THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 7, May, 1952
(Pages 306-310; Size: 15K)
(Number 7 of a 20-part series)

[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]

NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"

WITH the conclusion of Section IV of the Key (page 60, original edition), the student may well reflect upon the transition thus marked. Section V has to do with "The Fundamental Teachings of Theosophy," and pertains to what H.P.B. calls the "philosophy" of those constituting the "inner body" of the Society. Section IV, in other words, serves as an introduction to the very specific content of the following: a re-statement of the fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine, a summary of Hindu and Theosophical teachings on the skandhas and the seven-fold nature of man, of the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, and of the age old teachings concerning the after-death states. The opening of Section IV logically invites a review of all H.P.B. has previously said about the "inner body" of the Society. This, apparently, has served as a preparation for what is to come, and it is implicit that the distinctions clearly made between the esoteric and exoteric bodies of the Society are important to remember. One of these distinctions is emphatically laid down by H.P.B. on page 57:

The Society has no wisdom of its own to support or teach. It is simply the storehouse of all the truths uttered by the great seers, initiates, and prophets of historic and even pre-historic ages; at least, as many as it can get. Therefore, it is merely the channel through which more or less of truth, found in the accumulated utterances of humanity's great teachers, is poured out into the world.
Since so much material in the early sections is devoted to an explanation of the Second Object, which deals with the comparative study of religions and philosophies, we may conclude that the primary function of the T.S., as headed by Colonel Olcott, was to serve as an educational institution along the broadest of lines. This exoteric body enjoyed whatever perspectives its individual members were able to derive from H.P.B.'s teachings, yet these were proffered, and received or rejected, entirely on an individual basis -- the Society itself proclaiming itself independent of allegiance to any particular interpretations of religions and philosophies. Though this was a platform for one part of the Theosophical Movement only, the intent and attitude reflected can easily be seen to be an always necessary part of a Theosophical program, for, unless it finds constant re-embodiment in the present and future, one hallmark of the catholicity of Theosophy could easily be lost.

The "esoteric section" also existed, however, and, even within this body of the T.S., there were what might be called two groups of H.P.B.'s disciples. The first came gradually to give special attention to her rendition of the Secret Doctrine, which offered them a transition point between eclectic speculative study and the adoption of belief in a Gnosis which represented the core of all religious scriptures. But those who were pledged members of the esoteric section had attempted a further step beyond that of adopting the teachings of The Secret Doctrine as working intellectual premises. Such were concerned with the application of H.P.B.'s teachings in order to "purify the soul," as she phrases it in the Key. Thus the specific Theosophy she offered to members of the esoteric section was dedicated to the inculcation of specific ethics.

Many students have doubtless been puzzled at the strictness of the requirements for esoteric study as defined by H.P.B. on page 20, especially in view of the broad and liberal approach of the T.S. to all matters of religion as expressed by the formulation of the Society's Three Objects. For instance, she writes that for the esoteric study and application of Theosophy, the foremost rule of all is the entire renunciation of one's personality:

A pledged member has to become a thorough altruist, never to think of himself, and to forget his own vanity and pride in the thought of the good of his fellow-creatures, besides that of his fellow-brothers in the esoteric circle. He has to live, if the esoteric instructions shall profit him, a life of abstinence in everything, of self-denial and strict morality, doing his duty by all men.
What, it may reasonably be asked, does a life of "abstinence in everything" mean? What kind of asceticism is here implied as a requirement for successful study of the definite esoteric philosophy? In this connection, we may note, also, the many other statements in respect to the need for acceptance of the principle of "self-sacrifice." One of the rules of the inner section, already promulgated in 1880, is described in the section entitled "The Sacredness of a Pledge":
No Fellow shall put to his selfish use any knowledge communicated to him by any member of the first section (now a higher "degree"); violation of the rule being punished by expulsion.
Another paragraph, occurring on page 24, illustrates the same emphasis:
Theosophy has to inculcate ethics; it has to purify the soul, if it would relieve the physical body, whose ailments, save cases of accidents, are all hereditary. It is not by studying Occultism for selfish ends, for the gratification of one's personal ambition, pride, or vanity, that one can ever reach the true goal: that of helping suffering mankind. Nor is it by studying one single branch of the esoteric philosophy that a man becomes an Occultist, but by studying, if not mastering, them all.
From all of the foregoing we may be sure that H.P.B. desired each student to realize that he needed to know a great deal about the meaning of "Occultism" before professing the specific "intellectual" doctrines of Theosophic philosophy presented in Section V, in order to choose precisely what his relationship to that philosophy was to become. When H.P.B. stated that Theosophical teachings were not a body of purely speculative doctrines, she clearly meant that they could fully benefit only those who were willing to inscribe the implications of the teachings on their hearts, to see that extension of knowledge simultaneously meant an extension of action beyond the circumscribed field of egocentrism.

What is "Practical Occultism"? May it not be called the science of the conservation of man's energies, both for self-improvement and for the service of mankind? The ethics of Theosophy become the connecting link between "power" and "purpose," and the utilization of those ethics marks a transition between an inquirer -- a "speculator" -- and an Occultist. Thus the counsel that one cannot become an Occultist by studying "one single branch of the esoteric philosophy." Self-improvement was a goal of relative importance only, and even though self-improvement involved "conservation of energy," the purpose of those who truly might learn the science of Occultism would be to use the energy conserved towards the moral education, hence improvement, of all men who could be reached; the "purification of the soul," and even relieving the hereditary infirmities of the body, were seen to be cooperative, not personal, problems.

If one is to serve the ends of any educational endeavor, as a matter of fact, though, the mastery of "abstinence" is mandatory. It is necessary not only to see values beyond those of immediate personal advantage, but also to learn the dynamics of will-control, so that personal advantages are never inadvertently placed first when a larger end might be served. The principle of abstinence is simply the principle of conservation and control, a deliberate saving of one's vital energies, mental, psychic, and physical, and the deliberate expenditure of them. The phrases "self-denial" and "strict morality" are but further expressions of the need which all genuine teachers feel for one-pointedness in their teaching and example.

Actually, anyone whose interest in religion or religions extends beyond academic curiosity will understand and respond to strict ethical precepts -- in principle. But these become specific and difficult disciplines only when they are related to definite teachings as to the nature of man. Thus, while those whom H.P.B. calls the "lay" members of the Theosophical Society, and other students of comparative religions, could talk all they wished to in generalities about "self-sacrifice," strict morality, etc., only those who undertook the application of definite theosophical teachings to the problems of their own lives were obligated to cease being theoretical.

That such an obligation could be seen as a natural and demanding one for many of those who were members of the T.S. is clear. Thus H.P.B. writes that "the few real Theosophists in the T.S. are among the esoteric members." And following this remark, it is interesting to note, occurs a curious sentence which, while it certainly invalidates any criticism of H.P.B.'s presentation on the ground of "exclusiveness," again implies the obligation of moral decision among Theosophists themselves. Yet though the most "real Theosophists" in the T.S. were said by her to be members of the esoteric section, she also writes: "This does not imply that outside of the T.S. and inner circle, there are no Theosophists; for there are, and more than people know of; certainly far more than are found among the lay members of the T.S." Perhaps this implies more than a numerical distinction. Perhaps many of the "lay members," like the manasa putras, delayed or refused full incarnation into responsibility, and were thus more censurable than others whose karma did not precipitate such a decision at that time. In any case, such remarks apply to professing Theosophists only, not to members of the Society at large.

The value of the students' considering these and other statements before progressing to the specific teachings of Theosophy lies in the fact that the infinite complexity of the Theosophical Movement is thus revealed. Always, we might think, there are circles within circles. Every stage and degree of academic study, philosophical speculation, ethical resolve, religious faith, and ethical practice were encompassed in the total periphery of H.P.B.'s Theosophical Movement. Each step on the Path of Theosophy implied its own particular obligations, which The Key to Theosophy has so often been a guide in clarifying for each one. The difference between what was offered by H.P.B. and what may be noted in all religious systems as various "degrees of ascendancy" lay in the fact that the specific terms of each obligation were met by the individual himself on the basis of the philosophical tenets he had undertaken to study and uphold. The word "esoteric" thus became essentially, even if not always so regarded, a relative rather than an absolute term. Each degree of dedication gave a new meaning to "esoteric" and hence Theosophy proffered a never ending "ascension" by self-induced and self-devised efforts.


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 SURRENDER OF INTEGRITY

What is the principle of authoritarian religion? Worship, obedience, and reverence lie not in the moral qualities of the deity, not in love or justice, but in the fact that it has control, that is, has power over man. Furthermore it shows that the higher power has a right to force man to worship him and that lack of reverence and obedience constitutes sin.

The essential element in authoritarian religion and in the authoritarian religious experience is the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue of this type of religion is obedience, its cardinal sin is disobedience. Just as the deity is conceived as omnipotent or omniscient, man is conceived as being powerless and insignificant. Only as he can gain grace or help from the deity by complete surrender can he feel strength. Submission to a powerful authority is one of the avenues by which man escapes from his feeling of aloneness and limitation. In the act of surrender he loses his independence and integrity as an individual.... 


--ERICH FROMM

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