valuable to
offer to others, it could be much better. I think that there is a fear
of tampering with the teachings. I understand that fear, but it may
not be an excuse for omission of further research and investigation
into the many fields (which not..) that pertain to Theosophy.
To be frank, I 'd say that there's a need for very experienced people
(on all sorts of fields of knowledge) who can give an impulse to the
further development of Theosophy. But who will take up that challenge?
Oh, this post has become way too long, and I'm still a bit on a holiday
regarding this list (couldn't resist responding to your post:))
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