THEOSOPHY, Vol. 88, Issue 5, July/August 2000
(Pages 227-233; Size: 13K)


[Article number (9) in this Department]

What is the difference between western psychology and theosophical psychology?

As the study of the mind, western psychology incorporates mental and behavioral processes, and as a field, western minds look back as far as ancient Greece with interwoven strands of philosophy and religion from both eastern and western thought. During HPB's day, American (and French) psychology was largely physiological (or mechanistic), with eastern influences held at bay. But it was changing: William James, Carl Jung, and Abraham Maslow to name a few of the major movers, also were weaving new patterns in the study of knowing and experiencing. If philosophy then suffered from stagnation in the 20th century, psychology leapfrogged into being. Just as globalization became a buzzword, just as East once again met West (or vice versa), this study blended into a diverse discipline of practice and experimentation. As theosophy provides a synthesis of all these fields, placing them in some context is highly relevant to today's long-time student and newcomer alike. The question is explored here by several students of theosophy along different facets of inquiry.


The great abyss between western and theosophical psychology is the same that divides theosophy from orthodox science. While science still does not entertain the concept of intelligent design in the universe, theosophical study points toward the whole universe as intelligent, that all forms of existence are expressions of intelligence at various levels and that intelligence animates matter.

Science generally preaches the doctrine of "original randomness" and that intelligence (consciousness) is a phenomenon of matter. This materialistic orientation is reflected in the fact that most psychologists have no clear working definition for what the mind is. When pressed, they tell us that mind is basically a synonym for the workings of the brain, and symptomatic of that, we have seen an ever-growing reliance on drugs to cure psychological problems. On the other hand, through the pioneering efforts of "inner explorers" from Freud to Jung, from James to Maslow, much is understood about the contents of the human psyche and the various structures and patterns that occur within. This knowledge is made even more useful when put into a broader context that is provided in theosophy.

That higher aspect of mind, sometimes referred to as soul, transcends the personality and can have a great influence on it. It is in this higher (more inclusive) state where our true sense of identity resides. This is where theosophy can be of great practical value for us. Just realizing that our mind, in its fullness, transcends the body gives us access to a realm of experience we rarely dream of (although sometimes we do). And that we are self creating beings through the power of ideation (thought) frees us from the tyranny of the final meaninglessness that scientific thought all too often propagates. Theosophical psychology gives us an inner orientation helping us to navigate all the mental and emotional phenomena that we must pass through without misidentifying ourselves as any of it.

Theosophical psychology not only can help us through our own problems, but unlike orthodox psychology, it provides us with a vision of what we really are, beyond personality. This psychology presents a sevenfold division of man's nature, which acts as an inner roadmap to the life within. By having this conceptual structure, we can begin to make sense experientially of what goes on inside us on a daily basis. We begin to make decisions and choices that will shift our center of gravity, so to speak, from a position of relativity to one of permanence, that is to say from materiality to spirituality. Also theosophy's explanation of the astral plane and the magnetic power of thought explains much about the nature of such diseases as manic depression and schizophrenia. Theosophy holds the keys to many of the mysteries of the human psyche, which all psychologists would benefit from knowing.


Western and theosophical psychologies are not entirely opposed, however. If we exclude the out-and-out materialists, i.e., the experimental psychologists and the behaviorists of the B. F. Skinner school, we find that many western psychologists still recognize that there is such a thing as an "inner life," the life of our deep fears, longings, ideas and ideals. Western psychology recognizes that these inward drives are powerful forces that determine our outward actions. It recognizes that, because our outward acts are rooted in our inner or psychic life, we ourselves and not others are responsible for our condition and that, if we want that condition to change, we will have to bring about the alteration ourselves. In addition, many western psychologists still recognize that dreams can have great significance, that they are shaped by and in turn shape our daily thoughts and acts; and their strategy of using dreams as metaphors to uncover deep and hidden tendencies in our psyche is a fine example of one of the theosophist's chief means of study -- analogy and correspondence.

The biggest difference between the two may be the extent of the knowledge available to each. In terms of human history, western psychology is but a child, offering only the potential of a child's understanding; whereas theosophy, which is "the accumulated wisdom of the ages," is ancient and offers a potential for understanding that is incalculably vast. When western psychologists probe the inner nature of man, they are wandering in a dark forest with limited knowledge of the terrain; when theosophists penetrate the same mysterious wood, they walk with a map called the seven-fold nature of man and the light that glows from fundamental principles.


The first admonition of Buddha's twin verses is: "All that we are is the result of what we have thought ... all that we are is founded on our thoughts and formed of our thoughts." Where does thought originate? What makes the quality of thought vary? In "Psychic and Noetic Action" (Lucifer, October & November 1890), HPB contrasted the positions of mainstream science and occultism: Mainstream science holds that psychology and psychism "relate only to conditions of the nervous system, mental phenomena being traced solely to molecular action. The higher noetic character of the mind-principle is more often ignored."

Occultism holds that "the real experiencer and knower is the soul and not the mind, it follows that the Mind, designated either as 'internal organ,' or 'thinking principle,' while higher and more subtle than the body, is yet only an instrument used by the Soul in gaining experience, just in the same way an astronomer uses his telescope for acquiring information respecting the heavens." (Patanjali's Yoga Aphorisms, Preface, xi.)

There is a third point of view held by what HPB ("Psychic and Noetic Action") called the "golden minority" of scientists. She quoted Yale philosophy professor G. T. Ladd (Elements of Physiological Psychology):

The phenomena of human consciousness must be regarded as activities of some other form of Real Being than the moving molecules of the brain....

... The subject of all the states of consciousness is a real unit-being, called Mind; which is of non-material nature and acts and develops according to laws of its own, but is especially correlated with certain material molecules and masses forming the substance of the Brain. [Note: For those who would like to read it, once you have finished reading this article, I've placed a link to HPB's "Psychic and Noetic Action" article at the end of this one.--Compiler]

When viewed in the light of the septenary nature of man, the duality of perception becomes the key to our understanding of the many contradictions that come before us in everyday life. As a microcosm of the macrocosm, the self reflects the seven-fold nature of the universe. The mortal component is comprised of four levels of consciousness that are related to action on this earthy plane. The three immortal principles represent the reincarnating Ego, or that entity that goes from life to life unfolding absolute potentiality and, in so doing, relates proportionately to the whole of life.

The lower quaternary or mortal aspects are needed for their compatibility to the earthy environment while the reincarnating Ego, or higher trinity, carries the experience from all incarnations. The immortal entity, comprising of spirit, soul and mind, cannot directly communicate with the lower elements without an appropriate channel. This channel is lower manas, or lower mind (for mind is dual). With the higher aspect being closer in consciousness to soul and spirit, that lower manas is more compatible to the lower quaternary and hence becomes the bridge between the higher and lower self.

This duality is the key to most of the contradictions in life. If each principle has a plane of its own, we must learn to use the will, in the service of the higher self, thereby clarifying the channel and allowing the omniscience of the immortal entity to shine through.

We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves, but allow a passage to its beams. 

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following are separate items which followed the above article but were on the same page. I felt it was useful to include them here:

Saith the Great Law: "In order to become the KNOWER of ALL SELF, thou hast first of SELF to be the knower." To reach the knowledge of that SELF, thou hast to give up Self to Non-Self, Being to Non-Being, and then thou canst repose between the wings of the GREAT BIRD. Aye sweet is rest between the wing of that which is not born, nor dies, but is the AUM throughout eternal ages. 

--The Voice of the Silence


The name of America will "one day be found more closely related to Meru, the sacred mount in the centre of the seven continents, according to the Hindu tradition, than to Americus Vespucius, whose name by the bye, was never Americus at all, but Albericus, a trifling difference not deemed worth mentioning till very lately by exact history." Several centuries before Vespuci arrived in North America, the name Americ signified "great mountain" in Central America, and gave the continent its name. 

--Isis, I, pp. 591-2

[Note: Here's the link to HPB's article, entitled "Psychic and Noetic Action", that was mentioned and quoted from in the above article by one of the students.--Compiler]

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