THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 3, January, 1952
(Pages 110-113; Size: 11K)
(Number 3 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
IN describing that sort of socialized conservatism which is but a distillation of petty selfishnesses, H.P.B. writes (p. 37, original edition) that such a state of mind "prefers an easy going, unexacting lie to the greatest truth, if the latter requires the sacrifice of one's smallest comfort." Here, the student may think, is partial explanation of the often quoted statement, "Theosophy is essentially the philosophy of those who suffer," a sentence appearing on the same page. For only those who are so thoroughly shaken loose from conventional moorings as to no longer strive for personal security, in either belief or status, are free to seek truth. Suffering, when it reaches deeply into the inner man, can release mental powers from bondage to those "unexacting lies" which allow us to be too "easy going." Especially is this true for men who have "lost all hope of being helped out of the mire of life by any other means."
But we may think that these explanations of why Theosophy was "doomed to such slow, uphill work" during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, have something to do with time, place and circumstance, as well as with general psychological laws. H.P.B. also writes that "the unfamiliar character of Theosophic teachings" made the intent of the Theosophical Movement difficult of comprehension. Further, she says, "the history of any system of belief or morals, newly introduced into a foreign soil, shows that its beginnings were impeded by every obstacle that obscurantism and selfishness could suggest. 'The crown of the innovator is a crown of thorns,' indeed. No pulling down of old, worm-eaten buildings can be accomplished without some danger."
Though the nineteenth century brought an age of religious iconoclasm into lusty swing, representatives of Theosophy were in the supremely difficult position of challenging both religious and scientific-determinist doctrines at the same time -- and at their respective sources. Thus the philosophical conservatism of Theosophy -- so well represented by the spirit given to furtherance of the Second Object of the Society -- needed to be accompanied, and often preceded by, a radical Theosophic challenge to all dominant assumptions as to the basic nature of man.
It is always the claim of revolutionaries that "worm-eaten buildings" must be "pulled down." But the man who has the temerity to claim ability to build while he is tearing down, using, moreover, some materials from the original structure, is implying a criticism, also, of the revolutionary or iconoclastic ethos. Theosophists have often felt the pressure of a particularly virulent sort of antagonism, directed at those who are felt to be too pretentious and grandiose in their aims and plans. Yet the man who has "suffered" sufficiently is not apt to be disturbed by large representations; only the large representations are broad enough to offer him genuine hope. The possibility that he may some day be able to release himself completely from the terrible tortures of confusion and self-doubt requires a great and dynamic hope. Only when he feels justified in such a hope, perhaps, will he be capable of great and dynamic effort.
The nineteenth century is now past, not merely because many pages of the calendar have been turned, but also because certain phases of intellectual karma have run their course. The psychological nature of men, consequently, affected by the change in temper and tone of so much in modern religion, biology, physics, and sociology, no longer finds the nature of theosophical teachings "unfamiliar." Is Theosophy, then, still so exclusively "the doctrine of those who suffer"? If one of the strongest impediments to acceptance of the theosophic view was the convenience of the oversimplified religious and scientific dogmas of the nineteenth century, and if those oversimplified versions are no longer able to support themselves adequately at this mid-point of the twentieth century, the door must have swung further open on its hinges. Once open but a crack, it now allows considerable light to shine through.
Self-examination in religion and science, further, has led to a new open-mindedness in many subsidiary realms of thought. And if we may assume that self-examination is both the most intense and most worth-while kind of suffering, it may be that the leading minds of our own age have paid the necessary price for initiation into further truths. The suffering of the modern world has certainly passed beyond the personal stage. A few there are who cling to religious and scientific absurdities, still resisting the call to seek a psychological, mental and moral rebirth, but many can see, graphically written on the pages of recent history, the sufferings brought on by "obscurantism and selfishness," and feel that suffering intensely, even though their own individual lives may not have been displaced by personal difficulties.
It is at such a time, we may think, that a new opportunity for the dissemination of theosophical teachings can be said to have come about naturally. The men who have been released from comforting dogmas and line-of-least-resistance provincial opinions have a new freedom of mind, and may be able to use that freedom wisely. Not only may they be "free," but they may also sense a necessity for the type of synthesizing effort which the Theosophical Movement represented in the last century. And if this, in turn, be true, there is ample preparation for such men to feel a positive sympathy for both the quality and content of theosophical teachings themselves.
Perhaps Theosophy will become also the philosophy for those who have passed to a stage of relative enlightenment which sets them apart from common forms of mental suffering. The leaders of thought in our times may be among the happiest of modern men, rather than the saddest. And if they are cheerful and challenging instead of gloomy, this will be because they have, with a sufficiency of mental effort, or suffering, worked through provincialisms of dogma, and now breathe a clearer and more invigorating air which inspires further search for keys to the mystery of human nature. As one of Shakespeare's characters remarks in Macbeth, after the tyrant and his supporters have been vanquished, "The time is free." Our age is undeniably an age of tragedy, but tragedy is unrelieved only when men are ignorant of its causes. Many physicists, biologists, anthropologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists demonstrate remarkable percipience as to the appalling ignorance and shortsightedness of the dogmas long ruling their chosen fields, and it is not difficult for them to hope that a new depth of wisdom, when reached, can promise a new and better world.
What has happened to the dogma that man is a special, recent creation of a personal deity, before whose incomprehensible powers man must prostrate himself? Few representatives of Christianity continue to support this view, often insisting instead, as have John Haynes Holmes, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Shailer Matthers, that the true meaning of Christianity must be found in psychological symbolism. What has happened to the dogma that man is but a recent offshoot of the apes? None, it is said, save the few remaining followers of fundamentalist religion believe that the anthropologists still hold this crude view. Rather have leading biologists and anthropologists come to give serious attention to the evidence that man may have represented a primary stock, independent of the apes. What has happened to the belief in original sin? What has happened to the dogma that self-satisfaction and self-preservation are the inevitable ruling impulses? Religionists and psychologists have recently swung in another direction. Meanwhile a serious study of "the psychical powers latent in man" has proceeded, with accompanying cognizance of the new perspectives on the subject of soul which may be required after researches in extra-sensory perception are thoroughly studied. Medicine is becoming, with each passing year, increasingly concerned with the psychosomatic aspects of illness, and, in the field of morpho-biology, a basis has been laid upon which the postulate of the "astral body" may rest.
All of this is indeed a far cry from the dominant tones of opinion marking the last century. The Theosophical Movement has indeed been moving, aided from without by the vision and inspiration of men who have willed themselves through the sufferings of ignorance. From within, the direct work of preserving and making available the theosophic teachings has also proceeded. When H.P.B. wrote that "had the formation of the Theosophical Society been postponed a few years longer, one half of the civilized nations would have become by this time rank materialists, and the other half anthropomorphists and phenomenalists," she indicated a faith that the impulse of the Society could ultimately bear marvelous fruit, out of all proportion to the tangible accomplishments of the Society. The theosophical hope of a deeper wisdom to come, shared in a dogma-less age, and the hope of a synthesis between the essential truths of religion and the methods of science, must have played their parts in awakening dynamic, courageous quests for truth in many quarters.
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 4 of a 20-part series)
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