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Re: "Theosophist"-- a fighting word

Aug 13, 1996 02:07 PM
by Bee Brown

At 10:41 AM 13/08/96 -0400, you wrote:
>The recent dustup between James and Alan illustrates again
>a problem that has been recurrent on the list.  Due to all
>their ambiguities and complexities, the words "Theosophy" and
>"Theosophist" lend themselves to use as weapons in debate.
>It all starts with HPB, who is so inconsistent on the subject
>that she lends ammunition to anyone who wants to use these
>words as weapons.  The inclusive HPB recognizes theosophy as a
>long-standing presence in Western thought, and accords the name
>Theosophist to anyone who has an inspiration of his/her own
>that leads toward the divine.  One could find many, many
>passages that would seem to refute once and for all any
>limited, exclusive usages of the terms. But on the other hand,
>the exclusive HPB says things like "the only real Theosophists
>in the TS are in the ES" that give support to those who want to
>use the word as a weapon to exclude others.

I have recently started thinking about 'words' as we all take for granted
that the words we use to talk to each other stand for real 'things',
'meanings' etc. It seems to me that we accept or reject 'meanings' according
to our own understanding and in many cases, our own pet ideas. What a
Theosophist means to me is probably different to what it means to someone
else no matter what each has read on the subject.
I took a member of our Lodge to the last Theosophy Convention and she was
most upset at what she percieved as un-theosophical behaviour by a number of
people and it seemed she had Theosophy on some sort of pedestal and it got
knocked off and now she is slowly withdrawing from the Lodge as she no
longer finds us quite what she thought.
We all live in our own 'private world' and somehow seem to expect others to
live in a similar 'private world' but this is not so. With a little careful
observation and attention to what others say and do, it becomes quite
obvious that their 'world' operates in a different way to our own. Unless we
make allowances for this fact, and there are many others, we will have this
discord that arises due to expectations of others that are only in our own
minds. The little word 'is' causes a lot of mental blockages as it is such a
definite expression. 'He is not a Theosophist,' she is a troublemaker' etc.
Those statements don't leave much room for brotherly understanding that
there may be a reason why a person 'is' whatever it is we judge them to be.
I feel that the expression, 'In my opinion', 'It seems to me', etc at least
softens a statement that 'is', so that the meaning is not so emphatic as to
cause offense.
This thinking about words has been the cause for my absence from discussions
here because just now I am wondering what throwing words at each other means
and if there is any real gain from it. I know we learn from each other but
if we ourselves have unconscious meanings etc attached to the the language
we use, may it not be rather a case of arguing for our own views rather than
really and truly trying to see the meaning of what others are saying with
the words they chose to use to represent their personal meanings. I may
change my views later when I become more familiar with the concepts but I am
learning so much just now that I would rather keep quiet until I have
something sensible to say.
>So when James, privately or not, challenges Alan as to whether
>or not he is a real Theosophist, this repeats a form of
>aggression that has been used within the movement from the
>beginning.  Whether or not one's questions are justified, I
>consider this kind of communication below the belt.  There are
>so many highfalutin' requirements attached to the term in one
>text or another, that we could reasonably wonder if there are
>*any* "real Theosophists" in the world who meet them all.

What is a real Theosophist? I doubt if anyone really knows, so it becomes a
nonsense question. We could talk about it for the next year and probably not
be any further ahead. Each of us has our ideas about the subject and I bet
they are all different.
>Most of us want to have a sense of belonging, and part of
>becoming a Theosophist is feeling that the movement is
>something one wants to belong to.  It does violence to that
>feeling of affiliation for someone to challenge one's status as
>a Theosophist.  They are saying in essence "you don't belong."
>It took me quite a while to stop caring whether or not I was
>accepted as a Theosophist, partly by realizing that defining
>you as an outsider is the only real weapon these people have.  Thus
>deciding that it doesn't matter whether or not anyone considers
>you part of the group can be liberating, placing you beyond the
>reach of their exclusion.

A sense of belonging can be a real trap for the unwary and that many be the
only reason many people belong to the organisations that they do. Not for
what it stands for or its teachings etc but to have a comfort zone where
they feel at home. That is fine if that is all one wants out of live at the
stage one is at. But it seems to impose a certain way of thinking that the
organisation expects if one wants to stay in it. We have only to think of
the recent post on the TS official structure to realise that. Maybe we need
to free ourselves from the Theosophical labels we have of ourselves and
others if we want any real dialogue going. A careful reading of the various
MM letters shows that HPB was by no means infallible and that they smacked
her hand at times for the things she wrote in the magazine. Even she says
herself that she was a disappointment to them at times, or words to that
effect. She did not see herself in the same light as many wish to see her
today. We argue about what HPB says and what she did not say and if she is
the source literature etc. My own personal ideas is that if any teaching
speaks to me then I will pursue it even if it does not appear to be
acceptable to official TS. If it helps me understand my fellow beings and
shines some light on 'my path' then it will be worth its weight in gold.
>But it was a long hard path getting to that point.  I suggest
>that questioning, explicitly or implicitly, whether or not
>someone is a "real Theosophist" be considered off limits in our
>discourse.  On the other hand, questioning whether a particular
>position or attitude is theosophical depersonalizes the issue
>somewhat and lends itself to exploration without rancor.

Bee Brown
Member Theosophy NZ, TI.

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