THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 2, December, 1951
(Pages 59-63; Size: 15K)
(Number 2 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
"OUR AGE," wrote H. P. Blavatsky, "is pre-eminently unspiritual and matter of fact." This single sentence offers, we may think, explanation of why the orientation of so much of H.P.B.'s writing was "mystical" -- she evidently both thought and wrote with the exceptions to this rule very much in mind. And, surely, an intuitive recognition of realms and powers beyond the senses is a prerequisite to valuation of religion and religions.
Those who were too "matter of fact" -- who were unable to transcend even by a little the limitations of a purely rationalistic view, moreover -- would have been unable to serve or be served by the aims and program of the T.S. While the methods of strict logic or "inductive reasoning" were also incorporated by implication in the study program of the Society, the first assumption of most working members was undeniably that a hidden or esoteric aspect of man and his relation to Religion must be probed.
We can hardly doubt H.P.B.'s acumen in prophesying in Isis Unveiled the continuing degeneration of religious sectarian power: "A few centuries more, and there will linger no sectarian beliefs in either of the great religions of humanity." This, we may assume, was but the inevitable working out of karmic law. Specific dogmas and sectarian prejudices can hold the mind of man stationary for only a limited period of time. However, the death of one set of dogmas in no sense assures an end, or even a lessening, of the dogmatic attitude. For this, too, is "karma" -- the inevitable continuation of habits of mind. A useful account of this sort of "succession" of preconceptions is provided by Macneile Dixon in The Human Situation:The supreme attraction of Darwinism lay in its exclusion of special creation and the idea of purpose. That was its peculiar charm. For that reason it was exultantly received and proclaimed as the final truth.... It was agreed that the doctrine must be true, and there followed a sustained effort to prove it true. Never has there been greater zeal and industry displayed in search of corroborative evidence. We see it to-day in the search for fossil remains of early man or man's immediate predecessors, the interest in the human or sub-human types found in Java, Pekin, Piltdown, Heidelberg, Neanderthal and Rhodesia. Here you have a faith, which so seized upon the mind, such was the devotion it inspired, as to energise thought to find the grounds upon which it might be firmly established -- a belief, that is to say, which preceded the evidence. And why? Because the thought that it might not be true was utterly hateful and intolerable. With the utmost frankness Huxley himself gives us the clue to the jubilation with which Darwinism was received, and espoused before it was demonstrated. The doctrine, he tells us, did men of science the immense service of freeing them from the dilemma, "Refuse to accept the Creation hypothesis, and what have you to put in its place?" Expressed succinctly, we may say, the theory was a God-send to the disbelievers in God.The extent to which the Western climate of opinion during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was inviting crude, oversimplified versions of materialism indicated how many were eager to embrace new dogmas to fill the yawning gap left by removal of the old. And in the process, the deep source of belief in a metaphysical world, in a God or gods, in visions and prophecies and an after-life, was denied by the worst denial of all -- that is, made no longer "respectable."
Let us be just, too, and bear in mind that there was no alternative within sight. Evolution theory must be true, because otherwise we should not know what to believe, a humiliating and monstrous situation. It was this or nothing, or rather it was this or a choice between God and blank amazement, a most disagreeable dilemma.
Theosophy may speak to man in any one of numerous languages, once having taken, according to Wm. Q. Judge, even a political orientation during the revolutionary period of the eighteenth century. It seems evident that the cause of theosophic enlightenment was served by such apparently materialistic iconoclasts as Voltaire, La Mettrie and d'Holbach, when the pendulum of the race mind had, in swinging too far into religious superstition, required liberation. But the issuance of H.P.B.'s own works coincided with another and opposite arc of that pendulum. The age of irreligion, of cynicism toward mysticism, was already in strong motion. It is therefore worth-while to note that, instead of riding this popular wave and presenting theosophical ideas simply as hypothetical perspectives on religious study, as she might so easily and successfully have done, H.P.B. appealed especially to those who still felt that the deep mysteries of religion remained to be comprehended. While her mode of discussion was for the most part "scientifically objective," the subject matter of her writing was super-physical. The knowledge that Theosophy, thus presented, would often come to be regarded as but another of many religions did not deter her in this emphasis; a complete Theosophy was the only hope for those who, having lost specific focus for their religious intuitions, were stranded between the Will to Believe in Spiritual Man, and all-denying materialism.
As students of theosophical history know, interest in Spiritualism was the peculiar but karmically natural direction of interest in "the mysteries" for many persons, and H.P.B. seems to have first spoken to and written for these inquirers. At the close of her life -- which ended soon after the publication of the Key --the appeal for investigation of the mysteries remained a fundamental consideration in all her writing. She had seen the majority of the spiritualists desert their honest quest and investigation, creating instead a new phenomenalistic religion of their own; yet she apparently still felt a special duty to those who were concerned, under whatever name, with honestly probing the unknown. Her definition of Theosophy, which opens the first chapter of the Key, also confirms this view: "Divine wisdom such as that possessed by the Gods" -- is, in the terms of a "matter of fact" age, a bizarre clause. But would not such intimations also speak sympathetically to those who needed to be able to keep, in the face of "luxurious materialism," a faith that something might lie behind their own mystical intuitions?
In the discussion of Ammonius Saccas, again we find the mystic element emerging, and as no minor theme. H.P.B.'s long footnote on page two is illustrative of her insistence in calling attention to something more than the "rationality" of eclectic study. The third division of Ammonius' work is described as follows:(3) Theurgy, or "divine work," or producing a work of gods; from theoi, "gods," and ergein, "to work." The term is very old, but, as it belongs to the vocabulary of the Mysteries, was not in popular use. It was a mystic belief -- practically proven by initiated adepts and priests -- that, by making oneself as pure as the incorporeal beings -- i.e., by returning to one's pristine purity of nature -- man could move the gods to impart to him Divine mysteries, and even cause them to become occasionally visible, either subjectively or objectively. It was the transcendental aspect of what is now called Spiritualism.This current in theosophical writing may, however, be approached from another direction, and given a fully "rational" explanation. Is it not apparent that if religious beliefs had been studied on face or literal value alone, in disregard of their theurgic and mystic elements, no conception of hidden truths of import which men might now learn and know could emerge? Comparative study of exoteric religion might conceivably bring about a better cultural brotherhood, yet the deeps of the various religions would be the only ground on which "the importance of such study" could be realized. (As to the intention of directing thought away from purely exoteric study, we might reflect on such things as the name "Lucifer," the title of such an article as H.P.B.'s "Esoteric Character of the Gospels," the page headings in Isis and The Secret Doctrine, picking at random "The Quest of the Psychometer" in Isis and "The Mysteries Among the Mayas" in The Secret Doctrine.)
The third sub-section of the Key's first chapter is headed, "The Wisdom Religion Esoteric in all Ages." Here, at the outset, the student is given the view that all the "mysteries" are based on realities, and that Theosophy itself is primarily an esoteric rather than an exoteric doctrine. In fact, the term "doctrine," itself, could easily have been dispensed with if the Society had confined itself to "matter of fact" rationalistic study of religious beliefs. Finally, in the second section of the Key, "Exoteric and Esoteric Theosophy," we notice the deliberate emphasis upon the "MYSTERIES" -- even typographically. H.P.B.'s presentation continually stresses that what man now knew was, in Dowden's phrase, "a mere pin-point of demonstrable knowledge." And, even if the doctrines or tenets of esoteric theosophy be themselves regarded as the essence of all Religion, again the emphasis is upon the illimitable extent of the mysteries.
Man's continuing intuitions about the unknown are so deep that no single religious interpretation could possibly still their promptings. As H.P.B. wrote on the first page of the Preface to Isis Unveiled, "The human heart has not yet fully uttered itself," and no single presentation of comprehensive truth, be it in either religious or scientific guise, could ever satisfy the developing capacities for perception, unless built upon the twin facts of illimitable wonders and mysteries, and the avowal that "there are no unsolvable mysteries anywhere."
In summation, then, we find that a true synthesis between the essential in religion and science is represented, by implication, on nearly every page of the Key. H.P.B.'s scope is the all of religion -- the significance of multitudinous creeds and beliefs, as evaluated by the principles of a coherent body of knowledge, "the accumulated wisdom of the ages." H.P.B. brought, she said, without apology or equivocation, the tenets of this wisdom religion, for study, not acceptance. The T.S. invited each one to proceed, if he wished, according to the inductive processes of reason so beloved in that rationalistic age -- checking and verifying the existence of the Gupta-Vidya according to all known sources, and assisted in this task by the uncountable references in Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. No limits were set upon the use to which scientific, objective methods of analysis might be put in such examination. Conversely, no limits were put upon the depths of mystery or upon the hope of demonstrable realities to be discovered behind the outward appearances of religions. A universal invitation, indeed. No one was required to give up a preferred method of thought unless it involved absolute creedal or materialistic prejudice.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
The sun shines through a glass and renders it luminous; nevertheless the glass does not become the sun. It merely remains in the light and power of the sun, and the latter shines in and through its substance. Thus it is with the soul in her terrestrial state. As fire glows in hot iron, so are the rays of the Holy Spirit sometimes penetrating the other principle; namely, the new man penetrates the old one. But as iron, whether within or without the forge, always remains iron, likewise it is with the terrestrial man. He undoubtedly has to become a servant for the inner man, whenever the latter penetrates him with his glowing divine fire; and he is willing that this should be so as long as the glow of that fire is within him, but he cannot transform himself into the interior kingdom.
--JACOB BOEHME (Mysterium)
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 3 of a 20-part series)
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