THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 10, August, 1962
(Pages 451-453; Size: 10K)

QUESTION--AND COMMENT

[Article number (23) in this Department]

THERE are many occasions for questioning what seems the Theosophical student's "ambivalence" in relation to the various religious traditions. For example, H. P. Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled, excoriates much of conventional Christianity and in particular attacks the psychology of Roman Catholicism. On the other hand, she often observes that there are significant connectives between Theosophy and every religious tradition. In the closing sentence of the ULT Declaration one notes the emphasized sentence, "The true Theosophist belongs to no cult or sect, yet belongs to each and all." Now, it is very easy for the Theosophist to feel oppositional toward conventional religions -- and also easy to forget that one of the main themes of The Secret Doctrine is that, within each religion, there is some essence of inspiration which relates to Theosophy. This question has been discussed, of course, a number of times in classes and in articles in THEOSOPHY, but it suddenly appears to this student that the discussion will never be complete enough, and that it should be extended whenever possible. [Note: "ULT" means "The United Lodge of Theosophists".--Compiler.]

This comment introduces, or rather renews, a question so basic to the understanding of the meaning of Theosophy that even the most inept approach to "continuing the discussion" must have a value. One point of departure which suggests itself is intimated by William Q. Judge in his Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, and while it is most common for students to assume that Mr. Judge's essays on the Gita pertain to this particular scripture alone, another way of reading what is said indicates that, through the medium of discussion of the Gita, Mr. Judge is talking about all religions -- a kinship with and also a paralleling theosophical separation from the beliefs and ceremonies of all "cult and sect" psychology. The clue, we think, is furnished by the repetitive allusion in the Gita Notes to the psychology of "initiation."

In his commentaries upon Chapter II of the Gita, Mr. Judge speaks of "a system of initiation which is the mother of all others"; all the rest are mere exoteric copies or perversions of the real. In various passages it becomes clear that Mr. Judge is saying that every human being who aspires towards a higher life, or to an idealization of morality, is concerned with the subject of initiation. "All human beings," he says, "are working through this system of initiation," and continues:

None of us, and especially those who have heard of the Path or of Occultism or of the Masters, can say with confidence that he is not already one who has passed through some initiations with knowledge of them. We may be already initiated into some higher degree than our present attainments would suggest, and are undergoing a new trial unknown to ourselves. It is better to consider that we are, being sure to eliminate all pride of that unknown advance we have made. Having so concluded, we know that this long life is in itself another initiation, wherein we succeed or fail just as we learn the lesson of life.
The "Secret Doctrine" that is within or behind every religious belief, sacrament, and ceremony lies in the simple teaching of self-initiation or self-discovery. From Egyptian tradition and from the tradition of the Greek Mystery Schools we have many examples of formal initiatory processes -- those involved with rituals. But the Theosophist is one who at least begins to see that no "system" is the equivalent of those "leaps into the void" which each one must encounter in his own way.

Perhaps the essential Theosophical quarrel with the influence of Roman Catholicism does not so much lie in Catholic disapproval of Theosophical doctrine -- in expected partisan alignment of forces in opposition: The point of psychological departure derives from recognition that in Roman Catholicism one encounters the strongest embodiment of a system which insists upon formalizing initiation -- and, furthermore, restricts the idea of initiatory progression to the priest -- who may of course become a bishop, an archbishop, or even a pope.

True initiations are esoteric, not exoteric, and this is what Mr. Judge is pointing out when explaining why Krishna must admonish Arjuna to forget the Vedic formalizations of spiritual progress. A key paragraph appears in a further commentary of Mr. Judge's on Chapter II of the Gita:

The essence of the instruction given by Krishna is by showing how erroneous it was to follow even the special ceremonies and texts laid down for the people in the Vedas. Those ceremonies procured either rewards in heaven, or upon the earth during subsequent lives as well as in those in which the ceremonies were performed. We can more easily understand what Krishna meant if we will suppose him to be referring to a doctrine that in those days was precisely similar in its scheme of rewards to the old-fashioned Christian belief that, by following the Scriptures, one secured happiness and prosperity on earth and great bliss forever in heaven with the saints. This is declared by him to be a deluding doctrine.
The Theosophist, if he is a student in the sense implied by Mr. Judge, must recognize that he participates to a degree in both the essential traditions of religion -- the one having to do with reliance upon beliefs and doctrines, the other a perception of the need for penetrating beyond such reliance. He must, periodically, recognize that his desire for enlightenment will precipitate him into what Judge calls "the great abyss." And when one finds himself in an "abyss" there are not, nor can there ever be, rules and regulations, proscribings and pronouncements that will automatically take him out of it. He must find the way himself, discover the doctrine which is "secret" because no one can reveal it to him except himself. The Theosophist, then, in Mr. Judge's terms, can never deride the devotion of any sectarian who follows his own particular tradition -- for each one of these describes some method of progress: "The true Theosophist belongs to no cult or sect, yet belongs to each and all."

The "true Theosophist" embodies humility, not so much because he focuses upon his own obvious imperfections, but rather because he sees every man, sectarian or not, as Arjuna, and identifies with Arjuna through recognition of a universal susceptibility to forms, ceremonies, and rituals -- as well as to the voice of Krishna. This is one way -- and perhaps the most important way -- of recognizing the identity of all human beings in terms of an evolutionary struggle -- the struggle that is epitomized in the Third Fundamental Proposition of H.P.B.'s Secret Doctrine when she says that the pivotal doctrine of the esoteric philosophy teaches the acquirement of individuality through self-induced efforts. Yet an essential derivation from a study of Mr. Judge's many references to the universal processes of "initiation" is that none of us may be presently able to do without the equivalent of the "Vedas" -- without some variety of ritual or doctrine. If we were able to, we would be Adepts or Mahatmas.

The only difference between the aspiring Theosophist and the devotee of any formal religious tradition is that the Theosophist is invited to see why it is that he must periodically become the "hero" who steps into the abyss -- because he knows the ultimate necessity of reaching what lies beyond. The Buddha taught his disciples no way of salvation, but instructed them in the necessity of periodically gaining the courage to travel "upstream" against all the tides of the psychic nature -- and he also warned them that whenever such an attempt was made they would have to live and breathe in an element temporarily foreign to them.


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