THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY
H P Blavatsky
Dedicated by "H.P.B." To all her Pupils, That They may Learn and Teach in their turn.
The Key to Theosophy
A Clear Exposition in the Form of Question and Answer
of the Ethics, Science, and Philosophy for the Study of Which The Theosophical Society has been Founded.
The purpose of this book is exactly expressed in its title, The Key to
Theosophy, and needs but few words of explanation. It is not a complete or
exhaustive textbook of Theosophy, but only a key to unlock the door that leads
to the deeper study. It traces the broad outlines of the Wisdom-Religion, and
explains its fundamental principles; meeting, at the same time, the various
objections raised by the average Western inquirer, and endeavouring to present
unfamiliar concepts in a form as simple and in language as clear as possible.
That it should succeed in making Theosophy intelligible without mental effort on
the part of the reader, would be too much to expect; but it is hoped that the
obscurity still left is of the thought and not of the language, is due to depth
and not to confusion. To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a
riddle; for in the world mental as in the world spiritual each man must progress
by his own efforts. The writer cannot do the reader's thinking for him, nor
would the latter be any the better off if such vicarious thought were possible.
The need for such an exposition as the present has long been felt among those
interested in the Theosophical Society and its work, and it is hoped that it
will supply information, as free as possible from technicalities, to many whose
attention has been awakened, but who, as yet, are merely puzzled and not
Some care has been taken in disentangling some part of what is true from what is
false in Spiritualistic teachings as to the postmortem life, and to showing the
true nature of Spiritualistic phenomena. Previous explanations of a similar kind
have drawn much wrath upon the writer's devoted head; the Spiritualists, like
too many others, preferring to believe what is pleasant rather than what is
true, and becoming very angry with anyone who destroys an agreeable delusion.
For the past year Theosophy has been the target for every poisoned arrow of
Spiritualism, as though the possessors of a half truth felt more antagonism to
the possessors of the whole truth than those who had no share to boast of.
Very hearty thanks are due from the author to many Theosophists who have sent
suggestions and questions, or have otherwise contributed help during the writing
of this book. The work will be the more useful for their aid, and that will be
their best reward.
Theosophy and The Theosophical Society
The Meaning of the Name
Q. Theosophy and its doctrines are often referred to as a newfangled religion.
Is it a religion?
A. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge or Science.
Q. What is the real meaning of the term?
A. "Divine Wisdom," (Theosophia) or Wisdom of the gods, as (theogonia),
genealogy of the gods. The word 'theos' means a god in Greek, one of the divine beings, certainly not "God" in the sense attached in our day to the term.
Therefore, it is not "Wisdom of God," as translated by some, but Divine Wisdom such as that possessed by the gods. The term is many thousand years old.
Q. What is the origin of the name?
A. It comes to us from the Alexandrian philosophers, called lovers of truth,
Philaletheians, from (phil) "loving," and (aletheia) "truth." The name Theosophy
dates from the third century of our era, and began with Ammonius Saccas and his disciples, also called Analogeticists, who started the Eclectic Theosophical
As explained by Professor Wilder, they were called so because of their practice
of interpreting all sacred legends and narratives, myths and mysteries, by a
rule or principle of analogy and correspondence: so that events which were
related as having occurred in the external world were regarded as expressing
operations and experiences of the human soul. They were also denominated
Neo-Platonists. Though Theosophy, or the Eclectic Theosophical system, is
generally attributed to the third century, yet, if Diogenes Laërtius is to be
credited, its origin is much earlier, as he attributed the system to an Egyptian
priest, Pot-Amun, who lived in the early days of the Ptolemaic dynasty. The same author tells us that the name is Coptic, and signifies one consecrated to Amun, the God of Wisdom. Theosophy is the equivalent of Brahma-Vidya , divine knowledge.
Q. What was the object of this system?
A. First of all to inculcate certain great moral truths upon its disciples, and
all those who were "lovers of the truth." Hence the motto adopted by the
Theosophical Society: "There is no religion higher than truth."
Eclectic Theosophy was divided under three heads:
1. Belief in one absolute, incomprehensible and supreme Deity, or infinite
essence, which is the root of all nature, and of all that is, visible and
2. Belief in man's eternal immortal nature, because, being a radiation of the
Universal Soul, it is of an identical essence with it.
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; but having been abused
and misconceived by the populace, it had come to be regarded by some as
necromancy, and was generally forbidden. A travestied practice of the theurgy of Iamblichus lingers still in the ceremonial magic of some modern Cabalists.
Modern Theosophy avoids and rejects both these kinds of magic and "necromancy" as being very dangerous. Real divine theurgy requires an almost superhuman purity and holiness of life; otherwise it degenerates into mediumship or black magic. The immediate disciples of Ammonius Saccas, who was called Theodidaktos, "god-taught"-such as Plotinus and his follower Porphyry-rejected theurgy at first, but were finally reconciled to it through Iamblichus, who wrote a work to that effect entitled De Mysteriis, under the name of his own master, a famous Egyptian priest called Abammon. Ammonius Saccas was the son of Christian parents, and, having been repelled by dogmatic Spiritualistic Christianity from his childhood, became a Neo-Platonist, and like J. Boëhme and other great seers and mystics, is said to have had divine wisdom revealed to him in dreams and visions. Hence his name of Theodidaktos. He resolved to reconcile every system of religion, and by demonstrating their identical origin to establish one universal creed based on ethics. His life was so blameless and pure, his learning so profound and vast, that several Church Fathers were his secret disciples. Clemens Alexandrinus speaks very highly of him. Plotinus, the "St. John" of Ammonius, was also a man universally respected and esteemed, and of the most profound learning and integrity. When thirty-nine years of age he
accompanied the Roman Emperor Gordian and his army to the East, to be instructed by the sages of Bactria and India. He had a School of Philosophy in Rome. Porphyry, his disciple, whose real name was Malek (a Hellenized Jew), collected all the writings of his master. Porphyry was himself a great author, and gave an allegorical interpretation to some parts of Homer's writings.
The system of meditation the Philaletheians resorted to was ecstasy, a system akin to Indian Yoga practice. What is known of the Eclectic School is due to Origen, Longinus, and Plotinus, the immediate disciples of Ammonius.
The chief aim of the Founders of the Eclectic Theosophical School was one of the three objects of its modern successor, the Theosophical Society, namely, to
reconcile all religions, sects, and nations under a common system of ethics,
based on eternal verities.
Q. What have you to show that this is not an impossible dream; and that all the
world's religions are based on the one and the same truth?
A. Their comparative study and analysis. The "Wisdom-Religion" was one in
antiquity; and the sameness of primitive religious philosophy is proven to us by
the identical doctrines taught to the Initiates during the mysteries, an
institution once universally diffused.
All the old worships indicate the existence of a single Theosophy anterior to
them. The key that is to open one must open all; otherwise it cannot be the
The Policy of the Theosophical Society
Q. In the days of Ammonius there were several ancient great religions, and
numerous were the sects in Egypt and Palestine alone. How could he reconcile
A. By doing that which we again try to do now. The Neo-Platonists were a large
body, and belonged to various religious philosophies; so do our Theosophists.
It was under Philadelphus that Judaism established itself in Alexandria, and
forthwith the Hellenic teachers became the dangerous rivals of the College of
Rabbis of Babylon. As the author of The Eclectic Philosophy very pertinently
The Buddhist, Vedantic, and Magian systems were expounded along with the
philosophies of Greece at that period. It was not wonderful that thoughtful men
supposed that the strife of words ought to cease, and considered it possible to
extract one harmonious system from these various teachings … Panaetius,
Athenagoras, and Clement were thoroughly instructed in Platonic philosophy, and comprehended its essential unity with the Oriental systems.
In those days, the Jew Aristobulus affirmed that the ethics of Aristotle
represented the esoteric teachings of the Law of Moses; Philo Judaeus endeavored to reconcile the pentateuch with the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy; and Josephus proved that the Essenes of Carmel were simply the copyists and followers of the Egyptian Therapeutae (the healers). So it is in our day.
We can show the line of descent of every Christian religion, as of every, even the smallest, sect. The latter are the minor twigs or shoots grown on the larger
branches; but shoots and branches spring from the same trunk-the
wisdom-religion. To prove this was the aim of Ammonius, who endeavored to induce Gentiles and Christians, Jews and Idolaters, to lay aside their contention and strife, remembering only that they were all in possession of the same truth
under various vestments, and were all the children of a common mother. This is
the aim of Theosophy likewise. Says Mosheim of Ammonius:
Conceiving that not only the philosophers of Greece, but also all those of the
different barbarian nations, were perfectly in unison with each other with
regard to every essential point, he made it his business so to expound the
thousand tenets of all these various sects as to show they had all originated
from one and the same source, and tended all to one and the same end.
If the writer on Ammonius in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia knows what he is talking about, then he describes the modern Theosophists, their beliefs, and their work, for he says, speaking of the Theodidaktos:
He adopted the doctrines which were received in Egypt (the esoteric were those
of India) concerning the Universe and the Deity, considered as constituting one
great whole; concerning the eternity of the world … and established a system of
moral discipline which allowed the people in general to live according to the
laws of their country and the dictates of nature, but required the wise to exalt
their mind by contemplation.
Q. What is your authority for saying this of the ancient Theosophists of
A. An almost countless number of well-known writers. Mosheim, one of them, says that:Ammonius taught that the religion of the multitude went hand-in-hand with philosophy, and with her had shared the fate of being by degrees corrupted and obscured with mere human conceits, superstitions, and lies; that it ought,
therefore, to be brought back to its original purity by purging it of this dross
and expounding it upon philosophical principles; and the whole Christ had in
view was to reinstate and restore to its primitive integrity the wisdom of the
ancients; to reduce within bounds the universally-prevailing dominion of
superstition; and in part to correct, and in part to exterminate the various
errors that had found their way into the different popular religions.
This, again, is precisely what the modern Theosophists say. Only while the great
Philaletheian was supported and helped in the policy he pursued by two Church
Fathers, Clement and Athenagoras, by all the learned Rabbis of the Synagogue,
the Academy and the Groves, and while he taught a common doctrine for all, we, his followers on the same line, receive no recognition, but, on the contrary,
are abused and persecuted. People 1,500 years ago are thus shown to have been
more tolerant than they are in this enlightened century.
Q. Was he encouraged and supported by the Church because, notwithstanding his heresies, Ammonius taught Christianity and was a Christian?
A. Not at all. He was born a Christian, but never accepted Church Christianity.
As said of him by the same writer:
He had but to propound his instructions according to the ancient pillars of
Hermes, which Plato and Pythagoras knew before, and from them constituted their philosophy. Finding the same in the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John, he very properly supposed that the purpose of Jesus was to restore the
great doctrine of wisdom in its primitive integrity. The narratives of the Bible
and the stories of the gods he considered to be allegories illustrative of the
truth, or else fables to be rejected. As says the Edinburgh Encyclopedia:
Moreover, he acknowledged that Jesus Christ was an excellent man and the "friend of God," but alleged that it was not his design entirely to abolish the worship of demons (gods), and that his only intention was to purify the ancient
The Wisdom-Religion, Esoteric in All Ages
Q. Since Ammonius never committed anything to writing, how can one feel sure
that such were his teachings?
A. Neither did Buddha, Pythagoras, Confucius, Orpheus, Socrates, or even Jesus,
leave behind them any writings. Yet most of these are historical personages, and
their teachings have all survived. The disciples of Ammonius (among whom Origen and Herennius) wrote treatises and explained his ethics. Certainly the latter are as historical, if not more so, than the Apostolic writings. Moreover, his
pupils-Origen, Plotinus, and Longinus (counselor of the famous Queen
Zenobia)-have all left voluminous records of the Philaletheian System-so far, at
all events, as their public profession of faith was known, for the school was
divided into exoteric and esoteric teachings.
Q. How have the latter tenets reached our day, since you hold that what is
properly called the wisdom-religion was esoteric?
A. The wisdom-religion was ever one, and being the last word of possible human knowledge, was, therefore, carefully preserved. It preceded by long ages the Alexandrian Theosophists, reached the modern, and will survive every other
religion and philosophy.
Q. Where and by whom was it so preserved?
A. Among Initiates of every country; among profound seekers after truth-their
disciples; and in those parts of the world where such topics have always been
most valued and pursued: in India, Central Asia, and Persia.
Q. Can you give me some proofs of its esotericism?
A. The best proof you can have of the fact is that every ancient religious, or
rather philosophical, cult consisted of an esoteric or secret teaching, and an
exoteric (outward public) worship. Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that the
mysteries of the ancients comprised with every nation the "greater" (secret) and
"Lesser" (public) mysteries-e.g., in the celebrated solemnities called the
Eleusinia, in Greece. From the Hierophants of Samothrace, Egypt, and the
initiated Brahmins of the India of old, down to the later Hebrew Rabbis, all
preserved, for fear of profanation, their real bona fide beliefs secret. The
Jewish Rabbis called their secular religious series the Merkabah(the exterior
body), "the vehicle," or, the covering which contains the hidden soul-i.e.,
their highest secret knowledge. Not one of the ancient nations ever imparted
through its priests its real philosophical secrets to the masses, but allotted
to the latter only the husks. Northern Buddhism has its "greater" and its
"lesser" vehicle, known as the Mahayana, the esoteric, and the Hinayana, the
exoteric, Schools. Nor can you blame them for such secrecy; for surely you would not think of feeding your flock of sheep on learned dissertations on botany instead of on grass?
Pythagoras called his Gnosis "the knowledge of things that are," or [translit. Greek] "he gnosis ton onton" and preserved that knowledge for his pledged disciples only: for those who could digest such mental food and feel satisfied; and he pledged them to silence and secrecy. Occult alphabets and secret ciphers are the development of the old Egyptian hieratic writings, the secret of which was, in the days of old, in the possession only of the Hierogrammatists, or initiated Egyptian priests. Ammonius Saccas, as his biographers tell us, bound his pupils by oath not to divulge his higher doctrines except to those who had already been instructed in preliminary knowledge, and who were also bound by a pledge. Finally, do we not find the same even in early Christianity, among the Gnostics, and even in the teachings of Christ?
Did he not speak to the multitudes in parables which had a two-fold
meaning, and explain his reasons only to his disciples? He says:
To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables The Essenes of Judea and Carmel made similar distinctions, dividing their adherents into neophytes, brethren, and the perfect, or those initiated.Examples might be brought from every country to this effect.
Q. Can you attain the "Secret Wisdom" simply by study? Encyclopedias
defineTheosophy pretty much as Webster's Dictionary does, i.e.,as
… supposed intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment of superhuman knowledge by physical means and chemical processes.Is this so?
A. I think not. Nor is there any lexicographer capable of explaining, whether to
himself or others, how superhuman knowledge can be attained by physical or
chemical processes. Had Webster said "by metaphysical and alchemical processes," the definition would be approximately correct: as it is, it is absurd. Ancient Theosophists claimed, and so do the modern, that the infinite cannot be known by the finite-i.e., sensed by the finite Self-but that the divine essence could be communicated to the higher Spiritual Self in a state of ecstasy. This condition can hardly be attained, like hypnotism, by "physical and chemical means."
Q. What is your explanation of it?
A. Real ecstasy was defined by Plotinus as "the liberation of the mind from its
finite consciousness, becoming one and identified with the infinite." This is
the highest condition, says Professor Wilder, but not one of permanent duration,
and it is reached only by the very, very few. It is, indeed, identical with that
state which is known in India as Samadhi. The latter is practiced by the Yogis,
who facilitate it physically by the greatest abstinence in food and drink, and
mentally by an incessant endeavor to purify and elevate the mind. Meditation is
silent and unuttered prayer, or, as Plato expressed it,
… the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask any particular
good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself-for the universal
Supreme Good …-of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have all emerged. Therefore, adds Plato, Remain silent in the presence of the divine ones, till they remove the clouds from thy eyes and enable thee to see by the light which issues from themselves, not what appears as good to thee, but what is intrinsically good.
This is what the scholarly author of The Eclectic Philosophy, Professor
Alexander Wilder, F.T.S., describes as "spiritual photography":
The soul is the camera in which facts and events, future, past, and present, are
alike fixed; and the mind becomes conscious of them. Beyond our everyday world of limits all is one day or state-the past and future comprised in the present.
… Death is the last ecstasis on earth. Then the soul is freed from the
constraint of the body, and its nobler part is united to higher nature and
becomes partaker in the wisdom and foreknowledge of the higher beings.
Real Theosophy is, for the mystics, that state which Apollonius of Tyana was
made to describe thus:
I can see the present and the future as in a clear mirror. The sage need not
wait for the vapors of the earth and the corruption of the air to foresee events
… The theoi, or gods, see the future; common men the present, sages that which is about to take place.
"The Theosophy of the Sages" he speaks of is well expressed in the assertion,
"The Kingdom of God is within us."
Q. Theosophy, then, is not, as held by some, a newly devised scheme?
A. Only ignorant people can thus refer to it. It is as old as the world, in its
teachings and ethics, if not in name, as it is also the broadest and most
catholic system among all.
Q. How comes it, then, that Theosophy has remained so unknown to the nations of the Western Hemisphere? Why should it have been a sealed book to races
confessedly the most cultured and advanced?
A. We believe there were nations as cultured in days of old and certainly more
spiritually "advanced" than we are. But there are several reasons for this
willing ignorance. One of them was given by St. Paul to the cultured Athenians-a
loss, for long centuries, of real spiritual insight, and even interest, owing to
their too great devotion to things of sense and their long slavery to the dead
letter of dogma and ritualism. But the strongest reason for it lies in the fact
that real Theosophy has ever been kept secret.
Q. You have brought forward proofs that such secrecy has existed; but what was the real cause for it?
A. The causes for it were:
1. The perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to
the gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbors arid next of
kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets.
2. Their unreliability to keep the sacred and divine knowledge from desecration.
It is the latter that led to the perversion of the most sublime truths and
symbols, and to the gradual transformation of things spiritual into
anthropomorphic, concrete, and gross imagery-in other words, to the dwarfing of the god-idea and to idolatry.
Theosophy is Not Buddhism
Q. You are often spoken of as "Esoteric Buddhists." Are you then all followers
of Gautama Buddha?
A. No more than musicians are all followers of Wagner. Some of us are Buddhists by religion; yet there are far more Hindus and Brahmins than Buddhists among us, and more Christian-born Europeans and Americans than converted Buddhists. The mistake has arisen from a misunderstanding of the real meaning of the title of Mr. Sinnett's excellent work, Esoteric Buddhism, which last word ought to have been spelt with one, instead of two, d's, as then Budhism would have meant what it was intended for, merely "Wisdom-ism" (Bodha, bodhi, "intelligence," "wisdom") instead of Buddhism, Gautama's religious philosophy. Theosophy, as already said, is the wisdom-religion.
Q. What is the difference between Buddhism, the religion founded by the Prince
of Kapilavastu, and Budhism, the "Wisdomism" which you say is synonymous with Theosophy?
A. Just the same difference as there is between the secret teachings of Christ,
which are called "the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven," and the later
ritualism and dogmatic theology of the Churches and Sects. Buddha means the
"Enlightened" by Bodha, or understanding, Wisdom. This has passed root and
branch into the esoteric teachings that Gautama imparted to his chosen Arhats
Q. But some Orientalists deny that Buddha ever taught any esoteric doctrine at
A. They may as well deny that Nature has any hidden secrets for the men of
science. Further on I will prove it by Buddha's conversation with his disciple
Ananda. His esoteric teachings were simply the Gupta-Vidya(secret knowledge) of the ancient Brahmins, the key to which their modern successors have, with few exceptions, completely lost. And this Vidya has passed into what is now known as the inner teachings of the Mahayana school of Northern Buddhism. Those who deny it are simply ignorant pretenders to Orientalism. I advise you to read the Rev. Mr. Edkin's Chinese Buddhism-especially the chapters on the Exoteric and Esoteric schools and teachings-and then compare the testimony of the whole ancient world upon the subject.
Q. But are not the ethics of Theosophy identical with those taught by Buddha?
A. Certainly, because these ethics are the soul of the Wisdom-Religion, and were once the common property of the initiates of all nations. But Buddha was the first to embody these lofty ethics in his public teachings, and to make them the foundation and the very essence of his public system. It is herein that lies the
immense difference between exoteric Buddhism and every other religion. For while in other religions ritualism and dogma hold the first and most important place, in Buddhism it is the ethics which have always been the most insisted upon. This accounts for the resemblance, amounting almost to identity, between the ethics of Theosophy and those of the religion of Buddha.
Q. Are there any great points of difference?
A. One great distinction between Theosophy and exoteric Buddhism is that the
latter, represented by the Southern Church, entirely denies (a) the existence of
any Deity, and (b) any conscious postmortem life, or even any self-conscious
surviving individuality in man. Such at least is the teaching of the Siamese
sect, now considered as the purest form of exoteric Buddhism. And it is so, if
we refer only to Buddha's public teachings; the reason for such reticence on his
part I will give further on. But the schools of the Northern Buddhist Church,
established in those countries to which his initiated Arhats retired after the
Master's death, teach all that is now called Theosophical doctrines, because
they form part of the knowledge of the initiates-thus proving how the truth has
been sacrificed to the dead-letter by the too-zealous orthodoxy of Southern
Buddhism. But how much grander and more noble, more philosophical and
scientific, even in its dead-letter, is this teaching than that of any other
Church or religion. Yet Theosophy is not Buddhism.
Exoteric and Esoteric Theosophy
What the Modern Theosophical Society is Not
Q. Your doctrines, then, are not a revival of Buddhism, nor are they entirely
copied from the Neo-Platonic Theosophy?
A. They are not. But to these questions I cannot give you a better answer than
by quoting from a paper read on "Theosophy" by Dr. J.D. Buck, F.T.S., No living Theosophist has better expressed and understood the real essence of Theosophy than our honored friend Dr. Buck:
The Theosophical Society was organized for the purpose of promulgating the
Theosophical doctrines, and for the promotion of the Theosophic life. The
present Theosophical Society is not the first of its kind. I have a volume
entitled: Theosophical Transactions of the Philadelphian Society, published in
London in 1697; and another with the following title: Introduction to Theosophy, or the Science of the Mystery of Christ; that is, of Deity, Nature, and Creature, embracing the philosophy of all the working powers of life, magical and spiritual, ant forming a practical guide to the most sublime purity, sanctity, and evangelical perfection; also to the attainment of divine vision, and the holy angelic arts, potencies, and other prerogatives of the regeneration.
-published in London in 1855. The following is the dedication of this volume:
To the students of Universities, Colleges, and schools of Christendom: To
Professors of Metaphysical, Mechanical, and Natural Science in all its forms: To
men and women of Education generally, of fundamental orthodox faith: To Deists, Arians, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, and other defective and ungrounded creeds, rationalists, and skeptics of every kind: To just-minded and enlightened
Mohammedans, Jews, and oriental Patriarch-religionists: but especially to the
gospel minister and missionary, whether to the barbaric or intellectual peoples,
this introduction to Theosophy, or the science of the ground and mystery of all
things, is most humbly and affectionately dedicated. In the following year
(1856) another volume was issued, royal octavo, of 600 pages, diamond type, of
Theosophical Miscellanies. Of the last-named work 500 copies only were issued, for gratuitous distribution to Libraries and Universities. These earlier
movements, of which there were many, originated within the Church, with persons of great piety and earnestness, and of unblemished character; and all of these writings were in orthodox form, using the Christian expressions, and, like the writings of the eminent Churchman William Law, would only be distinguished by the ordinary reader for their great earnestness and piety. These were one and all but attempts to derive and explain the deeper meanings and original import of the Christian Scriptures, and to illustrate and unfold the Theosophic life.
These works were soon forgotten, and are now generally unknown. They sought to reform the clergy and revive genuine piety, and were never welcomed. That one word, Heresy, was sufficient to bury them in the limbo of all such Utopias.
At the time of the Reformation John Reuchlin made a similar attempt with the same result, though he was the intimate and trusted friend of Luther. Orthodoxy never desired to be informed and enlightened. These reformers were informed, as was Paul by Festus, that too much learning had made them mad, and that it would be dangerous to go farther. Passing by the verbiage, which was partly a matter of habit and education with these writers, and partly due to religious restraint through secular power, and coming to the core of the matter, these writings were Theosophical in the strictest sense, and pertain solely to man's knowledge of his own nature and the higher life of the soul. The present Theosophical Movement has sometimes been declared to be an attempt to convert Christendom to Buddhism, which means simply that the word Heresy has lost its terrors and relinquished its power. Individuals in every age have more or less clearly apprehended the Theosophical doctrines and wrought them into the fabric of their lives. These doctrines belong exclusively to no religion, and are confined to no society or time. They are the birthright of every human soul.
Such a thing as orthodoxy must be wrought out by each individual according to his nature and his needs, and according to his varying experience. This may explain why those who have imagined Theosophy to be a new religion have hunted in vain for its creed and its ritual. Its creed is Loyalty to Truth, and its ritual "To honor every truth by use."
How little this principle of Universal Brotherhood is understood by the masses
of mankind, how seldom its transcendent importance is recognized, may be seen in the diversity of opinion and fictitious interpretations regarding the
Theosophical Society. This Society was organized on this one principle, the
essential Brotherhood of Man, as herein briefly outlined and imperfectly set
forth. It has been assailed as Buddhist and anti-Christian, as though it could
be both these together, when both Buddhism and Christianity, as set forth by
their inspired founders, make brotherhood the one essential of doctrine and of
life. Theosophy has been also regarded as something new under the sun, or, at
best as old mysticism masquerading under a new name.
While it is true that many Societies founded upon, and united to support, the principles of altruism, or essential brotherhood, have borne various names, it is also true that many have also been called Theosophic, and with principles and aims as the present society bearing that name. With these societies, one and all, the essential doctrine has been the same, and all else has been incidental, though this does not obviate the fact that many persons are attracted to the incidentals who overlook or ignore the essentials.
No better or more explicit answer-by a man who is one of our most esteemed and earnest Theosophists-could be given to your questions.
Q. Which system do you prefer or follow, in that case, besides Buddhist ethics?
A. None, and all. We hold to no religion, as to no philosophy in particular: we
cull the good we find in each. But here, again, it must be stated that, like all
other ancient systems, Theosophy is divided into Exoteric and Esoteric Sections.
Q. What is the difference?
A. The members of the Theosophical Society at large are free to profess whatever religion or philosophy they like, or none if they so prefer, provided they are in sympathy with, and ready to carry out one or more of the three objects of the Association. The Society is a philanthropic and scientific body for the propagation of the idea of brotherhood on practical instead of theoretical
lines. The Fellows may be Christians or Muslims, Jews or Parsees, Buddhists or
Brahmins, Spiritualists or Materialists, it does not matter; but every member
must be either a philanthropist, or a scholar, a searcher into ryan and other
old literature, or a psychic student. In short, he has to help, if he can, in
the carrying out of at least one of the objects of the program. Otherwise he has
no reason for becoming a "Fellow." Such are the majority of the exoteric
Society, composed of "attached" and "unattached" members. These may, or may not, become Theosophists de facto. Members they are, by virtue of their having joined the Society; but the latter cannot make a Theosophist of one who has no sense for the divine fitness of things, or of him who understands Theosophy in his own-if the expression may be used-sectarian and egotistic way. "Handsome is, as handsome does" could be paraphrased in this case and be made to run: "Theosophist is, who Theosophy does."
Theosophists and Members of the T.S.
Q. This applies to lay members, as I understand. And what of those who pursue
the esoteric study of Theosophy; are they the real Theosophists?
A. Not necessarily, until they have proven themselves to be such. They have
entered the inner group and pledged themselves to carry out, as strictly as they
can, the rules of the occult body. This is a difficult undertaking, as the
foremost rule of all is the entire renunciation of one's personality-i.e., 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.
The few real Theosophists in the T.S. are among these members.
A. This does not imply that outside of the T.S. and the 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.
Q. Then what is the good of joining the so-called Theosophical Society in that
case? Where is the incentive?
A. None, except the advantage of getting esoteric instructions, the genuine
doctrines of the "Wisdom-Religion," and if the real program is carried out,
deriving much help from mutual aid and sympathy. Union is strength and harmony, and well-regulated simultaneous efforts produce wonders. This has been the secret of all associations and communities since mankind existed.
Q. But why could not a man of well-balanced mind and singleness of purpose, one, say, of indomitable energy and perseverance, become an Occultist and even an Adept if he works alone?
A. He may; but there are ten thousand chances against one that he will fail. For
one reason out of many others, no books on Occultism or Theurgy exist in our day which give out the secrets of alchemy or medieval Theosophy in plain language.
All are symbolical or in parables; and as the key to these has been lost for
ages in the West, how can a man learn the correct meaning of what he is reading
and studying? Therein lies the greatest danger, one that leads to unconscious
black magic or the most helpless mediumship. He who has not an Initiate for a
master had better leave the dangerous study alone. Look around you and observe.
While two-thirds of civilized society ridicule the mere notion that there is
anything in Theosophy, Occultism, Spiritualism, or in the Cabala, the other
third is composed of the most heterogeneous and opposite elements. Some believe in the mystical, and even in the supernatural (!), but each believes in his own way. Others will rush single-handed into the study of the Cabala, Psychism,
Mesmerism, Spiritualism, or some form or another of Mysticism. Result: no two
men think alike, no two are agreed upon any fundamental occult principles,
though many are those who claim for themselves the ultima thule of knowledge,
and would make outsiders believe that they are full-blown adepts. Not only is
there no scientific and accurate knowledge of Occultism accessible in the
West-not even of true astrology, the only branch of Occultism which, in its
exoteric teachings, has definite laws and a definite system-but no one has any
idea of what real Occultism means. Some limit ancient wisdom to the cabala and
the Jewish Zohar, which each interprets in his own way according to the
dead-letter of the Rabbinical methods. Others regard Swedenborg or Boëhme as the ultimate expressions of the highest wisdom; while others again see in mesmerism the great secret of ancient magic. One and all of those who put their theory into practice are rapidly drifting, through ignorance, into black magic. Happy are those who escape from it, as they have neither test nor criterion by which they can distinguish between the true and the false.
Q. Are we to understand that the inner group of the T.S. claims to learn what it
does from real initiates or masters of esoteric wisdom?
A. Not directly. The personal presence of such masters is not required. Suffice
it if they give instructions to some of those who have studied under their
guidance for years, and devoted their whole lives to their service. Then, in
turn, these can give out the knowledge so imparted to others, who had no such
opportunity. A portion of the true sciences is better than a mass of undigested
and misunderstood learning. An ounce of gold is worth a ton of dust.
Q. But how is one to know whether the ounce is real gold or only a counterfeit?
A. A tree is known by its fruit, a system by its results. When our opponents are
able to prove to us that any solitary student of Occultism throughout the ages
has become a saintly adept like Ammonius Saccas, or even a Plotinus, or a
Theurgist like Iamblichus, or achieved feats such as are claimed to have been
done by St. Germain, without any master to guide him, and all this without being
a medium, a self-deluded psychic, or a charlatan-then shall we confess ourselves
mistaken. But till then, Theosophists prefer to follow the proven natural law of
the tradition of the Sacred Science. There are mystics who have made great
discoveries in chemistry and physical sciences, almost bordering on alchemy and Occultism; others who, by the sole aid of their genius, have rediscovered
portions, if not the whole, of the lost alphabets of the "Mystery language," and
are, therefore, able to read correctly Hebrew scrolls; others still, who, being
seers, have caught wonderful glimpses of the hidden secrets of Nature. But all
these are specialists. One is a theoretical inventor, another a Hebrew, i.e.,a
Sectarian Cabalist, a third a Swedenborg of modern times, denying all and
everything outside of his own particular science or religion. Not one of them
can boast of having produced a universal or even a national benefit thereby, not
even to himself. With the exception of a few healers-of that class which the
Royal College of Physicians or Surgeons would call quacks-none have helped with their science Humanity, nor even a number of men of the same community.
are the Chaldeans of old, those who wrought marvelous cures, "not by
charms but by simples"? Where is an Apollonius of Tyana, who healed the
sick and raised the dead under any climate and circumstances? We know some
specialists of the former class in
Q. Is the production of such healing adepts the aim of Theosophy?
A. Its aims are several; but the most important of all are those which are
likely to lead to the relief of human suffering under any or every form, moral
as well as physical. And we believe the former to be far more important than the
latter. 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.
Q. Is help, then, to reach this most important aim, given only to those who
study the esoteric sciences?
A. Not at all. Every lay member is entitled to general instruction if he only
wants it; but few are willing to become what is called "working members," and
most prefer to remain the drones of Theosophy. Let it be understood that private research is encouraged in the T.S., provided it does not infringe the limit
which separates the exoteric from the esoteric, the blind from the conscious
The Difference Between Theosophy and Occultism
Q. You speak of Theosophy and Occultism; are they identical?
A. By no means. A man may be a very good Theosophist indeed, whether in or
outsideof the Society, without being in any way an Occultist. But no one can be
a true Occultist without being a real Theosophist; otherwise he is simply a
black magician, whether conscious or unconscious.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I have said already that a true Theosophist must put in practice the loftiest
moral ideal, must strive to realize his unity with the whole of humanity, and
work ceaselessly for others. Now, if an Occultist does not do all this, he must
act selfishly for his own personal benefit; and if he has acquired more
practical power than other ordinary men, he becomes forthwith a far more
dangerous enemy to the world and those around him than the average mortal. This is clear.
Q. Then is an Occultist simply a man who possesses more power than other people?
A. Far more-if he is a practical and really learned Occultist, and not one only
in name. Occult sciences are not, as described in Encyclopedias, …
those imaginary sciences of the Middle Ages which related to the supposed action or influence of Occult qualities or supernatural powers, as alchemy, magic, necromancy, and astrology …
-for they are real, actual, and very dangerous sciences. They teach the secret
potency of things in Nature, developing and cultivating the hidden powers
"latent in man," thus giving him tremendous advantages over more ignorant
mortals. Hypnotism, now become so common and a subject of serious scientific
inquiry, is a good instance in point. Hypnotic power has been discovered almost
by accident, the way to it having been prepared by mesmerism; and now an able
hypnotist can do almost anything with it, from forcing a man, unconsciously to
himself, to play the fool, to making him commit a crime-often by proxy for the
hypnotist, and for the benefit of the latter. Is not this a terrible power if
left in the hands of unscrupulous persons? And please to remember that this is
only one of the minor branches of Occultism.
Q. But are not all these Occult sciences, magic, and sorcery, considered by the
most cultured and learned people as relics of ancient ignorance and
A. Let me remind you that this remark of yours cuts both ways. The "most
cultured and learned" among you regard also Christianity and every other
religion as a relic of ignorance and superstition. People begin to believe now,
at any rate, in hypnotism, and some-even of the most cultured-in Theosophy and
phenomena. But who among them, except preachers and blind fanatics, will confess to a belief in Biblical miracles? And this is where the point of difference
comes in. There are very good and pure Theosophists who may believe in the
supernatural, divine miracles included, but no Occultist will do so.
For an Occultist practices scientificTheosophy, based on accurate knowledge of Nature's secret workings; but a Theosophist, practicing the powers called abnormal, minus the light of Occultism, will simply tend toward a dangerous form of mediumship, because, although holding to Theosophy and its highest conceivable code of ethics, he practices it in the dark, on sincere but blind faith.
Anyone, Theosophist or Spiritualist, who attempts to cultivate one of the branches of Occult science-e.g.,Hypnotism, Mesmerism, or even the secrets of producing physical phenomena, etc.-without the knowledge of the philosophic rationale of those powers, is like a rudderless boat launched on a stormy ocean.
The Difference Between Theosophy and Spiritualism
Q. But do you not believe in Spiritualism?
A. If by "Spiritualism" you mean the explanation which Spiritualists give of
some abnormal phenomena, then decidedly we do not. They maintain that these
manifestations are all produced by the "spirits" of departed mortals, generally
their relatives, who return to earth, they say, to communicate with those they
have loved or to whom they are attached. We deny this point blank. We assert
that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth-save in rare and exceptional
cases, of which I may speak later; nor do they communicate with men except by
entirely subjective means. That which does appear objectively, is only the
phantom of the ex-physical man. But in psychic, and so to say, "Spiritual"
Spiritualism, we do believe, most decidedly.
Q. Do you reject the phenomena also?
A. Assuredly not-save cases of conscious fraud.
Q. How do you account for them, then?
A. In many ways. The causes of such manifestations are by no means so simple as the Spiritualists would like to believe. Foremost of all, the deus ex machina of
the so-called "materializations" is usually the astral body or "double" of the
medium or of someone present. This astral body is also the producer or operating force in the manifestations of slate-writing, "Davenport"-like manifestations, and so on.
Q. You say usually-then what is it that produces the rest?
A. That depends on the nature of the manifestations. Sometimes the astral
remains, the Kamalokic "shells" of the vanished personalities that were; at
other times, Elementals. Spirit is a word of manifold and wide significance. I
really do not know what Spiritualists mean by the term; but what we understand
them to claim is that the physical phenomena are produced by the reincarnating
Ego, the Spiritual and immortal "individuality." And this hypothesis we entirely
reject. The Conscious Individuality of the disembodied cannot materialize, nor
can it return from its own mental Devachanic sphere to the plane of terrestrial
Q. But many of the communications received from the "spirits" show not only
intelligence, but a knowledge of facts not known to the medium, and sometimes
even not consciously present to the mind of the investigator, or any of those
who compose the audience.
A. This does not necessarily prove that the intelligence and knowledge you speak of belong to spirits, or emanate from disembodied souls. Somnambulists have been known to compose music and poetry and to solve mathematical problems while in their trance state, without having ever learnt music or mathematics. Others, answered intelligently to questions put to them, and even, in several cases, spoke languages, such as Hebrew and Latin, of which they were entirely ignorant when awake-all this in a state of profound sleep. Will you, then, maintain that this was caused by "spirits"?
Q. But how would you explain it?
A. We assert that the divine spark in man being one and identical in its essence
with the Universal Spirit, our "spiritual Self" is practically omniscient, but
that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter. Now
the more these impediments are removed, in other words, the more the physical
body is paralyzed, as to its own independent activity and consciousness, as in
deep sleep or deep trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner
Self manifest on this plane. This is our explanation of those truly wonderful
phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and knowledge are
exhibited. As to the lower order of manifestations, such as physical phenomena
and the platitudes and common talk of the general "spirit," to explain even the
most important of the teachings we hold upon the subject would take up more
space and time than can be allotted to it at present. We have no desire to
interfere with the belief of the Spiritualists any more than with any other
belief. The responsibility must fall on the believers in "spirits." And at the
present moment, while still convinced that the higher sort of manifestations
occur through the disembodied souls, their leaders and the most learned and
intelligent among the Spiritualists are the first to confess that not all the
phenomena are produced by spirits. Gradually they will come to recognize the
whole truth; but meanwhile we have no right nor desire to proselytize them to
our views. The less so, as in the cases of purely psychic and spiritual
manifestations we believe in the intercommunication of the spirit of the living
man with that of disembodied personalities.
We say that in such cases it is not the spirits of the dead who descend on
earth, but the spirits of the living that ascend to the pure spiritual Souls. In
truth there is neither ascending nor descending, but a change of state or
condition for the medium. The body of the latter becoming paralyzed, or
"entranced," the spiritual Ego is free from its trammels, and finds itself on
the same plane of consciousness with the disembodied spirits. Hence, if there is
any spiritual attraction between the two they can communicate, as often occurs
in dreams. The difference between a mediumistic and a non-sensitive nature is
this: the liberated spirit of a medium has the opportunity and facility of
influencing the passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them act,
speak, and write at its will. The Ego can make it repeat, echo-like, and in the
human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity, as well as its
own. But the non-receptive or non-sensitive organism of one who is very positive cannot be so influenced. Hence, although there is hardly a human being whose Ego does not hold free intercourse, during the sleep of his body, with those whom it loved and lost, yet, on account of the positiveness and non-receptivity of its physical envelope and brain, no recollection, or a very dim, dream-like remembrance, lingers in the memory of the person once awake.
Q. This means that you reject the philosophy of Spiritualism in toto?
A. If by "philosophy" you mean their crude theories, we do. But they have no
philosophy, in truth. Their best, their most intellectual and earnest defenders
say so. Their fundamental and only unimpeachable truth, namely, that phenomena occur through mediums controlled by invisible forces and intelligences-no one, except a blind materialist of the "Huxley big toe" school, will or can deny.
With regard to their philosophy, however, let me read to you what the able
editor of Light, than whom the Spiritualists will find no wiser nor more devoted
champion, says of them and their philosophy.
This is what "M.A. Oxon," one of the very few philosophical Spiritualists,
writes, with respect to their lack of organization and blind bigotry:
It is worthwhile to look steadily at this point, for it is of vital moment. We
have an experience and a knowledge beside which all other knowledge is
comparatively insignificant. The ordinary Spiritualist waxes wroth if anyone
ventures to impugn his assured knowledge of the future and his absolute
certainty of the life to come. Where other men have stretched forth feeble hands
groping into the dark future, he walks boldly as one who has a chart and knows
his way. Where other men have stopped short at a pious aspiration or have been
content with a hereditary faith, it is his boast that he knows what they only
believe, and that out of his rich stores he can supplement the fading faiths
built only upon hope. He is magnificent in his dealings with man's most
cherished expectations. He seems to say:
You hope for that which I can demonstrate. You have accepted a traditional
belief in what I can experimentally prove according to the strictest scientific
method. The old beliefs are fading; come out from them and be separate. They
contain as much falsehood as truth. Only by building on a sure foundation of
demonstrated fact can your superstructure be stable. All round you old faiths
are toppling. Avoid the crash and get you out.
When one comes to deal with this magnificent person in a practical way, what is
the result? Very curious and very disappointing. He is so sure of his ground
that he takes no trouble to ascertain the interpretation which others put upon
his facts. The wisdom of the ages has concerned itself with the explanation of
what he rightly regards as proven; but he does not turn a passing glance on its
researches. He does not even agree altogether with his brother Spiritualist. It
is the story over again of the old Scotch body who, together with her husband,
formed a "kirk." They had exclusive keys to Heaven, or, rather, she had, for she
was "na certain aboot Jamie." So the infinitely divided and subdivided and
re-subdivided sects of Spiritualists shake their heads, and are "na certain
aboot" one another. Again, the collective experience of mankind is solid and
unvarying on this point that union is strength, and disunion a source of
weakness and failure. Shoulder to shoulder, drilled and disciplined, a rabble
becomes an army, each man a match for a hundred of the untrained men that may be brought against it. Organization in every department of man's work means success, saving of time and labor, profit and development. Want of method, want of plan, haphazard work, fitful energy, undisciplined effort-these mean bungling failure. The voice of humanity attests the truth. Does the Spiritualist accept the verdict and act on the conclusion? Verily, no. He refuses to organize. He is a law unto himself, and a thorn in the side of his neighbors.
Q. I was told that the Theosophical Society was originally founded to crush
Spiritualism and belief in the survival of the individuality in man?
A. You are misinformed. Our beliefs are all founded on that immortal
individuality. But then, like so many others, you confuse personality with
individuality. Your Western psychologists do not seem to have established any
clear distinction between the two. Yet it is precisely that difference which
gives the keynote to the understanding of Eastern philosophy, and which lies at
the root of the divergence between the Theosophical and Spiritualistic
teachings. And though it may draw upon us still more the hostility of some
Spiritualists, yet I must state here that it is Theosophy which is the true and
unalloyed Spiritualism, while the modern scheme of that name is, as now
practiced by the masses, simply transcendental materialism.
Q. Please explain your idea more clearly.
A. What I mean is that though our teachings insist upon the identity of spirit
and matter, and though we say that spirit is potential matter, and matter simply
crystallized spirit (e.g., as ice is solidified steam), yet since the original
and eternal condition of allis not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak, we
maintain that the term spirit can only be applied to the true individuality.
Q. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality" and the "I" or
"Ego" of which we are all conscious?
A. Before I can answer you, we must argue upon what you mean by "I" or "Ego." We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that "I am I," and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Brown." Believing as we do in a series of births for the same Ego, or reincarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith calls "himself." But none of these "experiences" are really the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily
experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last.
We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of "experiences,"
which we call the false (because so finite and evanescent)personality, and that
element in man to which the feeling of "I am I" is due. It is this "I am I"
which we call the true individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or
individuality plays, like an actor, many parts on the stage of life. Let us call
every new life on earth of the same Egoa night on the stage of a theater. One
night the actor, or "Ego," appears as "Macbeth," the next as "Shylock," the
third as "Romeo," the fourth as "Hamlet" or "King Lear," and so on, until he has
run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his life-pilgrimage
as a sprite, an "Ariel," or a "Puck"; he plays the part of a super, is a
soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to "speaking parts," plays
leading roles, interspersed with insignificant parts, till he finally retires
from the stage as "Prospero," the magician.
Q. I understand. You say, then, that this true Ego cannot return to earth after
death. But surely the actor is at liberty, if he has preserved the sense of his
individuality, to return if he likes to the scene of his former actions?
A. We say not, simply because such a return to earth would be incompatible with any state of unalloyed bliss after death, as I am prepared to prove. We say that man suffers so much unmerited misery during his life, through the fault of
others with whom he is associated, or because of his environment, that he is
surely entitled to perfect rest and quiet, if not bliss, before taking up again
the burden of life. However, we can discuss this in detail later.
Why is Theosophy Accepted?
Q. I understand to a certain extent; but I see that your teachings are far more
complicated and metaphysical than either Spiritualism or current religious
thought. Can you tell me, then, what has caused this system of Theosophy which you support to arouse so much interest and so much animosity at the same time?
A. There are several reasons for it, I believe; among other causes that may be
1. The great reaction from the crassly materialistic theories now prevalent
among scientific teachers.
2. General dissatisfaction with the artificial theology of the various Christian
Churches, and the number of daily increasing and conflicting sects.
3. An ever-growing perception of the fact that the creeds which are so obviously
self-and mutually-contradictory cannot be true, and that claims which are
unverified cannot be real. This natural distrust of conventional religions is
only strengthened by their complete failure to preserve morals and to purify
society and the masses.
4. A conviction on the part of many, and knowledge by a few, that there must be
somewhere a philosophical and religious system which shall be scientific and not
5. A belief, perhaps, that such a system must be sought for in teachings far
antedating any modern faith.
Q. But how did this system come to be put forward just now?
A. Just because the time was found to be ripe, which fact is shown by the
determined effort of so many earnest students to reach the truth, at whatever
cost and wherever it may be concealed. Seeing this, its custodians permitted
that some portions at least of that truth should be proclaimed. 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.
Q. Are we to regard Theosophy in any way as a revelation?
A. In no way whatever-not even in the sense of a new and direct disclosure from
some higher, supernatural, or, at least, superhuman beings; but only in the
sense of an "unveiling" of old, very old, truths to minds hitherto ignorant of
them, ignorant even of the existence and preservation of any such archaic
It has become "fashionable," especially of late, to deride the notion that there
ever was, in the mysteries of great and civilized peoples, such as the
Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, anything but priestly imposture. Even the
Rosicrucians were no better than half lunatics, half knaves. Numerous books have been written on them; and tyros, who had hardly heard the name a few years before, sallied out as profound critics and Gnostics on the subject of alchemy, the fire-philosophers, and mysticism in general. Yet a long series of the
Hierophants of Egypt, India, Chaldea, and Arabia are known, along with the
greatest philosophers and sages of Greece and the West, to have included under
the designation of wisdom and divine science all knowledge, for they considered
the base and origin of every art and science as essentially divine. Plato
regarded the mysteries as most sacred, and Clemens Alexandrinus, who had been himself initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, has declared "that the
doctrines taught therein contained in them the end of all human knowledge." Were Plato and Clemens two knaves or two fools, we wonder, or-both?
Q. You spoke of "Persecution." If truth is as represented by Theosophy, why has it met with such opposition, and with no general acceptance?
A. For many and various reasons again, one of which is the hatred felt by men
for "innovations," as they call them. Selfishness is essentially conservative,
and hates being disturbed. It prefers an easy-going, unexacting lie to the
greatest truth, if the latter requires the sacrifice of one's smallest comfort.
The power of mental inertia is great in anything that does not promise immediate
benefit and reward. Our age is preeminently unspiritual and matter of fact.
Moreover, there is the unfamiliar character of Theosophic teachings; the highly
abstruse nature of the doctrines, some of which contradict flatly many of the
human vagaries cherished by sectarians, which have eaten into the very core of
popular beliefs. If we add to this the personal efforts and great purity of life
exacted of those who would become the disciples of the inner circle, and the
very limited class to which an entirely unselfish code appeals, it will be easy
to perceive the reason why Theosophy is doomed to such slow, uphill work. It is essentially the philosophy of those who suffer, and have lost all hope of being
helped out of the mire of life by any other means. Moreover, 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
Q. All this refers rather to the ethics and philosophy of the T.S. Can you give
me a general idea of the Society itself, its objects and statutes?
A. This was never made secret. Ask, and you shall receive accurate answers.
Q. But I heard that you were bound by pledges?
A. Only in the Arcane or "Esoteric" Section.
Q. And also, that some members after leaving did not regard themselves bound by them. Are they right?
A. This shows that their idea of honor is an imperfect one. How can they be
right? As well said in The Path, our theosophical organ at New York, treating of
such a case:
Suppose that a soldier is tried for infringement of oath and discipline, and is
dismissed from the service. In his rage at the justice he has called down, and
of whose penalties he was distinctly forewarned, the soldier turns to the enemy
with false information-a spy and traitor-as a revenge upon his former Chief, and
claims that his punishment has released him from his oath of loyalty to a cause.
Is he justified, think you? Don't you think he deserves being called a
dishonorable man, a coward?
Q. I believe so; but some think otherwise.
A. So much the worse for them. But we will talk on this subject later, if you
The Working System of the T.S. *1)
The Objects of the Society
Q. What are the objects of the "Theosophical Society"?
A. They are three, and have been so from the beginning.
1. To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without
distinction of race, color, or creed.
2. To promote the study of Aryan *2) and other Scriptures, of the World's
religions and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic
literature, namely, of the Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian philosophies.
3. To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible,
and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially.
These are, broadly stated, the three chief objects of the Theosophical Society.
*1) See also appendix at the end of this file
*2) H.P.B. means the original Indo-Germanic race from Northern India (see
H.P.B., The Theosophical Glossary, London, 1892
and also the glossary at the end of this file)
Q. Can you give me some more detailed information upon these?
A. We may divide each of the three objects into as many explanatory clauses as
may be found necessary.
Q. Then let us begin with the first. What means would you resort to, in order to
promote such a feeling of brotherhood among races that are known to be of the
most diversified religions, customs, beliefs, and modes of thought?
A. Allow me to add that which you seem unwilling to express. Of course we know that with the exception of two remnants of races-the Parsees and the Jews-every nation is divided, not merely against all other nations, but even against
itself. This is found most prominently among the so-called civilized Christian
nations. Hence your wonder, and the reason why our first object appears to you a Utopia. Is it not so?
Q. Well, yes; but what have you to say against it?
A. Nothing against the fact; but much about the necessity of removing the causes which make Universal Brotherhood a Utopia at present.
Q. What are, in your view, these causes?
A. First and foremost, the natural selfishness of human nature. This
selfishness, instead of being eradicated, is daily strengthened and stimulated
into a ferocious and irresistible feeling by the present religious education,
which tends not only to encourage, but positively to justify it. People's ideas
about right and wrong have been entirely perverted by the literal acceptance of
the Jewish Bible. All the unselfishness of the altruistic teachings of Jesus has
become merely a theoretical subject for pulpit oratory; while the precepts of
practical selfishness taught in the Mosaic Bible, against which Christ so vainly
preached, have become ingrained into the innermost life of the Western nations.
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" has come to be the first maxim of
your law. Now, I state openly and fearlessly, that the perversity of this
doctrine and of so many others Theosophy alone can eradicate.
The Common Origin of Man
A. Simply by demonstrating on logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and even
scientific grounds that: (a) All men have spiritually and physically the same
origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy. (b) As mankind is
essentially of one and the same essence, and that essence is one-infinite,
uncreate, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature-nothing, therefore, can
affect one nation or one man without affecting all other nations and all other
men. This is as certain and as obvious as that a stone thrown into a pond will,
sooner or later, set in motion every single drop of water therein.
Q. But this is not the teaching of Christ, but rather a pantheistic notion.
A. That is where your mistake lies. It is purely Christian, although not Judaic,
and therefore, perhaps, your Biblical nations prefer to ignore it.
Q. This is a wholesale and unjust accusation. Where are your proofs for such a
A. They are ready at hand. Christ is alleged to have said: "Love each other" and
"Love your enemies;" for
… if ye love them (only) which love you, what reward (or merit) have ye? Do not
even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do ye
more than others? Do not even publicans so?
These are Christ's words. But Genesis says "Cursed be Canaan, a servant of
servants shall he be unto his brethren." And, therefore, Christian but Biblical
people prefer the law of Moses to Christ's law of love. They base upon the Old
Testament, which panders to all their passions, their laws of conquest,
annexation, and tyranny over races which they call inferior. What crimes have
been committed on the strength of this infernal (if taken in its dead letter)
passage in Genesis, history alone gives us an idea, however inadequate.
At the close of the Middle Ages slavery, under the power of moral forces, had
For four hundred years men and women and children were torn from all whom they knew and loved, and were sold on the coast of Africa to foreign traders; they were chained below decks-the dead often with the living-during the horrible "middle passage," and, according to Bancroft, an impartial historian, two hundred and fifty thousand out of three and a quarter millions were thrown into the sea on that fatal passage, while the remainder were consigned to nameless misery in the mines, or under the lash in the cane and rice fields. The guilt of this great crime rests on the Christian Church. "In the name of the most Holy Trinity" the Spanish Government (Roman Catholic) concluded more than ten treaties authorizing the sale of five hundred thousand human beings; in 1562 Sir John Hawkins sailed on his diabolical errand of buying slaves in Africa and
selling them in the West Indies in a ship which bore the sacred name of Jesus;
while Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen, rewarded him for his success in this
first adventure of Englishmen in that inhuman traffic by allowing him to wear as
his crest "a demi-Moor in his proper color, bound with a cord, or, in other
words, a manacled Negro slave."
Q. I have heard you say that the identity of our physical origin is proved by
science, that of our spiritual origin by the Wisdom-Religion. Yet we do not find
Darwinists exhibiting great fraternal affection.
A. Just so. This is what shows the deficiency of the materialistic systems, and
proves that we Theosophists are in the right. The identity of our physical
origin makes no appeal to our higher and deeper feelings. Matter, deprived of
its soul and spirit, or its divine essence, cannot speak to the human heart. But
the identity of the soul and spirit, of real, immortal man, as Theosophy teaches
us, once proven and deep-rooted in our hearts, would lead us far on the road of
real charity and brotherly goodwill.
Q. But how does Theosophy explain the common origin of man?
A-1.By teaching that the root of all nature, objective and subjective, and
everything else in the universe, visible and invisible, is, was, and ever will
be one absolute essence, from which all starts, and into which everything
returns. This is Aryan ( See remark on the use of the word Aryan a while back)
philosophy, fully represented only by the Vedantins, and the Buddhist system.
With this object in view, it is the duty of all Theosophists to promote in every
practical way, and in all countries, the spread of non-sectarian education.
Q. What do the written statutes of your Society advise its members to do besides this? On the physical plane, I mean?
A. In order to awaken brotherly feeling among nations we have to assist in the
international exchange of useful arts and products, by advice, information, and
cooperation with all worthy individuals and associations (provided, however, add the statutes, "that no benefit or percentage shall be taken by the Society or
the 'Fellows' for its or their corporate services"). For instance, to take a
practical illustration. The organization of Society, depicted by Edward Bellamy,
in his magnificent work Looking Backwards, admirably represents the Theosophical idea of what should be the first great step towards the full realization of universal brotherhood. The state of things he depicts falls short of perfection, because selfishness still exists and operates in the hearts of men. But in the main, selfishness and individualism have been overcome by the feeling of
solidarity and mutual brotherhood; and the scheme of life there described
reduces the causes tending to create and foster selfishness to a minimum.
Q. Then as a Theosophist you will take part in an effort to realize such an
A. Certainly; and we have proved it by action. Have not you heard of the
Nationalist clubs and party which have sprung up in America since the
publication of Bellamy's book? They are now coming prominently to the front, and will do so more and more as time goes on. Well, these clubs and this party were started in the first instance by Theosophists. One of the first, the Nationalist Club of Boston, Massachusetts, has Theosophists for President and Secretary, and the majority of its executive belong to the T.S. In the constitution of all their clubs, and of the party they are forming, the influence of Theosophy and of the Society is plain, for they all take as their basis, their first and
fundamental principle, the Brotherhood of Humanity as taught by Theosophy. In
their declaration of Principles they state:
The principle of the Brotherhood of Humanity is one of the eternal truths that
govern the world's progress on lines which distinguish human nature from brute
What can be more Theosophical than this? But it is not enough. What is also
needed is to impress men with the idea that, if the root of mankind is one, then
there must also be one truth which finds expression in all the various
religions-except in the Jewish, as you do not find it expressed even in the
Q. This refers to the common origin of religions, and you may be right there.
But how does it apply to practical brotherhood on the physical plane?
A. First, because that which is true on the metaphysical plane must be also true
on the physical. Secondly, because there is no more fertile source of hatred and
strife than religious differences. When one party or another thinks himself the
sole possessor of absolute truth, it becomes only natural that he should think
his neighbor absolutely in the clutches of Error or the Devil. But once get a
man to see that none of them has the whole truth, but that they are mutually
complementary, that the complete truth can be found only in the combined views of all, after that which is false in each of them has been sifted out-then true
brotherhood in religion will be established. The same applies in the physical
Q. Please explain further.
A. Take an instance. A plant consists of a root, a stem, and many shoots and
leaves. As humanity, as a whole, is the stem which grows from the spiritual
root, so is the stem the unity of the plant. Hurt the stem and it is obvious
that every shoot and leaf will suffer. So it is with mankind.
Q. Yes, but if you injure a leaf or a shoot, you do not injure the whole plant.
A. And therefore you think that by injuring one man you do not injure humanity?
But how do you know? Are you aware that even materialistic science teaches that any injury, however, slight, to a plant will affect the whole course of its
future growth and development? Therefore, you are mistaken, and the analogy is
perfect. If, however, you overlook the fact that a cut in the finger may often
make the whole body suffer, and react on the whole nervous system, I must all
the more remind you that there may well be other spiritual laws, operating on
plants and animals as well as on mankind, although, as you do not recognize
their action on plants and animals, you may deny their existence.
Q. What laws do you mean?
A. We call them Karmic laws; but you will not understand the full meaning of the
term unless you study Occultism. However, my argument did not rest on the
assumption of these laws, but really on the analogy of the plant. Expand the
idea, carry it out to a universal application, and you will soon find that in
true philosophy every physical action has its moral and everlasting effect. Hurt
a man by doing him bodily harm; you may think that his pain and suffering cannot spread by any means to his neighbors, least of all to men of other nations.
We affirm that it will, in good time. Therefore, we say, that unless every man is
brought to understand and accept as an axiomatic truth that by having wronged
one man we wrong not only ourselves but the whole of humanity in the long run,
no brotherly feelings such as preached by all the great Reformers, preeminently
by Buddha and Jesus, are possible on earth.
Our Other Objects
Q. Will you now explain the methods by which you propose to carry out the second object?
A. To collect for the library at our headquarters of Adyar, Madras-and by the
Fellows of their Branches for their local libraries-all the good works upon the
world's religions that we can. To put into written form correct information upon
the various ancient philosophies, traditions, and legends, and disseminate the
same in such practicable ways as the translation and publication of original
works of value, and extracts from and commentaries upon the same, or the oral
instructions of persons learned in their respective departments.
Q. And what about the third object, to develop in man his latent spiritual or
A. This has to be achieved also by means of publications, in those places where
no lectures and personal teachings are possible. Our duty is to keep alive in
man his spiritual intuitions. To oppose and counteract-after due investigation
and proof of its irrational nature-bigotry in every form, religious, scientific,
or social, and cant above all, whether as religious sectarianism or as belief in
miracles or anything supernatural. What we have to do is to seek to obtain
knowledge of all the laws of nature, and to diffuse it. To encourage the study
of those laws least understood by modern people, the so-called Occult Sciences, based on the true knowledge of nature, instead of, as at present, on
superstitious beliefs based on blind faith and authority. Popular folklore and
traditions, however fanciful at times, when sifted may lead to the discovery of
long-lost, but important, secrets of nature. The Society, therefore, aims at
pursuing this line of inquiry, in the hope of widening the field of scientific
and philosophical observation.
On the Sacredness of the Pledge
Q. Have you any ethical system that you carry out in the Society?
A. The ethics are there, ready and clear enough for whomsoever would follow
them. They are the essence and cream of the world's ethics, gathered from the
teachings of all the world's great reformers. Therefore, you will find
represented therein Confucius and Zoroaster, Lao-tzu and the Bhagavad-Gita , the precepts of Gautama Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, of Hillel and his school, as of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and their schools.
Q. Do the members of your Society carry out these precepts? I have heard of
great dissensions and quarrels among them.
A. Very naturally, since although the reform (in its present shape) may be
called new, the men and women to be reformed are the same human, sinning natures as of old. As already said, the earnest working members are few; but many are the sincere and well-disposed persons, who try their best to live up to the Society's and their own ideals. Our duty is to encourage and assist individual
fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral, and spiritual; not to blame or
condemn those who fail. We have, strictly speaking, no right to refuse admission
to anyone-especially in the Esoteric Section of the Society, wherein "he who
enters is as one newly born." But if any member, his sacred pledges on his word
of honor and immortal Self notwithstanding, chooses to continue, after that "new birth," with the new man, the vices or defects of his old life, and to indulge
in them still in the Society, then, of course, he is more than likely to be
asked to resign and withdraw; or, in case of his refusal, to be expelled. We
have the strictest rules for such emergencies.
Q. Can some of them be mentioned?
A. They can. To begin with, no Fellow in the Society, whether exoteric or
esoteric, has a right to force his personal opinions upon another Fellow.
It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society to express in public, by
word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one section, religious or
philosophical, more than another. All have an equal right to have the essential
features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of an impartial
world. And no officer of the Society, in his capacity as an officer, has the
right to preach his own sectarian views and beliefs to members assembled, except when the meeting consists of his co-religionists. After due warning, violation of this rule shall be punished by suspension or expulsion.
This is one of the offenses in the Society at large. As regards the inner
section, now called the Esoteric, the following rules have been laid down and
adopted, so far back as 1880.
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.
Now, however, before any such knowledge can be imparted, the applicant has to bind himself by a solemn oath not to use it for selfish purposes, nor to reveal
anything said except by permission.
Q. But is a man expelled, or resigning, from the section free to reveal anything
he may have learned, or to break any clause of the pledge he has taken?
A. Certainly not. His expulsion or resignation only relieves him from the
obligation of obedience to the teacher, and from that of taking an active part
in the work of the Society, but surely not from the sacred pledge of secrecy.
Q. But is this reasonable and just?
A. Most assuredly. To any man or woman with the slightest honorable feeling a
pledge of secrecy taken even on one's word of honor, much more to one's Higher Self-the God within-is binding till death. And though he may leave the Section and the Society, no man or woman of honor will think of attacking or injuring a body to which he or she has been so pledged.
Q. But is not this going rather far?
A. Perhaps so, according to the low standard of the present time and morality.
But if it does not bind as far as this, what use is a pledge at all? How can
anyone expect to be taught secret knowledge, if he is to be at liberty to free
himself from all the obligations he had taken, whenever he pleases? What
security, confidence, or trust would ever exist among men, if pledges such as
this were to have no really binding force at all? Believe me, the law of
retribution (Karma) would very soon overtake one who so broke his pledge, and
perhaps as soon as the contempt of every honorable man would, even on this
physical plane. As well expressed in the New York Path just cited on this
subject,A pledge once taken, is forever binding in both the moral and the occult worlds.
If we break it once and are punished, that does not justify us in breaking it
again, and so long as we do, so long will the mighty lever of the Law (of Karma)
react upon us.
The Relations of the T.S. to Theosophy
Q. Is moral elevation, then, the principal thing insisted upon in your Society?
A. Undoubtedly! He who would be a true Theosophist must bring himself to live as
Q. If so, then, as I remarked before, the behavior of some members strangely
belies this fundamental rule.
A. Indeed it does. But this cannot be helped among us, any more than amongst
those who call themselves Christians and act like fiends. This is no fault of
our statutes and rules, but that of human nature. Even in some exoteric public
branches, the members pledge themselves on their "Higher Self" to live the life
prescribed by Theosophy. They have to bring their Divine Self to guide their
every thought and action, every day and at every moment of their lives. A true
Theosophist ought "to deal justly and walk humbly."
Q. What do you mean by this?
A. Simply this: the one self has to forget itself for the many selves. Let me
answer you in the words of a true Philaletheian, an F.T.S., who has beautifully
expressed it in The Theosophist:
What every man needs first is to find himself, and then take an honest inventory
of his subjective possessions, and, bad or bankrupt as it may be, it is not
beyond redemption if we set about it in earnest.
But how many do? All are willing to work for their own development and progress; very few for those of others. To quote the same writer again:
Men have been deceived and deluded long enough; they must break their idols, put away their shams, and go to work for themselves-nay, there is one little word
too much or too many, for he who works for himself had better not work at all;
rather let him work himself for others, for all. For every flower of love and
charity he plants in his neighbor's garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from
his own, and so this garden of the gods-Humanity-shall blossom as a rose. In all
Bibles, all religions, this is plainly set forth-but designing men have at first
misinterpreted and finally emasculated, materialized, besotted them. It does not
require a new revelation. Let every man be a revelation unto himself. Let once
man's immortal spirit take possession of the temple of his body, drive out the
and every unclean thing, and his own divine humanity will redeem him, for when
he is thus at one with himself he will know the "builder of the
Q. This is pure Altruism, I confess.
A. It is. And if only one Fellow of the T.S. out of ten would practice it ours
would be a body of elect indeed. But there are those among the outsiders who
will always refuse to see the essential difference between Theosophy and the
Theosophical Society, the idea and its imperfect embodiment. Such would visit
every sin and shortcoming of the vehicle, the human body, on the pure spirit
which sheds thereon its divine light. Is this just to either? They throw stones
at an association that tries to work up to, and for the propagation of, its
ideal with most tremendous odds against it. Some vilify the Theosophical Society only because it presumes to attempt to do that in which other systems-Church and State Christianity preeminently-have failed most egregiously; others because they would fain preserve the existing state of things: Pharisees and Sadducees in the seat of Moses, and publicans and sinners revelling in high places, as under the Roman Empire during its decadence. Fair-minded people, at any rate, ought to remember that the man who does all he can, does as much as he who has achieved the most, in this world of relative possibilities. This is a simple truism, an axiom supported for believers in the Gospels by the parable of the talents given by their Master: the servant who doubled his two talents was
rewarded as much as that other fellow-servant who had received five. To every
man it is given "according to his several ability."
Q. Yet it is rather difficult to draw the line of demarcation between the
abstract and the concrete in this case, as we have only the latter to form our
A. Then why make an exception for the T.S.? Justice, like charity, ought to
begin at home. Will you revile and scoff at the "Sermon on the Mount" because
your social, political and even religious laws have, so far, not only failed to
carry out its precepts in their spirit, but even in their dead letter? Abolish
the oath in Courts, Parliament, Army and everywhere, and do as the Quakers do,
if you will call yourselves Christians. Abolish the Courts themselves, for if
you would follow the Commandments of Christ, you have to give away your coat to him who deprives you of your cloak, and turn your left cheek to the bully who smites you on the right. "Resist not evil, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you," for "whosoever shall break one of the least of these Commandments and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven," and "whosoever shall say 'Thou fool' shall be in danger of hell fire." And why should you judge, if you would not be judged in your turn? Insist that between Theosophy and the Theosophical Society there is no difference, and forthwith you lay the system of Christianity and its very essence open to the same charges, only in a more serious form.
Q. Why more serious?
A. Because, while the leaders of the Theosophical Movement, recognizing fully
their shortcomings, try all they can do to amend their ways and uproot the evil
existing in the Society; and while their rules and bylaws are framed in the
spirit of Theosophy, the Legislators and the Churches of nations and countries
which call themselves Christian do the reverse. Our members, even the worst
among them, are no worse than the average Christian. Moreover, if the Western
Theosophists experience so much difficulty in leading the true Theosophical
life, it is because they are all the children of their generation. Every one of
them was a Christian, bred and brought up in the sophistry of his Church, his
social customs, and even his paradoxical laws. He was this before he became a
Theosophist, or rather, a member of the Society of that name, as it cannot be
too often repeated that between the abstract ideal and its vehicle there is a
most important difference.
The Abstract and the Concrete
Q. Please elucidate this difference a little more.
A. The Society is a great body of men and women, composed of the most
heterogeneous elements. Theosophy, in its abstract meaning, is Divine Wisdom, or the aggregate of the knowledge and wisdom that underlie the Universe-the
homogeneity of eternal good; and in its concrete sense it is the sum total of
the same as allotted to man by nature, on this earth, and no more. Some members earnestly endeavor to realize and, so to speak, to objectivize Theosophy in their lives; while others desire only to know of, not to practice it; and others still may have joined the Society merely out of curiosity, or a passing
interest, or perhaps, again, because some of their friends belong to it. How,
then, can the system be judged by the standard of those who would assume the
name without any right to it? Is poetry or its muse to be measured only by those
would-be poets who afflict our ears? The Society can be regarded as the
embodiment of Theosophy only in its abstract motives; it can never presume to
call itself its concrete vehicle so long as human imperfections and weaknesses
are all represented in its body; otherwise the Society would be only repeating
the great error and the outflowing sacrilege of the so-called Churches of
Christ. If Eastern comparisons may be permitted, Theosophy is the shoreless
ocean of universal truth, love, and wisdom, reflecting its radiance on the
earth, while the Theosophical Society is only a visible bubble on that
reflection. Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society
human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent. Theosophy, finally, is the
fixed eternal sun, and its Society the evanescent comet trying to settle in an
orbit to become a planet, ever revolving within the attraction of the sun of
truth. It was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy
exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its
Q. I thought you said you had no tenets or doctrines of your own?
A. No more we have. 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 prehistoric 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.
Q. But is such truth unreachable outside of the society? Does not every Church
claim the same?
A. Not at all. The undeniable existence of great initiates-true "Sons of
God"-shows that such wisdom was often reached by isolated individuals, never,
however, without the guidance of a master at first. But most of the followers of
such, when they became masters in their turn, have dwarfed the Catholicism of
these teachings into the narrow groove of their own sectarian dogmas. The
commandments of a chosen master alone were then adopted and followed, to the exclusion of all others-if followed at all, note well, as in the case of the
Sermon on the Mount. Each religion is thus a bit of the divine truth, made to
focus a vast panorama of human fancy which claimed to represent and replace that truth.
Q. But Theosophy, you say, is not a religion?
A. Most assuredly it is not, since it is the essence of all religion and of
absolute truth, a drop of which only underlies every creed. To resort once more
to metaphor. Theosophy, on earth, is like the white ray of the spectrum, and
every religion only one of the seven prismatic colors. Ignoring all the others,
and cursing them as false, every special colored ray claims not only priority,
but to be that white ray itself, and anathematizes even its own tints from light
to dark, as heresies. Yet, as the sun of truth rises higher and higher on the
horizon of man's perception, and each colored ray gradually fades out until it
is finally reabsorbed in its turn, humanity will at last be cursed no longer
with artificial polarizations, but will find itself bathing in the pure
colorless sunlight of eternal truth. And this will be Theosophia.
Q. Your claim is, then, that all the great religions are derived from Theosophy,
and that it is by assimilating it that the world will be finally saved from the
curse of its great illusions and errors?
A. Precisely so. And we add that our Theosophical Society is the humble seed
which, if watered and left to live, will finally produce the Tree of Knowledge
of Good and Evil which is grafted on the Tree of Life Eternal. For it is only by
studying the various great religions and philosophies of humanity, by comparing
them dispassionately and with an unbiased mind, that men can hope to arrive at
the truth. It is especially by finding out and noting their various points of
agreement that we may achieve this result. For no sooner do we arrive-either by
study, or by being taught by someone who knows-at their inner meaning, than we find, almost in every case, that it expresses some great truth in Nature.
Q. We have heard of a Golden Age that was, and what you describe would be a
Golden Age to be realized at some future day. When shall it be?
A. Not before humanity, as a whole, feels the need of it. A maxim in the Persian
Javidan Khirad says:
Truth is of two kinds-one manifest and self-evident; the other demanding
incessantly new demonstrations and proofs.
It is only when this latter kind of truth becomes as universally obvious as it
is now dim, and therefore liable to be distorted by sophistry and casuistry; it
is only when the two kinds will have become once more one, that all people will
be brought to see alike.
Q. But surely those few who have felt the need of such truths must have made up their minds to believe in something definite? You tell me that, the Society
having no doctrines of its own, every member may believe as he chooses and
what he pleases. This looks as if the Theosophical Society was bent upon
reviving the confusion of languages and beliefs of the
A. What is meant by the Society having no tenets or doctrines of its own is,
that no special doctrines or beliefs are obligatory on its members; but, of
course, this applies only to the body as a whole. The Society, as you were told,
is divided into an outer and an inner body. Those who belong to the latter have,
of course, a philosophy, or-if you so prefer it-a religious system of their own.
Q. May we be told what it is?
A. We make no secret of it. It was outlined a few years ago in The Theosophist
and Esoteric Buddhism, and may be found still more elaborated in The Secret
Doctrine. It is based on the oldest philosophy of the world, called the
Wisdom-Religion or the Archaic Doctrine. If you like, you may ask questions and have them explained.
The Fundamental Teachings of Theosophy
On God and Prayer
Q. Do you believe in God?
A. That depends what you mean by the term.
Q. I mean the God of the Christians, the Father of Jesus, and the Creator: the
Biblical God of Moses, in short.
A. In such a God we do not believe. We reject the idea of a personal, or an
extra-cosmic and anthropomorphic God, who is but the gigantic shadow of man, and not of man at his best, either. The God of theology, we say-and prove it-is a bundle of contradictions and a logical impossibility. Therefore, we will have nothing to do with him.
Q. State your reasons, if you please.
A. They are many, and cannot all receive attention. But here are a few. This God
is called by his devotees infinite and absolute, is he not?
Q. I believe he is.
A. Then, if infinite-i.e.,limitless-and especially if absolute, how can he have
a form, and be a creator of anything? Form implies limitation, and a beginning
as well as an end; and, in order to create, a Being must think and plan. How can
the absolute be supposed to think-i.e.,to have any relation whatever to that
which is limited, finite, and conditioned? This is a philosophical, and a
logical absurdity. Even the Hebrew Cabala rejects such an idea, and therefore,
makes of the one and the Absolute Deific Principle an infinite Unity called
*)Ain-Soph (Greek: toh pan, epeiros), the boundless or limitless, in and of
nature, the non-existing that IS, but that is not a Being.
In order to create, the Creator has to become active; and as this is impossible
for absoluteness, the infinite principle had to be shown becoming the cause of
evolution (not creation) in an indirect way-i.e., through the emanation from
itself (another absurdity, due this time to the translators of the Cabala) of
How can the non-active eternal principle emanate or emit? The Parabrahman of the Vedantins does nothing of the kind; nor does the Ain-Soph of the Chaldean
Cabala. It is an eternal and periodical law which causes an active and creative
force (the logos) to emanate from the ever-concealed and incomprehensible one
principle at the beginning of every Mah -Manvantara, or new cycle of life.
Q. How about those Cabalists, who, while being such, still believe in Jehovah,
or the Tetragrammaton?
A. They are at liberty to believe in what they please, as their belief or
disbelief can hardly affect a self-evident fact. The Jesuits tell us that two
and two are not always four to a certainty, since it depends on the will of God
to make 2 × 2 = 5. Shall we accept their sophistry for all that?
Q. Then you are Atheists?
A. Not that we know of, and not unless the epithet of "Atheist" is to be applied
to those who disbelieve in an anthropomorphic God. We believe in a Universal
Divine Principle, the root of all, from which all proceeds, and within which all
shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being.
Q. This is the old, old claim of Pantheism. If you are Pantheists, you cannot be
Deists; and if you are not Deists, then you have to answer to the name of
A. Not necessarily so. The term Pantheism is again one of the many abused terms, whose real and primitive meaning has been distorted by blind prejudice and a one-sided view of it. If you accept the Christian etymology of this compound word, and form it of pan , "all," and theos , "god," and then imagine and teach that this means that every stone and every tree in Nature is a God or the one God, then, of course, you will be right, and make of Pantheists
fetish-worshippers, in addition to their legitimate name. But you will hardly be
as successful if you etymologize the word Pantheism esoterically, and as we do.
Q. What is, then, your definition of it?
A. Let me ask you a question in my turn. What do you understand by Pan, or
Q. Nature is, I suppose, the sum total of things existing around us; the
aggregate of causes and effects in the world of matter, the creation or
A. Hence the personified sum and order of known causes and effects; the total of all finite agencies and forces, as utterly disconnected from an intelligent
Creator or Creators, and perhaps "conceived of as a single and separate
force"-as in your encyclopedias?
Q. Yes, I believe so.
A. Well, we neither take into consideration this objective and material nature,
which we call an evanescent illusion, nor do we mean by Nature, in the sense of
its accepted derivation from the Latin Natura(becoming, from nasci, to be born).
When we speak of the Deity and make it identical, hence coeval, with Nature, the
eternal and uncreate nature is meant, and not your aggregate of flitting shadows
and finite unrealities. We leave it to the hymn-makers to call the visible sky
or heaven, God's Throne, and our earth of mud His footstool. Our deity is
neither in a paradise, nor in a particular tree, building, or mountain: it is
everywhere, in every atom of the visible as of the invisible Cosmos, in, over,
and around every invisible atom and divisible molecule; for it is the mysterious
power of evolution and involution, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and even
omniscient creative potentiality.
Q. Stop! Omniscience is the prerogative of something that thinks, and you deny
to your Absoluteness the power of thought.
A. We deny it to the absolute, since thought is something limited and
conditioned. But you evidently forget that in philosophy absolute
unconsciousness is also absolute consciousness, as otherwise it would not be
Q. Then your Absolute thinks?
A. No, it does not; for the simple reason that it is Absolute Thought itself.
Nor does it exist, for the same reason, as it is absolute existence, and
Be-ness, not a Being. Read the superb Cabalistic poem by Solomon Ben Jehudah Gabirol, in the Kether-Malchut, and you will understand:
Thou art one, the root of all numbers, but not as an element of numeration; for
unity admits not of multiplication, change, or form.
Thou art one, and in the secret of Thy unity the wisest of men are lost, because
they know it not.
Thou art one, and Thy unity is never diminished, never extended, and cannot be
Thou art one, and no thought of mine can fix for Thee a limit, or define Thee.
Thou art, but not as one existent, for the understanding and vision of mortals
cannot attain to Thy existence, nor determine for Thee the where, the how and
the why …
In short, our Deity is the eternal, incessantly evolving, not creating, builder
of the universe; that universe itself unfolding out of its own essence, not
being made. It is a sphere, without circumference, in its symbolism, which has
but one ever-acting attribute embracing all other existing or thinkable
attributes-itself. It is the one law, giving the impulse to manifested, eternal,
and immutable laws, within that never-manifesting, because absolute law, which
in its manifesting periods is The ever-Becoming.
Q. I once heard one of your members remarking that Universal Deity, being
everywhere, was in vessels of dishonor, as in those of honor, and, therefore,
was present in every atom of my cigar ash! Is this not rank blasphemy?
A. I do not think so, as simple logic can hardly be regarded as blasphemy. Were
we to exclude the Omnipresent Principle from one single mathematical point of
the universe, or from a particle of matter occupying any conceivable space,
could we still regard it as infinite?
Is it Necessary to Pray?
Q. Do you believe in prayer, and do you ever pray?
A. We do not. We act, instead of talking.
Q. You do not offer prayers even to the Absolute Principle?
A. Why should we? Being well-occupied people, we can hardly afford to lose time in addressing verbal prayers to a pure abstraction. The Unknowable is capable of relations only in its parts to each other, but is non-existent as regards any finite relations. The visible universe depends for its existence and phenomena on its mutually acting forms and their laws, not on prayer or prayers.
Q. Do you not believe at all in the efficacy of prayer?
A. Not in prayer taught in so many words and repeated externally, if by prayer
you mean the outward petition to an unknown God as the addressee, which was
inaugurated by the Jews and popularized by the Pharisees.
Q. Is there any other kind of prayer?
A. Most decidedly; we call it will-prayer, and it is rather an internal command
than a petition.
Q. To whom, then, do you pray when you do so?
A. To "our Father in heaven"-in its esoteric meaning.
Q. Is that different from the one given to it in theology?
A. Entirely so. An Occultist or a Theosophist addresses his prayer to his Father
which is in secret, not to an extra-cosmic and therefore finite God; and that
"Father" is in man himself.
Q. Then you make of man a God?
A. Please say "God" and not a God. In our sense, the inner man is the only God
we can have cognizance of. And how can this be otherwise? Grant us our postulate that God is a universally diffused, infinite principle, and how can man alone escape from being soaked through by, and in, the Deity? We call our "Father in heaven" that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us, in our heart and spiritual consciousness, and which has nothing to do with the
anthropomorphic conception we may form of it in our physical brain or its fancy:
"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of (the
absolute) God dwelleth in you?"
One often finds in Theosophical writings conflicting statements about the
Christos principle in man. Some call it the sixth principle (Buddhi), others the
If Christian Theosophists wish to make use of such expressions,
let them be made philosophically correct by following the analogy of the old
Wisdom-Religion symbols. We say that Christos is not only one of the three
higher principles, but all the three regarded as a Trinity. This Trinity
represents the Holy Ghost, the Father, and the Son, as it answers to abstract
spirit, differentiated spirit, and embodied spirit. Krishna and Christ are
philosophically the same principle under its triple aspect of manifestation. In
the Bhagavad-Gita we find Krishna calling himself indifferently Atma, the
abstract Spirit, Kshetrajña, the Higher or reincarnating Ego, and the Universal
Self, all names which, when transferred from the Universe to man, answer to
Atma, Buddhi, and Manas. The Anugita is full of the same doctrine.
Yet, let no man anthropomorphize that essence in us. Let no Theosophist, if he
would hold to divine, not human truth, say that this "God in secret" listens to,
or is distinct from, either finite man or the infinite essence-for all are one.
Nor, as just remarked, that a prayer is a petition. It is a mystery rather; an
occult process by which finite and conditioned thoughts and desires, unable to
be assimilated by the absolute spirit which is unconditioned, are translated
into spiritual wills and the will; such process being called "spiritual
transmutation." The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the
"philosopher's stone," or that which transmutes lead into pure gold. The only
homogeneous essence, our "will-prayer" becomes the active or creative force,
producing effects according to our desire.
Q. Do you mean to say that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical
A. I do. Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those Occultists and
Theosophists, who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual Ego immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, "Thy will be done, not mine," etc., send up waves of
will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination,
and spiritual sorcery. Unfortunately, all this is the favorite occupation of our
Christian statesmen and generals, especially when the latter are sending two
armies to murder each other. Both indulge before action in a bit of such
sorcery, by offering respectively prayers to the same God of Hosts, each
entreating his help to cut its enemies' throats.
Q. David prayed to the Lord of Hosts to help him smite the Philistines and slay
the Syrians and the Moabites, and "the Lord preserved David whithersoever he
went." In that we only follow what we find in the Bible.
A. Of course you do. But since you delight in calling yourselves Christians, not
Israelites or Jews, as far as we know, why do you not rather follow that which
Christ says? And he distinctly commands you not to follow "them of old times,"
or the Mosaic law, but bids you do as he tells you, and warns those who would
kill by the sword, that they, too, will perish by the sword. Christ has given
you one prayer of which you have made a lip prayer and a boast, and which none but the true Occultist understands. In it you say, in your dead-sense meaning: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," which you never do. Again, he told you to love your enemies and do good to them that hate you.
is surely not the "meek prophet of
Q. But how do you explain the universal fact that all nations and peoples have
prayed to, and worshiped a God or Gods? Some have adored and propitiated devils and harmful spirits, but this only proves the universality of the belief in the
efficacy of prayer.
A. It is explained by that other fact that prayer has several other meanings
besides that given it by the Christians. It means not only a pleading or
petition, but meant, in days of old, far more an invocation and incantation. The
mantra, or the rhythmically chanted prayer of the Hindus, has precisely such a
meaning, as the Brahmins hold themselves higher than the common devas or "Gods."
A prayer may be an appeal or an incantation for malediction, and a curse (as in
the case of two armies praying simultaneously for mutual destruction) as much as for blessing. And as the great majority of people are intensely selfish, and
pray only for themselves, asking to be given their "daily bread" instead of
working for it, and begging God not to lead them "into temptation" but to
deliver them (the memorialists only) from evil, the result is, that prayer, as
now understood, is doubly pernicious: (a) It kills in man self-reliance; (b) It
develops in him a still more ferocious selfishness and egotism than he is
already endowed with by nature. I repeat, that we believe in "communion" and
simultaneous action in unison with our "Father in secret"; and in rare moments
of ecstatic bliss, in the mingling of our higher soul with the universal
essence, attracted as it is towards its origin and center, a state, called
during life Samadhi, and after death, Nirvana. We refuse to pray to created
finite beings-i.e., gods, saints, angels, etc., because we regard it as
idolatry. We cannot pray to the absolute for reasons explained before;
therefore, we try to replace fruitless and useless prayer by meritorious and
Q. Christians would call it pride and blasphemy. Are they wrong?
A. Entirely so. It is they, on the contrary, who show Satanic pride in their
belief that the Absolute or the Infinite, even if there was such a thing as the
possibility of any relation between the unconditioned and the conditioned-will
stoop to listen to every foolish or egotistical prayer. And it is they again,
who virtually blaspheme, in teaching that an Omniscient and Omnipotent God needs uttered prayers to know what he has to do! This-understood esoterically-is corroborated by both Buddha and Jesus. The one says:
Seek nought from the helpless Gods-pray not! but rather act; for darkness will
not brighten. Ask nought from silence, for it can neither speak nor hear.
And the other-Jesus-recommends:
"Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (that of
Christos) that will I do."
Of course, this quotation, if taken in its literal sense, goes against our argument. But if we accept it esoterically, with the full knowledge of the meaning of the term Christos which to us represents Atma-Buddhi-Manas, the "self," it comes to this: the only God we must recognize and pray to, or rather act in unison with, is that spirit of God of which our body is the temple, and in which it dwelleth.
Prayer Kills Self-Reliance
Q. But did not Christ himself pray and recommend prayer?
A. It is so recorded, but those "prayers" are precisely of that kind of
communion just mentioned with one's "Father in secret." Otherwise, and if we
identify Jesus with the universal deity, there would be something too absurdly
illogical in the inevitable conclusion that he, the "very God himself" prayed to
himself, and separated the will of that God from his own!
Q. One argument more; an argument, moreover, much used by some Christians. They say,
I feel that I am not able to conquer any passions and weaknesses in my own
strength. But when I pray to Jesus Christ I feel that he gives me strength and
that in His power I am able to conquer.
A. No wonder. If "Christ Jesus" is God, and one independent and separate from
him who prays, of course everything is, and must be possible to "a mighty God." But, then, where's the merit, or justice either, of such a conquest? Why should the pseudo-conqueror be rewarded for something done which has cost him only prayers? Would you, even a simple mortal man, pay your laborer a full day's wage if you did most of his work for him, he sitting under an apple tree, and praying to you to do so, all the while? This idea of passing one's whole life in moral idleness, and having one's hardest work and duty done by another-whether God or man-is most revolting to us, as it is most degrading to human dignity.
Q. Perhaps so, yet it is the idea of trusting in a personal Savior to help and
strengthen in the battle of life, which is the fundamental idea of modern
Christianity. And there is no doubt that, subjectively, such belief is
efficacious; i.e., that those who believe do feel themselves helped and
A. Nor is there any more doubt, that some patients of "Christian" and "Mental
Scientists"-the great "Deniers"-are also sometimes cured; nor that hypnotism,
and suggestion, psychology, and even mediumship, will produce such results, as
often, if not oftener. You take into consideration, and string on the thread of
your argument, successes alone. And how about ten times the number of failures?
Surely you will not presume to say that failure is unknown even with a
sufficiency of blind faith, among fanatical Christians?
Q. But how can you explain those cases which are followed by full success? Where does a Theosophist look to for power to subdue his passions and selfishness?
A. To his Higher Self, the divine spirit, or the God in him, and to his Karma.
How long shall we have to repeat over and over again that the tree is known by
its fruit, the nature of the cause by its effects? You speak of subduing
passions, and becoming good through and with the help of God or Christ. We ask, where do you find more virtuous, guiltless people, abstaining from sin and
crime, in Christendom or Buddhism-in Christian countries or in heathen lands?
Statistics are there to give the answer and corroborate our claims. According to
last census in
committed by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Eurasians, Buddhists, etc., etc., on
two millions of population taken at random from each, and covering the
misdemeanors of several years, the proportion of crimes committed by the
Christian stands as 15 to 4 as against those committed by the Buddhist
population. No Orientalist, no historian of any note, or traveler in Buddhist
lands, from Bishop Bigandet and Abbé Huc, to Sir William Hunter and every
fair-minded official, will fail to give the palm of virtue to Buddhists before
Christians. Yet the former (not the true Buddhist Siamese sect, at all events)
do not believe in either God or a future reward, outside of this earth. They do
not pray, neither priests nor laymen. "Pray!" they would exclaim in wonder, "to
whom, or what?"
Q. Then they are truly Atheists.
A. Most undeniably, but they are also the most virtue-loving and virtue-keeping
men in the whole world. Buddhism says: Respect the religions of other men and
remain true to your own; but Church Christianity, denouncing all the gods of
other nations as devils, would doom every non-Christian to eternal perdition.
Q. Does not the Buddhist priesthood do the same?
A. Never. They hold too much to the wise precept found in the Dhammapada to do so, for they know that,
If any man, whether he be learned or not, consider himself so great as to
despise other men, he is like a blind man holding a candle-blind himself, he
On the Source of the Human Soul
Q. How, then, do you account for man being endowed with a Spirit and Soul?
A. From the Universal Soul. Certainly not bestowed by a personal God. Whence the moist element in the jelly-fish? From the Ocean which surrounds it, in which it lives and breathes and has its being, and whither it returns when dissolved.
Q. So you reject the teaching that Soul is given, or breathed into man, by God?
A. We are obliged to. The "Soul" spoken of in Genesis is, as therein stated, the
"living Soul" or Nephesh (the vital,animal soul) with which God (we say "nature"
and immutable law) endows man like every animal. Is not at all the thinking soul
or mind; least of all is it the immortal Spirit.
Q. Well, let us put it otherwise: is it God who endows man with a human rational
Soul and immortal Spirit?
A. Again, in the way you put the question, we must object to it. Since we
believe in nopersonal God, how can we believe that he endows man with anything?
But granting, for the sake of argument, a God who takes upon himself the risk of
creating a new Soul for every new-born baby, all that can be said is that such a
God can hardly be regarded as himself endowed with any wisdom or prevision.
Certain other difficulties and the impossibility of reconciling this with the
claims made for the mercy, justice, equity and omniscience of that God, are so
many deadly reefs on which this theological dogma is daily and hourly broken.
Q. What do you mean? What difficulties?
A. I am thinking of an unanswerable argument offered once in my presence by a
Singhalese Buddhist priest, a famous preacher, to a Christian missionary-one in
no way ignorant or unprepared for the public discussion during which it was
It was near
Megattivati to give his reasons why the Christian God should not be accepted by
the "heathen." Well, the Missionary came out of that forever memorable
discussion second best, as usual.
Q. I should be glad to learn in what way.
A. Simply this: the Buddhist priest premised by asking the padre whether his God had given commandments to Moses only for men to keep, but to be broken by God himself. The missionary denied the supposition indignantly. Well, said his opponent,
… you tell us that God makes no exceptions to this rule, and that no Soul can be born without his will. Now God forbids adultery, among other things, and yet you say in the same breath that it is he who creates every baby born, and he who
endows it with a Soul. Are we then to understand that the millions of children
born in crime and adultery are your God's work? That your God forbids and
punishes the breaking of his laws; and that, nevertheless, he creates daily and
hourly souls for just such children? According to the simplest logic, your God
is an accomplice in the crime; since, but for his help and interference, no such
children of lust could be born. Where is the justice of punishing not only the
guilty parents but even the innocent babe for that which is done by that very
God, whom yet you exonerate from any guilt himself?
The missionary looked at his watch and suddenly found it was getting too late
for further discussion.
Q. You forget that all such inexplicable cases are mysteries, and that we are
forbidden by our religion to pry into the mysteries of God.
A. No, we do not forget, but simply reject such impossibilities. Nor do we want
you to believe as we do. We only answer the questions you ask. We have, however, another name for your "mysteries."
The Buddhist Teachings on the Above
Q. What does Buddhism teach with regard to the Soul?
A. It depends whether you mean exoteric, popular Buddhism, or its esoteric
teachings. The former explains itself in The Buddhist Catechism in this wise:
Soul it considers a word used by the ignorant to express a false idea. If
everything is subject to change, then man is included, and every material part
of him must change. That which is subject to change is not permanent, so there
can be no immortal survival of a changeful thing.
This seems plain and definite. But when we come to the question that the new
personality in each succeeding rebirth is the aggregate of "Skandhas," or the
attributes, of the old personality, and ask whether this new aggregation of
Skandhas is a new being likewise, in which nothing has remained of the last, we
In one sense it is a new being, in another it is not. During this life the
Skandhas are continually changing, while the man A.B. of forty is identical as
regards personality with the youth A.B. of eighteen, yet by the continual waste
and reparation of his body and change of mind and character, he is a different
being. Nevertheless, the man in his old age justly reaps the reward or suffering
consequent upon his thoughts and actions at every previous stage of his life. So
the new being of the rebirth, being the same individuality as before (but not
the same personality), with but a changed form, or new aggregation of
Skandhas,justly reaps the consequences of his actions and thoughts in the
This is abstruse metaphysics, and plainly does not express disbelief in Soul by
Q. Is not something like this spoken of in Esoteric Buddhism?
A. It is, for this teaching belongs both to Esoteric Budhism or Secret Wisdom,
and to the exoteric Buddhism, or the religious philosophy of Gautama Buddha.
Q. But we are distinctly told that most of the Buddhists do not believe in the
A.No more do we, if you mean by Soul the personal Ego, or life-Soul-Nephesh.But every learned Buddhist believes in the individual or divine Ego.
Those who do not, err in their judgment. They are as mistaken on this point, as those Christians who mistake the theological interpolations of the later editors of
the Gospels about damnation and hellfire, for verbatim utterances of Jesus.
Neither Buddha nor "Christ" ever wrote anything themselves, but both spoke in
allegories and used "dark sayings," as all true Initiates did, and will do for a
long time yet to come. Both Scriptures treat of all such metaphysical questions
very cautiously, and both, Buddhist and Christian records, sin by that excess of
exotericism; the dead letter meaning far overshooting the mark in both cases.
Q. Do you mean to suggest that neither the teachings of Buddha nor those of
Christ have been heretofore rightly understood?
A. What I mean is just as you say. Both Gospels, the Buddhist and the Christian, were preached with the same object in view. Both reformers were ardent philanthropists and practical altruists-preaching most unmistakably Socialism of the noblest and highest type, self-sacrifice to the bitter end. "Let the sins of the whole world fall upon me that I may relieve man's misery and suffering!" cries Buddha. "I would not let one cry whom I could save!" exclaims the Prince-beggar, clad in the refuse rags of the burial-grounds. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest," is the appeal to
the poor and the disinherited made by the "Man of Sorrows," who hath not where to lay his head. The teachings of both are boundless love for humanity, charity, forgiveness of injury, forgetfulness of self, and pity for the deluded masses; both show the same contempt for riches, and make no difference between meum and tuum.
Their desire was, without revealing to all the sacred mysteries of
initiation, to give the ignorant and the misled, whose burden in life was too
heavy for them, hope enough and an inkling into the truth sufficient to support
them in their heaviest hours. But the object of both Reformers was frustrated,
owing to excess of zeal of their later followers. The words of the Masters
having been misunderstood and misinterpreted, behold the consequences!
Q. But surely Buddha must have repudiated the soul's immortality, if all the
Orientalists and his own Priests say so!
A. The Arhats began by following the policy of their Master and the majority of
the subsequent priests were not initiated, just as in Christianity; and so,
little by little, the great esoteric truths became almost lost. A proof in point
that, out of the two existing sects in
be the absolute annihilation of individuality and personality, and the other
explains Nirvana, as we Theosophists do.
Q. But why, in that case, do Buddhism and Christianity represent the two
opposite poles of such belief?
Because the conditions under which they were preached were not the same. In
every caste save their own, had driven millions of men into idolatry and almost
fetishism. Buddha had to give the death-blow to an exuberance of unhealthy fancy and fanatical superstition resulting from ignorance, such as has rarely been
known before or after. Better a philosophical atheism than such ignorant worship
for those: Who cry upon their gods and are not heard,
Or are not heeded …
-and who live and die in mental despair. He had to arrest first of all this
muddy torrent of superstition, to uprooterrors before he gave out the truth. And
as he could not give out all, for the same good reason as Jesus, who remindshis
disciples that the Mysteries of Heaven are not for the unintelligent masses, but
for the elect alone, and therefore "spake he to them in parables"-so his caution
led Buddhato conceal too much. He even refused to say to the monk Vacchagotta whether there was, or was not an Ego in man. When pressed to answer, "the Exalted one maintained silence."
Buddha gives to Ananda, his initiated disciple, who inquires for the reason of
this silence, a plain and unequivocal answer in the dialogue translated by
If I, Ananda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me: "Is there the Ego?" had answered "The Ego is," then that, Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of the Samanas and Brahmans, who believed in permanence. If I, Ananda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me, "Is there not the Ego?" had answered, "The Ego is not," then that, Ananda, would have confirmed the doctrine of those who believed in annihilation. If I, Ananda, when the wandering monk Vacchagotta asked me, "Is there the Ego?" had answered, "The Ego is," would that have served my end, Ananda, by producing in him the knowledge: all existences (dhamma) are non-ego? But if I, Ananda, had answered, "The Ego is not," then that, Ananda, would only have caused the wandering monk Vacchagotta to be thrown from one bewilderment to another: "My Ego, did it not exist before? But now it exists no longer!"
This shows, better than anything, that Gautama Buddha withheld such difficult
metaphysical doctrines from the masses in order not to perplex them more. What he meant was the difference between the personal temporary Ego and the Higher Self, which sheds its light on the imperishable Ego, the spiritual "I" of man.
Q. This refers to Gautama, but in what way does it touch the Gospels?
A. Read history and think over it. At the time the events narrated in the
Gospels are alleged to have happened, there was a similar intellectual
fermentation taking place in the whole civilized world, only with opposite
results in the East and the West. The old gods were dying out. While the
civilized classes drifted in the train of the unbelieving Sadducees into
negations and mere dead-letter Mosaic form in
strange gods, or became hypocrites and Pharisees. Once more the time for a
spiritual reform had arrived. The cruel, anthropomorphic and jealous God of the
Jews, with his sanguinary laws of "an eye for eye and tooth for tooth," of the
shedding of blood and animal sacrifice, had to be relegated to a secondary place
and replaced by the merciful "Father in Secret." The latter had to be shown, not
as an extra-Cosmic God, but as a divine Savior of the man of flesh, enshrined in
his own heart and soul, in the poor as in the rich. No more here than in India,
could the secrets of initiation be divulged, lest by giving that which is holy
to the dogs, and casting pearls before swine, both the Revealer and the things
revealed should be trodden under foot. Thus, the reticence of both Buddha and
Jesus-whether the latter lived out the historic period allotted to him or not,
and who equally abstained from revealing plainly the Mysteries of Life and
Death-led in the one case to the blank negations of Southern Buddhism, and in
the other, to the three clashing forms of the Christian Church and the 300 sects
in Protestant England alone.
Theosophical Teachings as to Nature and Man
The Unity of All in All
Q. Having told me what God, the Soul and Man are not, in your views, can you
inform me what they are, according to your teachings?
A. In their origin and in eternity the three, like the universe and all therein,
are one with the absolute Unity, the unknowable deific essence I spoke about
some time back. We believe in no creation, but in the periodical and consecutive
appearances of the universe from the subjective onto the objective plane of
being, at regular intervals of time, covering periods of immense duration.
Q. Can you elaborate the subject?
A. Take as a first comparison and a help towards a more correct conception, the solar year, and as a second, the two halves of that year, producing each a day and a night of six months' duration at the North Pole. Now imagine, if you can, instead of a Solar year of 365 days, eternity. Let the sun represent the
universe, and the polar days and nights of six months each-days and nights
lasting each 182 trillions and quadrillions of years, instead of 182 days each.
As the sun arises every morning on our objective horizon out of its (to us)
subjective and antipodal space, so does the Universe emerge periodically on the
plane of objectivity, issuing from that of subjectivity-the antipodes of the
former. This is the "Cycle of Life." And as the sun disappears from our horizon,
so does the Universe disappear at regular periods, when the "Universal night"
sets in. The Hindus call such alternations the "Days and Nights of Brahm ," or
the time of Manvantara and that of Pralaya (dissolution). The Westerns may call
them Universal Days and Nights if they prefer. During the latter (the nights)
All is in All; every atom is resolved into one Homogeneity.
Evolution and Illusion
Q. But who is it that creates each time the Universe?
A. No one creates it. Science would call the process evolution; the
pre-Christian philosophers and the Orientalists called it emanation: we,
Occultists and Theosophists, see in it the only universal and eternal reality
casting a periodical reflection of itself on the infinite Spatial depths. This
reflection, which you regard as the objective materialuniverse, we consider as a
temporary illusion and nothing else. That alone which is eternal is real.
Q. At that rate, you and I are also illusions.
A. As flitting personalities, today one person, tomorrow another-we are. Would
you call the sudden flashes of the aurora borealis, the Northern lights, a
"reality," though it is as real as can be while you look at it? Certainly not;
it is the cause that produces it, if permanent and eternal, which is the only
reality, while the other is but a passing illusion.
Q. All this does not explain to me how this illusion called the universe
originates; how the conscious to be, proceeds to manifest itself from the
unconsciousness that is.
A. It is unconsciousnessonly to our finite consciousness. Verily may we
… and (Absolute) light (which is darkness) shineth in darkness (which is
illusionary material light); and the darkness comprehendeth it not.
This absolute light is also absolute and immutable law. Whether by radiation or
emanation-we need not quarrel over terms-the universe passes out of its
homogeneous subjectivity onto the first plane of manifestation, of which planes
there are seven, we are taught. With each plane it becomes more dense and
material until it reaches this, our plane, on which the only world approximately
known and understood in its physical composition by Science, is the planetary or Solar system-one sui generis,we are told.
Q. What do you mean bysui generis?
A. I mean that, though the fundamental law and the universal working of laws of
Nature are uniform, still our Solar system (like every other such system in the
millions of others in Cosmos) and even our Earth, has its own program of
manifestations differing from the respective programs of all others. We speak of
the inhabitants of other planets and imagine that if they are men, i.e.,
thinking entities, they must be as we are. The fancy of poets and painters and
sculptors never fails to represent even the angels as a beautiful copy of
man-plus wings. We say that all this is an error and a delusion; because, if on
this little earth alone one finds such a diversity in its flora, fauna, and
mankind-from the seaweed to the cedar of Lebanon, from the jellyfish to the
elephant, from the Bushman and negro to the Apollo Belvedere-alter the
conditions cosmic and planetary, and there must be as a result quite a different
flora, fauna, and mankind. The same laws will fashion quite a different set of
things and beings even on this our plane, including in it all our planets. How
much more different then must be externalnature in other Solar systems, and how foolish is it to judge of other stars and worlds and human beings by our own, as physical science does!
Q. But what are your data for this assertion?
A. What science in general will never accept as proof-the cumulative testimony
of an endless series of Seers who have testified to this fact. Their spiritual
visions, real explorations by, and through, physical and spiritual senses
untrammeled by blind flesh, were systematically checked and compared one with the other, and their nature sifted. All that was not corroborated by unanimous and collective experience was rejected, while that only was recorded as established truth which, in various ages, under different climes, and throughout an untold series of incessant observations, was found to agree and receive constantly further corroboration. The methods used by our scholars and students of the psycho-spiritual sciences do not differ from those of students of the natural and physical sciences, as you may see. Only our fields of research are on two different planes, and our instruments are made by no human hands, for which reason perchance they are only the more reliable. The retorts,
accumulators, and microscopes of the chemist and naturalist may get out of
order; the telescope and the astronomer's horological instruments may get
spoiled; our recording instruments are beyond the influence of weather or the
Q. And therefore you have implicit faith in them?
A. Faith is a word not to be found in theosophical dictionaries: we say
knowledge based, on observation and experience. There is this difference,
however, that while the observation and experience of physical science lead the
Scientists to about as many "working" hypotheses as there are minds to evolve
them, our knowledgeconsents to add to its lore only those facts which have
become undeniable, and which are fully and absolutely demonstrated. We have no two beliefs or hypotheses on the same subject.
Q. Is it on such data that you came to accept the strange theories we find in
A. Just so. These theories may be slightly incorrect in their minor details, and
even faulty in their exposition by lay students; they are facts in nature,
nevertheless, and come nearer the truth than any scientific hypothesis.
On The Septenary Constitution of Our Planet
Q. I understand that you describe our earth as forming part of a chain of
A. We do. But the other six "earths" or globes, are not on the same plane of
objectivity as our earth is; therefore we cannot see them.
Q. Is that on account of the great distance?
A. Not at all, for we see with our naked eye planets and even stars at
immeasurably greater distances; but it is owing to those six globes being
outside our physical means of perception, or plane of being. It is not only that
their material density, weight, or fabric are entirely different from those of
our earth and the other known planets; but they are (to us) on an entirely
different layer of space, so to speak; a layer not to be perceived or felt by
our physical senses. And when I say "layer," please do not allow your fancy to
suggest to you layers like strata or beds laid one over the other, for this
would only lead to another absurd misconception. What I mean by "layer" is that plane of infinite space which by its nature cannot fall under our ordinary
waking perceptions, whether mental or physical; but which exists in nature
outside of our normal mentality or consciousness, outside of our
three-dimensional space, and outside of our division of time. Each of the seven
fundamental planes (or layers) in space-of course as a whole, as the pure space
of Locke's definition, not as our finite space-has its own objectivity and
subjectivity, its own space and time, its own consciousness and set of senses.
But all this will be hardly comprehensible to one trained in the modern ways of
Q. What do you mean by a different set of senses? Is there anything on our human plane that you could bring as an illustration of what you say, just to give a
clearer idea of what you may mean by this variety of senses, spaces, and
A. None; except, perhaps, that which for Science would be rather a handy peg on which to hang a counter argument. We have a different set of senses in
dreamlife, have we not? We feel, talk, hear, see, taste and function in general
on a different plane; the change of state of our consciousness being evidenced
by the fact that a series of acts and events embracing years, as we think, pass
ideally through our mind in one instant. Well, that extreme rapidity of our
mental operations in dreams, and the perfect naturalness, for the time being, of
all the other functions, show us that we are on quite another plane. Our
philosophy teaches us that, as there are seven fundamental forces in nature, and
seven planes of being, so there are seven states of consciousness in which man
can live, think, remember and have his being. To enumerate these here is
impossible, and for this one has to turn to the study of Eastern metaphysics.
But in these two states-the waking and the dreaming-every ordinary mortal, from
a learned philosopher down to a poor untutored savage, has a good proof that
such states differ.
Q. You do not accept, then, the well-known explanations of biology and
physiology to account for the dream state?
A. We do not. We reject even the hypotheses of your psychologists, preferring
the teachings of Eastern Wisdom. Believing in seven planes of Kosmic being and states of Consciousness, with regard to the Universe or the Macrocosm, we stop at the fourth plane, finding it impossible to go with any degree of certainty
beyond. But with respect to the Microcosm, or man, we speculate freely on his
seven states and principles.
Q. How do you explain these?
A. We find, first of all, two distinct beings in man; the spiritual and the
physical, the man who thinks, and the man who records as much of these thoughts as he is able to assimilate. Therefore we divide him into two distinct natures; the upper or the spiritual being, composed of three principles or aspects; and the lower or the physical quaternary, composed of four-in all seven.
The Septenary Nature of Man
Q. Is it what we call Spirit and Soul, and the man of flesh?
A. It is not. That is the old platonic division. Plato was an Initiate, and
therefore could not go into forbidden details; but he who is acquainted with the
archaic doctrine finds the seven in Plato's various combinations of Soul and
Spirit. He regarded man as constituted of two parts-one eternal, formed of the
same essence as the Absoluteness, the other mortal and corruptible, deriving its
constituent parts from the minor "created" Gods. Man is composed, he shows, of
(1) A mortal body,
(2) An immortal principle,
(3) A "separate mortal kind of Soul." It is that which we respectively call the physical man, the Spiritual Soul or Spirit, and the animal Soul (the Nous and psuche).
This is the division adopted by Paul, another Initiate, who maintains that there is a psychical body which is sown in the corruptible (astral soul or body), and a spiritual body that is raised in incorruptible substance. Even James corroborates the same by saying that the "wisdom" (of our lower soul) descendeth not from the above, but is terrestrial ("psychical," "demoniacal," see the Greek text) while the other is heavenly wisdom. Now so plain is it that Plato and even Pythagoras, while speaking but of three principles, give them seven separate functions, in their various combinations, that if we contrast our teachings this will become quite plain. Let us take a cursory view of these seven aspects by drawing two tables.
Theosophical Division of the Lower Quaternary
Sanskrit Term Exoteric Meaning Explanation
1.Rupa, or Sthula-sarira Physical body Is the vehicle of all the
other principles during life.
1.Prana Life, or Vital principle Necessary only to a, c,
d, and the functions of the lower Manas, which
embrace all those limited to the (physical) brain.
(c) Linga- sarira Astral Body The Double,the phantom body.
(d) Kamarupa The seat of animal desires and passions This is the center of the
animal man, where lies the line of demarcation which separates the mortal man
from the immortal entity.
Theosophical Division of the Upper Imperishable Triad
Sanskrit Term Exoteric Meaning Explanation
(e) Manas-a dual principle in its functions. Mind, Intelligence: which is the
higher human mind, whose light, or radiation links the Monad, for the lifetime,
to the mortal man. The future state and the Karmic destiny of man depend on
whether Manas gravitates more downward to Kamarupa, the seat of the animal
passions, or upwards to Buddhi, the SpiritualEgo. In the later case, the higher
consciousness of the individual Spiritual aspirations of mind (Manas),
assimilating Buddhi, are absorbed by it and form the Ego, which goes into
(f) Buddhi The Spiritual Soul The vehicle of pure universal spirit.
(g) Atma Spirit One with the Absolute, as its radiation.
In Mr. Sinnett's Esoteric Buddhism d, e, and f, are respectively called the
Animal, the Human, and the Spiritual Souls, which answers as well. Though the
principles in Esoteric Buddhism are numbered, this is, strictly speaking,
useless. The dual Monad alone ( Atma-Buddhi) is susceptible of being thought of as the two highest numbers (the sixth and seventh). As to all others, since that
principle only which is predominant in man has to be considered as the first and
foremost, no numeration is possible as a general rule. In some men it is the
higher Intelligence (Manas or the fifth) which dominates the rest; in others the
Animal Soul (Kamarupa) that reigns supreme, exhibiting the most bestial
Now what does Plato teach? He speaks of the interior man as constituted of two
parts-one immutable and always the same, formed of the same substance as Deity, and the other mortal and corruptible. These "two parts" are found in our upper Triad, and the lower Quaternary (see table above, ). He explains that when the Soul, psuche, "allies herself to the Nous (divine spirit or substance *)), she
does everything aright and felicitously;" but the case is otherwise when she
attaches herself to Anoia, (folly, or the irrational animal Soul). Here, then,
we have Manas(or the Soul in general) in its two aspects: when attaching itself
to Anoia (our Kamarupa, or the "Animal Soul" in Esoteric Buddhism) it runs
towards entire annihilation, as far as the personal Ego is concerned; when
allying itself to the Nous ( Atma-Buddhi) it merges into the immortal,
imperishable Ego, and then its spiritual consciousness of the personal that was,
*) St. Paul calls Plato's nous 'spirit';but since this spirit is 'substance',
Buddhi is meant then and notAtma; philosophically speaking this (Atma) cannot be called 'substance'. We count Atma as a human 'principle' in order to not create yet more confusion. In reality it is not a 'human' but the universal absolute
principle of which buddhi, the soul-spirit, is the vehicle. [reversely
translated note from Dutch translation - editor]
The Distinction Between Soul and Spirit
Q. Do you really teach, as you are accused of doing by some Spiritualists and
French Spiritists, the annihilation of every personality?
A. We do not. But as this question of the duality-the individuality of the
Divine Ego, and the personality of the human animal-involves that of the
possibility of the real immortal Ego appearing in Seance rooms as a
"materialized spirit," which we deny as already explained, our opponents have
started the nonsensical charge.
Q. You have just spoken of psuche running towards its entire annihilation if it
attaches itself to Anoia. What did Plato, and do you mean by this?
A. The entire annihilation of the personal consciousness, as an exceptional and
rare case, I think. The general and almost invariable rule is the merging of the
personal into the individual or immortal consciousness of the Ego, a
transformation or a divine transfiguration, and the entire annihilation only of
the lower quaternary. Would you expect the man of flesh, or the temporary
personality,his shadow, the "astral," his animal instincts and even physical
life, to survive with the "spiritual Ego" and become everlasting, eternal?
Naturally all this ceases to exist, either at, or soon after corporeal death. It
becomes in time entirely disintegrated and disappears from view, being
annihilated as a whole.
Q. Then you also reject resurrection in the flesh?
A. Most decidedly we do! Why should we, who believe in the archaic esoteric
philosophy of the Ancients, accept the unphilosophical speculations of the later
Christian theology, borrowed from the Egyptian and Greek exoteric Systems of the Gnostics?
Q. The Egyptians revered Nature-Spirits, and deified even onions: your Hindus
are idolaters,to this day; the Zoroastrians worshiped, and do still worship, the
Sun; and the best Greek philosophers were either dreamers or
materialists-witness Plato and Democritus. How can you compare!
A. It may be so in your modern Christian and even Scientific catechism; it is
not so for unbiased minds. The Egyptians revered the "One-Only-One," as Nout; and it is from this word that Anaxagoras got his denomination Nous, or as he calls it, nous autokrates , "the Mind or Spirit Self-potent", the archetes
kinedeos , the leading motor, or primum-mobile of all. With him the Nous was
God, and the logos was man, his emanation. The Nous is the spirit (whether in
Kosmos or in man), and the logos, whether Universe or astral body, the emanation of the former, the physical body being merely the animal. Our external powers perceive phenomena; our Nous alone is able to recognize their noumena.
It is the logos alone, or the noumenon, that survives, because it is immortal in its very nature and essence, and the logos in man is the Eternal Ego, that which
reincarnates and lasts forever. But how can the evanescent or external shadow,
the temporary clothing of that divine Emanation which returns to the source
whence it proceeded, be that which is raised in incorruptibility?
Q. Still you can hardly escape the charge of having invented a new division of
man's spiritual and psychic constituents; for no philosopher speaks of them,
though you believe that Plato does.
A. And I support the view. Besides Plato, there is Pythagoras, who also followed the same idea.Says Plutarch:
Plato and Pythagoras distribute the soul into two parts, the rational (noetic)
and irrational (agnoia); that part of the soul of man which is rational is
eternal; for though it be not God, yet it is the product of an eternal deity,
but that part of the soul which is divested of reason (agnoia) dies.
The modern term Agnostic comes from Agnosis,a cognate word. We wonder why Mr. Huxley, the author of the word, should have connected his great intellect with "the soul divested of reason" which dies? Is it the exaggerated humility of the modern materialist?
Pythagoras described the Soul as a self-moving Unit (monad) composed of three elements, the Nous(Spirit), the phren (mind), and the thumos (life, breath or the Nephesh of the Cabalists) which three correspond to our " Atma-buddhi,"
(higher Spirit-Soul), to Manas(the Ego), and to Kamarupa in conjunction with the lower reflection of Manas. That which the Ancient Greek philosophers termed Soul, in general, we call Spirit, or Spiritual Soul, Buddhi, as the vehicle of Atma (the Agathon,or Plato's Supreme Deity). The fact that Pythagoras and others state that phren and thumos are shared by us with the brutes, proves that in this case the lower Manasic reflection (instinct) and Kamarupa (animal living
passions) are meant. And as Socrates and Plato accepted the clue and followed
it, if to these five, namely, Agathon (Deity or Atma),Psuche (Soul in its
collective sense), Nous (Spirit or Mind), Phren (physical mind), and Thumos
(Kamarupa or passions) we add the eidolon of the Mysteries, the shadowyform or the human double, and the physical body,it will be easy to demonstrate that the ideas of both Pythagoras and Plato were identical with ours. Even the Egyptians held to the Septenary division. In its exit, they taught, the Soul (Ego) had to pass through its seven chambers, or principles, those it left behind, and those it took along with itself. The only difference is that, ever bearing in mind the penalty of revealing Mystery-doctrines, which was death, they gave out the
teaching in a broad outline, while we elaborate it and explain it in its
details. But though we do give out to the world as much as is lawful, even in
our doctrine more than one important detail is withheld, which those who study
the esoteric philosophy and are pledged to silence, are alone entitled to know.
The Greek Teachings
Q. We have magnificent Greek and Latin, Sanskrit and Hebrew scholars. How is it that we find nothing in their translations that would afford us a clue to what
A. Because your translators, their great learning notwithstanding, have made of
the philosophers, the Greeks especially, misty instead of mystic writers. Take
as an instance Plutarch, and read what he says of "the principles" of man. That
which he describes was accepted literally and attributed to metaphysical
superstition and ignorance. Let me give you an illustration in point. Says
Man is compound; and they are mistaken who think him to be compounded of two parts only. For they imagine that the understanding (brain intellect) is a part
of the soul (the upper Triad), but they err in this no less than those who make
the soul to be a part of the body, i.e., those who make of the Triad part of the
corruptible mortal quaternary.For the understanding (nous) as far exceeds the
soul, as the soul is better and diviner than the body. Now this composition of
the soul ( psuche) with the understanding (nous) makes reason; and with the body (or thumos, the animal soul) passion; of which the one is the beginning or
principle of pleasure and pain, and the other of virtue and vice. Of these three
parts conjoined and compacted together, the earth has given the body, the moon
the soul, and the sun the understanding to the generation of man.
This last sentence is purely allegorical, and will be comprehended only by those
who are versed in the esoteric science of correspondences and know which planet is related to every principle. Plutarch divides the latter into three groups,
and makes of the body a compound of physical frame, astral shadow, and breath, or the triple lower part, which "from earth was taken and to earth returns"; of the middle principle and the instinctual soul, the second part, derived from and through and ever influenced by the moon; and only of the higher part or the Spiritual Soul, with the tmic and Manasic elements in it does he make a direct emanation of the Sun, who stands here for Agathon the Supreme Deity.
This is proven by what he says further as follows:
Now of the deaths we die, the one makes man two of three and the other one of
(out of) two. The former is in the region and jurisdiction of Demeter, whence
the name given to the Mysteries, telein , resembled that given to death,
teleutan. The Athenians also heretofore called the deceased sacred to Demeter.
As for the other death, it is in the moon or region of Persephone.
Here you have our doctrine, which shows man a septenary during life; a quintile
just after death, in Kamaloka; and a threefold Ego, Spirit-Soul, and
consciousness inDevachan. This separation, first in "the Meadows of Hades," as Plutarch calls the Kamaloka, then in Devachan, was part and parcel of the
performances during the sacred Mysteries, when the candidates for initiation
enacted the whole drama of death, and the resurrection as a glorified spirit, by
which name we mean Consciousness. This is what Plutarch means when he says:
And as with the one, the terrestrial, so with the other celestial Hermes doth
dwell. This suddenly and with violence plucks the soul from the body; but
Prospina mildly and in a long time disjoins the understanding from the soul.
(Proserpina, or Persephone, stands here for postmortem Karma, which is said to
regulate the separation of the lower from the higher principles: the Soul, as
Nephesh, the breath of animal life, which remains for a time in Kamaloka, from
the higher compound Ego, which goes into the state of Devachan, or bliss.)
For this reason she is called Monogenes, only begotten, or rather begetting one
alone; for the better part of man becomes alone when it is separated by her.Now
both the one and the other happens thus according to nature. It is ordained by
Fate (Fatum or Karma) that every soul, whether with or without understanding
(mind), when gone out of the body, should wander for a time, though not all for
the same, in the region lying between the earth and moon (Kamaloka). For those
that have been unjust and dissolute suffer then the punishment due to their
offenses; but the good and virtuous are there detained till they are purified,
and have, by expiation, purged out of them all the infections they might have
contracted from the contagion of the body, as if from foul health, living in the
mildest part of the air, called the Meadows of Hades, where they must remain for a certain prefixed and appointed time. And then, as if they were returning from a wandering pilgrimage or long exile into their country, they have a taste of
joy, such as they principally receive who are initiated into Sacred Mysteries,
mixed with trouble, admiration, and each one's proper and peculiar hope.
This is Nirvanic bliss, and no Theosophist could describe in plainer though
esoteric language the mental joys of Devachan, where every man has his paradise
around him, erected by his consciousness. But you must beware of the general
error into which too many even of our Theosophists fall. Do not imagine that
because man is called septenary, then quintuple and a triad, he is a compound of
seven, five, or three entities;or, as well expressed by a Theosophical writer,
of skins to be peeled off like the skins of an onion. The principles, as already
said, save the body, the life, and the astral eidolon,all of which disperse at
death, are simply aspects andstates of consciousness. There is but one real man,
enduring through the cycle of life and immortal in essence, if not in form, and
this is Manas, the Mind-man or embodied Consciousness. The objection made by the materialists, who deny the possibility of mind and consciousness acting without matter is worthless in our case. We do not deny the soundness of their argument; but we simply ask our opponents,
Are you acquainted with all the states of matter,you who knew hitherto but of
three? And how do you know whether that which we refer to as absolute
consciousness or Deity forever invisible and unknowable, be not that which,
though it eludes forever our human finite conception, is still universal
Spirit-matter or matter-Spirit in its absolute infinitude?
It is then one of the lowest, and in its manvantaric manifestations
fractioned-aspects of this Spirit-matter, which is the conscious Ego that
creates its own paradise, a fool's paradise, it may be, still a state of bliss.
Q. But what is Devachan?
A. The "land of gods" literally; a condition, a state of mental bliss.
Philosophically a mental condition analogous to, but far more vivid and real
than, the most vivid dream. It is the state after death of most mortals.
On the Various Postmortem States
The Physical and the Spiritual Man
Q. I am glad to hear you believe in the immortality of the Soul.
A. Not of "the Soul," but of the divine Spirit; or rather in the immortality of
the reincarnating Ego.
Q. What is the difference?
A. A very great one in our philosophy, but this is too abstruse and difficult a
question to touch lightly upon. We shall have to analyze them separately, and
then in conjunction. We may begin with Spirit.
We say that the Spirit (the "Father in secret" of Jesus), or Atma, is no
individual property of any man, but is the Divine essence which has no body, no
form, which is imponderable, invisible and indivisible, that which does not
existand yet is, as the Buddhists say of Nirvana. It only overshadows the
mortal; that which enters into him and pervades the whole body being only its
omnipresent rays, or light, radiated throughBuddhi, its vehicle and direct
emanation. This is the secret meaning of the assertions of almost all the
ancient philosophers, when they said that "the rational part of man's soul"
never entered wholly into the man, but only overshadowed him more or less
through the irrational spiritual Soul or Buddhi.
Buddhi is irrational in the sense that as a pure emanation of the Universal mind
it can have no individual reason of its own on this plane of matter, but like
the Moon, who borrows her light from the Sun and her life from the Earth, so
Buddhi, receiving its light of Wisdom from Atma,gets its rational qualities from
Manas. Per se,as something homogeneous, it is devoid of attributes.
Q. I labored under the impression that the "Animal Soul" alone was irrational,
not the Divine.
A. You have to learn the difference between that which is negatively, or
passively"irrational," because undifferentiated, and that which is irrational
because too active and positive. Man is a correlation of spiritual powers, as
well as a correlation of chemical and physical forces, brought into function by
what we call principles.
Q.I have read a good deal upon the subject, and it seems to me that the notions of the older philosophers differed a great deal from those of the medieval
Cabalists, though they do agree in some particulars.
A. The most substantial difference between them and us is this. While we believe
with the Neo-Platonists and the Eastern teachings that the spirit ( Atma) never
descends hypostatically into the living man, but only showers more or less its
radiance on the inner man (the psychic and spiritual compound of the astral
principles), the Cabalists maintain that the human Spirit, detaching itself from
the ocean of light and Universal Spirit, enters man's Soul, where it remains
throughout life imprisoned in the astral capsule. All Christian Cabalists still
maintain the same, as they are unable to break quite loose from their
anthropomorphic and Biblical doctrines.
Q. And what do you say?
A. We say that we only allow the presence of the radiation of Spirit (or Atma)
in the astral capsule, and so far only as that spiritual radiancy is concerned.
We say that man and Soul have to conquer their immortality by ascending towards the unity with which, if successful, they will be finally linked and into which they are finally, so to speak, absorbed. The individualization of man after
death depends on the spirit, not on his soul and body. Although the word
personality,in the sense in which it is usually understood, is an absurdity if
applied literally to our immortal essence, still the latter is, as our
individual Ego, a distinct entity, immortal and eternal,per se. It is only in
the case of black magicians or of criminals beyond redemption, criminals who
have been such during a long series of lives-that the shining thread, which
links the spirit to the personal soul from the moment of the birth of the child,
is violently snapped, and the disembodied entity becomes divorced from the
personal soul, the latter being annihilated without leaving the smallest
impression of itself on the former. If that union between the lower, or personal
Manas, and the individual reincarnating Ego, has not been effected during life,
then the former is left to share the fate of the lower animals, to gradually
dissolve into ether, and have its personality annihilated. But even then the Ego
remains a distinct being. It (the spiritual Ego) only loses one Devachanic
state-after that special, and in that case indeed useless, life-as that
idealized Personality,and is reincarnated, after enjoying for a short time its
freedom as a planetary spirit almost immediately.
Q. It is stated in Isis Unveiled that such planetary Spirits or Angels, "the
gods of the Pagans or the Archangels of the Christians," will never be men on
A. Quite right. Not "such," but some classes of higher Planetary Spirits. They
will never be men on this planet, because they are liberated Spirits from a
previous, earlier world, and as such they cannot rebecome men on this one. Yet
all these will live again in the next and far higher Maha-Manvantara, after this
"great Age," and "Brahma pralaya," (a little period of 16 figures or so) is
over. For you must have heard, of course, that Eastern philosophy teaches us
that mankind consists of such "Spirits" imprisoned in human bodies? The
difference between animals and men is this: the former are ensouled by the
principles potentially,the latter actually. Do you understand now the
Q. Yes; but this specialization has been in all ages the stumbling-block of
A. It was. The whole esotericism of the Buddhist philosophy is based on this
mysterious teaching, understood by so few persons, and so totally misrepresented by many of the most learned modern scholars.
Even metaphysicians are too inclined to confound the effect with the cause. An Ego who has won his immortal life as spirit will remain the same inner self throughout all his rebirths on earth; but this does not imply necessarily that he must either remain the Mr. Smith or Mr. Brown he was on earth, or lose his individuality. Therefore, the astral soul and the terrestrial body of man may, in the dark hereafter, be absorbed into the cosmical ocean of sublimated elements, and cease to feel his last personal Ego (if it did not deserve to soar higher), and the divine Ego still remain the same unchanged entity, though this terrestrial experience of his emanation may be totally obliterated at the instant of separation from the unworthy vehicle.
Q. If the "Spirit," or the divine portion of the soul, is preexistent as a
distinct being from all eternity, as Origen, Synesius, and other semi-Christians
and semi-Platonic philosophers taught, and if it is the same, and nothing more
than the metaphysically-objective soul, how can it be otherwise than eternal?
And what matters it in such a case, whether man leads a pure life or an animal,
if, do what he may, he can never lose his individuality?
A. This doctrine, as you have stated it, is just as pernicious in its
consequences as that of vicarious atonement. Had the latter dogma, in company
with the false idea that we are all immortal, been demonstrated to the world in
its true light, humanity would have been bettered by its propagation.
Let me repeat to you again. Pythagoras, Plato, Timaeus of Locris, and the old
Alexandrian School, derived the Soulof man (or his higher principles and
attributes) from the Universal World Soul, the latter being, according to their
teachings, Aether(Pater-Zeus). Therefore, neither of these principles can be
unalloyedessence of the Pythagorean Monas, or our Atma-Buddhi,because the Anima Mundi is but the effect, the subjective emanation or rather radiation of the
former. Both the humanSpirit (or the individuality), the reincarnating Spiritual
Ego, and Buddhi, the Spiritual soul, are preexistent. But, while the former
exists as a distinct entity, an individualization, the soul exists as
preexisting breath, an unscient [lacking in knowledge] portion of an intelligent
whole. Both were originally formed from the Eternal Ocean of light; but as the
Fire-Philosophers, the medieval Theosophists, expressed it, there is a visible
as well as invisible spirit in fire. They made a difference between theanima
bruta and the anima divina. Empedocles firmly believed all men and animals to
possess two souls; and in Aristotle we find that he calls one the reasoning
soul,nous , and the other, the animal soul, psuche . According to these
philosophers, the reasoning soul comes from within the universal soul, and the
other from without.
Q. Would you call the Soul, i.e., the human thinking Soul, or what you call the
A. Not matter, but substanceassuredly; nor would the word matter, if prefixed
with the adjective, primordial, be a word to avoid. That matter, we say, is
coeternal with Spirit, and is not our visible, tangible, and divisible matter,
but its extreme sublimation. Pure Spirit is but one remove from the no-Spirit,
or the absolute all.Unless you admit that man was evolved out of this primordial
Spirit-matter, and represents a regular progressive scale of principles
frommeta-Spirit down to the grossest matter, how can we ever come to regard the inner man as immortal, and at the same time as a spiritual Entity and a mortal
Q. Then why should you not believe in God as such an Entity?
A. Because that which is infinite and unconditioned can have no form, and cannot be a being, not in any Eastern philosophy worthy of the name, at any rate. An "entity" is immortal, but is so only in its ultimate essence, not in its
individual form. When at the last point of its cycle, it is absorbed into its
primordial nature; and it becomes spirit, when it loses its name of Entity.
Its immortality as a form is limited only to its life cycle or the Maha
-Manvantara; after which it is one and identical with the Universal Spirit, and
no longer a separate Entity. As to the personal Soul-by which we mean the spark
of consciousness that preserves in the Spiritual Ego the idea of the personal
"I" of the last incarnation-this lasts, as a separate distinct recollection,
only throughout the Devachanic period; after which time it is added to the
series of other innumerable incarnations of the Ego, like the remembrance in our
memory of one of a series of days, at the end of a year. Will you bind the
infinitude you claim for your God to finite conditions? That alone which is
indissolubly cemented by Atma (i.e., Buddhi-Manas) is immortal. The Soul of man
(i.e., of the personality)per se is neither immortal, eternal nor divine. Says
The soul, when sent to this earth, puts on an earthly garment, to preserve
herself here, so she receives above a shining garment, in order to be able to
look without injury into the mirror, whose light proceeds from the Lord of
Moreover, The Zohar teaches that the soul cannot reach the abode of bliss,
unless she has received the "holy kiss," or the reunion of the soul with the
substance from which she emanated-spirit. All souls are dual, and, while the
latter is a feminine principle, the spirit is masculine. While imprisoned in
body, man is a trinity, unless his pollution is such as to have caused his
divorce from the spirit. "Woe to the soul which prefers to her divine husband
(spirit) the earthly wedlock with her terrestrial body," records a text of The
Book of the Keys, a Hermetic work. Woe indeed, for nothing will remain of that
personality to be recorded on the imperishable tablets of the Ego's memory.
Q. How can that which, if not breathed by God into man, yet is on your own
confession of an identical substance with the divine, fail to be immortal?
A. Every atom and speck of matter, not of substance only, is imperishable in its
essence, but not in its individual consciousness. Immortality is but one's
unbroken consciousness; and the personal consciousness can hardly last longer
than the personality itself, can it? And such consciousness, as I already told
you, survives only throughout Devachan, after which it is reabsorbed, first, in
the individual,and then in the universal consciousness. Better enquire of your
theologians how it is that they have so sorely jumbled up the Jewish Scriptures.
Read the Bible, if you would have a good proof that the writers of the
Pentateuch, and Genesisespecially, never regarded nephesh, that which God
breathes into Adam, as the immortal soul. Here are some instances: "And God
created … every nephesh (life) that moveth," meaning animals; and it is said:
"And man became a nephesh" (living soul), which shows that the wordnephesh was indifferently applied to immortal man and to mortal beast. "And surely your
blood of yournepheshim (lives) will I require; at the hand of every beast will I
require it, and at the hand of man," "Escape for nephesh" (escape for thy life,
it is translated). "Let us not kill him," reads the English version. "Let us not
kill his nephesh," is the Hebrew text. "Nepheshfor nephesh," says Leviticus. "He
that killeth any man shall surely be put to death," literally "He that smiteth
the nephesh of a man;" and from verse 18 and following it reads: "And he that
killeth a beast (nephesh) shall make it good … Beast for beast," whereas the
original text has it "nephesh for nephesh." How could man killthat which is
immortal? And this explains also why the Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, as it also affords another proof that very probably the Mosaic Jews-the
uninitiated at any rate-never believed in the soul's survival at all.
On Eternal Reward and Punishment, and on Nirvana
Q. It is hardly necessary, I suppose, to ask you whether you believe in the
Christian dogmas of Paradise and Hell, or in future rewards and punishments as
taught by the Orthodox churches?
A. As described in your catechisms, we reject them absolutely; least of all
would we accept their eternity. But we believe firmly in what we call the Law of
Retribution, and in the absolute justice and wisdom guiding this Law, or Karma.
Hence we positively refuse to accept the cruel and unphilosophical belief in
eternal reward or eternal punishment.
We say with Horace:
Let rules be fixed that may our rage contain,
And punish faults with a proportioned pain;
But do not flay him who deserves alone
A whipping for the fault that he has done.
This is a rule for all men, and a just one. Have we to believe that God, of whom
you make the embodiment of wisdom, love and mercy, is less entitled to these
attributes than mortal man?
Q. Have you any other reasons for rejecting this dogma?
A. Our chief reason for it lies in the fact of reincarnation. As already stated,
we reject the idea of a new soul created for every newly-born babe. We believe
that every human being is the bearer, or Vehicle, of anEgo coeval with every
other Ego; because all Egos are of the same essence and belong to the primeval
emanation from one universal infinite Ego. Plato calls the latter thelogos (or
the second manifested God); and we, the manifested divine principle, which is
one with the universal mind or soul, not the anthropomorphic, extra-cosmic and
personal God in which so many Theists believe. Pray do not confuse.
Q. But where is the difficulty, once you accept a manifested principle, in
believing that the soul of every new mortal is created by that Principle, as all
the Souls before it have been so created?
A. Because that which is impersonal can hardly create, plan and think, at its
own sweet will and pleasure. Being a universal Law, immutable in its periodical
manifestations, those of radiating and manifesting its own essence at the
beginning of every new cycle of life, it is not supposed to create men, only to
repent a few years later of having created them. If we have to believe in a
divine principle at all, it must be in one which is as absolute harmony, logic,
and justice, as it is absolute love, wisdom, and impartiality; and a God who
would create every soul for the space ofone brief span of life, regardless of
the fact whether it has to animate the body of a wealthy, happy man, or that of
a poor suffering wretch, hapless from birth to death though he has done nothing
to deserve his cruel fate-would be rather a senselessfiend than a God. Why, even
the Jewish philosophers, believers in the Mosaic Bible (esoterically, of
course), have never entertained such an idea; and, moreover, they believed in
reincarnation, as we do.
Q. Can you give me some instances as a proof of this?
A. Most decidedly I can. Philo Judaeus says:
The air is full of them (of souls); those which are nearest the earth,
descending to be tied to mortal bodies, palindromousi authis , return to other
bodies, being desirous to live in them.
In The Zohar, the soul is made to plead her freedom before God:
Lord of the Universe! I am happy in this world, and do not wish to go into
another world, where I shall be a handmaid, and be exposed to all kinds of
The doctrine of fatal necessity, the everlasting immutable law, is asserted in
the answer of the Deity: "Against thy will thou becomest an embryo, and against
thy will thou art born." Light would be incomprehensible without darkness to
make it manifest by contrast; good would be no longer good without evil to show the priceless nature of the boon; and so personal virtue could claim no merit, unless it had passed through the furnace of temptation. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable, save the concealed Deity. Nothing that is finite-whether because it had a beginning, or must have an end-can remain stationary. It must either progress or recede; and a soul which thirsts after a reunion with its spirit,
which alone confers upon it immortality, must purify itself through cyclic
transmigrations onward toward the only land of bliss and eternal rest, called in
The Zohar,"The Palace of Love," ; in the Hindu religion, "Moksha"; among the
Gnostics, "The Pleroma of Eternal Light"; and by the Buddhists, "Nirvana." And all these states are temporary, not eternal.
Q. Yet there is no reincarnation spoken of in all this.
A. A soul which pleads to be allowed to remain where she is, must be
pre existent,and not have been created for the occasion. In The Zohar,however,
there is a still better proof. Speaking of the reincarnatingEgos (the rational
souls), those whose last personality has to fade out entirely, it is said:
All souls which have alienated themselves in heaven from the Holy One-blessed be His Name-have thrown themselves into an abyss at their very existence, and have anticipated the time when they are to descend once more on earth.
"The Holy One" means here, esoterically, the Atma, or Atma-Buddhi.
Q. Moreover, it is very strange to find Nirvana spoken of as something
synonymous with the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Paradise, since according to every Orientalist of note Nirvana is a synonym of annihilation!
A. Taken literally, with regard to the personality and differentiated matter,
not otherwise. These ideas on reincarnation and the trinity of man were held by
many of the early Christian Fathers. It is the jumble made by the translators of
the New Testament and ancient philosophical treatises between soul and spirit,
that has occasioned the many misunderstandings. It is also one of the many
reasons why Buddha, Plotinus, and so many other Initiates are now accused of
having longed for the total extinction of their souls-"absorption unto the
Deity," or "reunion with the universal soul," meaning, according to modern
ideas, annihilation. The personal soul must, of course, be disintegrated into
its particles, before it is able to link its purer essence forever with the
immortal spirit. But the translators of both the Acts and the Epistles,who laid
the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the modern commentators on the
Buddhist Sutra of the Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness, have muddled the sense of the great apostle of Christianity as of the great reformer of
India. The former have smothered the word psuchikos , so that no reader imagines it to have any relation with soul; and with this confusion of soul and spirit together, Biblereaders get only a perverted sense of anything on the subject.
On the other hand, the interpreters of Buddha have failed to understand the meaning and object of the Buddhist four degrees of Dhyana. Ask the Pythagoreans, "Can that spirit, which gives life and motion and partakes of the nature of light, be reduced to nonentity?" "Can even that sensitive spirit in brutes which exercises memory, one of the rational faculties, die and become nothing?" observe the Occultists. In Buddhist philosophyannihilation means only a dispersion of matter, in whatever form or semblance of form it may be, for everything that has form is temporary, and is, therefore, really an illusion. For in eternity the longest periods of time are as a wink of the eye. So with form. Before we have time to realize that we have seen it, it is gone like an instantaneous flash of lightning, and passed forever. When the Spiritual entity breaks loose forever from every particle of matter, substance, or form, and rebecomes a Spiritual breath: then only does it enter upon the eternal and unchangeable Nirvana, lasting as long as the cycle of life has lasted-an eternity, truly. And then that Breath, existing in Spirit, is nothing because it is all;as a form, a semblance, a shape, it is completely annihilated; as absolute Spirit it still
is, for it has become Be-nessitself. The very word used, "absorbed in the
universal essence," when spoken of the "Soul" as Spirit, means "union with." It
can never mean annihilation, as that would mean eternal separation.
Q. Do you not lay yourself open to the accusation of preaching annihilation by
the language you yourself use? You have just spoken of the Soul of man returning to its primordial elements.
A. But you forget that I have given you the differences between the various
meanings of the word Soul, and shown the loose way in which the term Spirit has been hitherto translated. We speak of ananimal, a human, and a spiritual, Soul, and distinguish between them. Plato, for instance, calls "rational Soul" that
which we call Buddhi, adding to it the adjective of "spiritual," however; but
that which we call the reincarnating Ego, Manas, he calls Spirit, Nous,etc.,
whereas we apply the term Spirit, when standing alone and without any
qualification, to Atma alone. Pythagoras repeats our archaic doctrine when
stating that the Ego (Nous) is eternal with Deity; that the soul only passed
through various stages to arrive at divine excellence; while thumos returned to
the earth, and even the phren, the lower Manas,was eliminated. Again, Plato
defines Soul (Buddhi) as "the motion that is able to move itself." "Soul," he
adds (Laws X.), "is the most ancient of all things, and the commencement of
motion," thus calling Atma-Buddhi "Soul," and Manas "Spirit," which we do not.
Soul was generated prior to body, and body is posterior and secondary, as being according to nature, ruled over by the ruling soul. The soul which administers all things that are moved in every way, administers likewise the heavens.Soul then leads everything in heaven, and on earth, and in the sea, by its
movements-the names of which are, to will, to consider to take care of, to
consult. to form opinions true and false, to be in a state of joy, sorrow,
confidence, fear, hate, love, together with all such primary movements as are
allied to these … Being a goddess herself, she ever takes as an ally Nous, a
god, and disciplines all things correctly and happily; but when with Annoia-not
nous-it works out everything the contrary.
In this language, as in the Buddhist texts, the negative is treated as essential
existence. Annihilation comes under a similar exegesis. The positive state is
essential being, but no manifestation as such. When the spirit, in Buddhist
parlance, enters Nirvana, it loses objective existence, but retains subjective
being. To objective minds this is becoming absolute "nothing"; to subjective,
No-thing, nothing to be displayed to sense. Thus, their Nirvana means the
certitude of individual immortality in Spirit, not in Soul, which, though "the
most ancient of all things," is still-along with all the other Gods-a finite
emanation, in forms and individuality, if not in substance.
Q. I do not quite seize the idea yet, and would be thankful to have you explain
this to me by some illustrations.
A. No doubt it is very difficult to understand, especially to one brought up in
the regular orthodox ideas of the Christian Church. Moreover, I must tell you
one. thing; and this is that unless you have studied thoroughly well the
separate functions assigned to all the human principles and the state of all
these after death, you will hardly realize our Eastern philosophy.
On the Various Principles in Man
Q. I have heard a good deal about this constitution of the "inner man" as you
call it, but could never make "head or tail on't" as Gabalis expresses it.
A. Of course, it is most difficult, and, as you say, "puzzling" to understand
correctly and distinguish between the various aspects,called by us the
principles of the real Ego. It is the more so as there exists a notable
difference in the numbering of those principles by various Eastern schools,
though at the bottom there is the same identical substratum of teaching.
Q. Do you mean the Vedantins, as an instance? Don't they divide your seven
principles into five only?
A.They do; but though I would not presume to dispute the point with a learned
Vedantin, I may yet state as my private opinion that they have an obvious reason
for it. With them it is only that compound spiritual aggregate which consists of
various mental aspects that is called Man at all, the physical body being in
their view something beneath contempt, and merely an illusion. Nor is the
Vedanta the only philosophy to reckon in this manner. Lao-tzu, in his Tao Te
Ching, mentions only five principles, because he, like the Vedantins, omits to
include two principles, namely, the spirit ( Atma) and the physical body, the
latter of which, moreover, he calls "the cadaver." Then there is the Taraka
Raja-Yoga School. Its teaching recognizes only three principles in fact; but
then, in reality, their Sthulopadhi, or the physical body, in its waking
conscious state, their Sukshmopadhi, the same body in Svapna,or the dreaming
state, and their Karanopadhi or "causal body," or that which passes from one
incarnation to another, are all dual in their aspects, and thus make six. Add to
this Atma, the impersonal divine principle or the immortal element in Man,
undistinguished from the Universal Spirit, and you have the same seven again.
They are welcome to hold to their division; we hold to ours.
[See 'Secret Doctrine', part 1, p. 182 for a clearer exposition]
Q. Then it seems almost the same as the division made by the mystic Christians:
body, soul, and spirit?
A. Just the same. We could easily make of the body the vehicle of the "vital
Double"; of the latter the vehicle of Life or Prana; of Kamarupa,or (animal)
soul, the vehicle of the higher and the lowermind, and make of this six
principles, crowning the whole with the one immortal spirit. In Occultism every
qualitative change in the state of our consciousness gives to man a new aspect,
and if it prevails and becomes part of the living and acting Ego, it must be
(and is) given a special name, to distinguish the man in that particular state
from the man he is when he places himself in another state.
Q. It is just that which it is so difficult to understand.
A. It seems to me very easy, on the contrary, once that you have seized the main
idea,i.e., that man acts on this or another plane of consciousness, in strict
accordance with his mental and spiritual condition. But such is the materialism
of the age that the more we explain the less people seem capable of
understanding what we say. Divide the terrestrial being called man into three
chief aspects, if you like, and unless you make of him a pure animal you cannot
do less. Take his objective body; the thinking principle in him-which is only a
little higher than the instinctualelement in the animal-or the vital conscious
soul; and that which places him so immeasurably beyond and higher than the
animal-i.e.,his reasoning soul or "spirit." Well, if we take these three groups
or representative entities, and subdivide them, according to the occult
teaching, what do we get?
First of all, Spirit (in the sense of the Absolute, and therefore, indivisible
All), or Atma. As this can neither be located nor limited in philosophy, being
simply that which is in Eternity, and which cannot be absent from even the
tiniest geometrical or mathematical point of the universe of matter or
substance, it ought not to be called, in truth, a "human" principle at all.
Rather, and at best, it is in Metaphysics, that point in space which the human
Monad and its vehicle man occupy for the period of every life. Now that point is
as imaginary as man himself, and in reality is an illusion, a Maya ; but then
for ourselves, as for other personal Egos, we are a reality during that fit of
illusion called life, and we have to take ourselves into account, in our own
fancy at any rate, if no one else does. To make it more conceivable to the human
intellect, when first attempting the study of Occultism, and to solve the a-b-c
of the mystery of man, Occultism calls this seventh principle the synthesis of
the sixth, and gives it for vehicle the SpiritualSoul, Buddhi. Now the latter
conceals a mystery, which is never given to any one, with the exception of
irrevocably pledgedChelas, or those, at any rate, who can be safely trusted. Of
course, there would be less confusion, could it only be told; but, as this is
directly concerned with the power of projecting one's double consciously and at
will, and as this gift, like the "ring of Gyges," would prove very fatal to man
at large and to the possessor of that faculty in particular, it is carefully
guarded. But let us proceed with the principles. This divine soul, or Buddhi,
then, is the vehicle of the Spirit. In conjunction, these two are one,
impersonal and without any attributes (on this plane, of course), and make two
spiritual principles. If we pass onto the Human Soul, Manas or mens, everyone
will agree that the intelligence of man is dual to say the least: e.g., the
high-minded man can hardly become low-minded; the very intellectual and
spiritual-minded man is separated by an abyss from the obtuse, dull, and
material, if not animal-minded man.
Q. But why should not man be represented by two principles or two aspects,
A. Every man has these two principles in him, one more active than the other,
and in rare cases, one of these is entirely stunted in its growth, so to say, or
paralysed by the strength and predominance of the otheraspect, in whatever
direction. These, then, are what we call the two principles or aspects of Manas,
the higher and the lower; the former, the higher Manas, or the thinking,
conscious Ego gravitating toward the spiritual Soul (Buddhi); and the latter, or
its instinctual principle, attracted to Kama,the seat of animal desires and
passions in man. Thus, we havefour principles justified; the last three being
(1) the "Double," which we have agreed to call Protean, or Plastic Soul; the
vehicle of (2) the life principle; and (3) the physical body. Of course no
physiologist or biologist will accept these principles, nor can he make head or
tail of them. And this is why, perhaps, none of them understand to this day
either the functions of the spleen, the physical vehicle of the Protean Double,
or those of a certain organ on the right side of man, the seat of the
above-mentioned desires, nor yet does he know anything of the pineal gland,
which he describes as a horny gland with a little sand in it, which gland is in
truth the very seat of the highest and divinest consciousness in man, his
omniscient, spiritual and all-embracing mind. And this shows to you still more
plainly that we have neither invented these seven principles, nor are they new
in the world of philosophy, as we can easily prove.
Q. But what is it that reincarnates, in your belief?
A. The Spiritual thinking Ego, the permanent principle in man, or that which is
the seat of Manas. It is not Atma, or even Atma-Buddhi, regarded as the dual
Monad, which is the individual, or divineman, but Manas; for Atma is the
Universal All, and becomes the Higher-Self of man only in conjunction with
Buddhi, its vehicle, which links it to the individuality (or divine man). For it
is the Buddhi-Manas which is called the Causal body,(the United fifth and sixth
Principles) and which is Consciousness,that connects it with every personality
it inhabits on earth. Therefore, Soul being a generic term, there are in men
three aspectsof Soul-the terrestrial, or animal; the Human Soul; and the
Spiritual Soul; these, strictly speaking, are one Soul in its three aspects. Now
of the first aspect, nothing remains after death; of the second (nous or Manas)
only its divine essence if left unsoiledsurvives, while the third in addition to
being immortal becomesconsciously divine, by the assimilation of the higher
Manas. But to make it clear, we have to say a few words first of all about
Q. You will do well, as it is against this doctrine that your enemies fight the
A. You mean the Spiritualists? I know; and many are the absurd objections
laboriously spun by them over the pages of Light. So obtuse and malicious are
some of them, that they will stop at nothing. One of them found recently a
contradiction, which he gravely discusses in a letter to that journal, in two
statements picked out of Mr. Sinnett's lectures. He discovers that grave
contradiction in these two sentences: "Premature returns to earth-life in the
cases when they occur may be due to Karmic complication … "; and "there is no accident in the supreme act of divine justice guiding evolution." So profound a thinker would surely see a contradiction of the law of gravitation if a man
stretched out his hand to stop a falling stone from crushing the head of a
On Reincarnation or Rebirth
What is Memory According to Theosophical Teaching?
Q. The most difficult thing for you to do, will be to explain and give
reasonable grounds for such a belief. No Theosophist has ever yet succeeded in
bringing forward a single valid proof to shake my skepticism. First of all, you
have against this theory of reincarnation, the fact that no single man has yet
been found to remember that he has lived, least of all who he was, during his
A. Your argument, I see, tends to the same old objection; the loss of memory in
each of us of our previous incarnation. You think it invalidates our doctrine?
My answer is that it does not, and that at any rate such an objection cannot be
Q. I would like to hear your arguments.
A. They are short and few. Yet when you take into consideration (a) the utter
inability of the best modern psychologists to explain to the world the nature of
mind; and (b) their complete ignorance of its potentialities, and higher states,
you have to admit that this objection is based on an a priori conclusion drawn
from prima facieand circumstantial evidence more than anything else. Now what is "memory" in your conception, pray?
Q. That which is generally accepted: the faculty in our mind of remembering and
of retaining the knowledge of previous thoughts, deeds, and events.
A. Please add to it that there is a great difference between the three accepted
forms of memory. Besides memory in general you have Remembrance,
Recollection,and Reminiscence, have you not? Have you ever thought over the
difference? Memory, remember, is a generic name.
Q. Yet, all these are only synonyms.
A. Indeed, they are not-not in philosophy, at all events. Memory is simply an
innate power in thinking beings, and even in animals, of reproducing past
impressions by an association of ideas principally suggested by objective things
or by some action on our external sensory organs. Memory is a faculty depending entirely on the more or less healthy and normal functioning of our physical brain; and remembranceand recollection are the attributes and handmaidens of that memory. But reminiscence is an entirely different thing.
Reminiscence is defined by the modern psychologist as something intermediate between remembrance and recollection,or "a conscious process of recalling past occurrences, but without that full and varied reference to particular things which
characterizes recollection." Locke, speaking of recollection and remembrance,
When an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the
external sensory, it is remembrance;if it be sought after by the mind, and with
pain and endeavor found and brought again into view, it is recollection.
But even Locke leaves reminiscence without any clear definition, because it is
no faculty or attribute of our physical memory, but an intuitional perception
apart from and outside our physical brain; a perception which, covering as it
does (being called into action by the ever-present knowledge of our spiritual
Ego) all those visions in man which are regarded as abnormal-from the pictures
suggested by genius to theravings of fever and even madness-are classed by
science as having no existence outside of our fancy. Occultism and Theosophy,
however, regard reminiscence in an entirely different light. For us, while
memory is physical and evanescent and depends on the physiological conditions of the brain-a fundamental proposition with all teachers of mnemonics, who have the researches of modern scientific psychologists to back them-we call
reminiscencethe memory of the soul. And it is this memory which gives the
assurance to almost every human being, whether he understands it or not, of his
having lived before and having to live again. Indeed, as Wordsworth has it:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting,
And cometh from afar.
Q. If it is on this kind of memory-poetry and abnormal fancies, on your own
confession-that you base your doctrine, then you will convince very few, I am
A. I did not "confess" it was a fancy. I simply said that physiologists and
scientists in general regard such reminiscences as hallucinations and fancy, to
which learned conclusion they are welcome. We do not deny that such visions of the past and glimpses far back into the corridors of time, are not abnormal, as
contrasted with our normal daily life experience and physical memory. But we do maintain with Professor W. Knight, that: The absence of memory of any action done in a previous state cannot be a conclusive argument against our having lived through it.
And every fair-minded opponent must agree with what is said in Butler's Lectures on Platonic Philosophy:
That the feeling of extravagance with which it (preexistence) affects us has its
secret source in materialistic or semi-materialistic prejudices.
Besides which we maintain that memory, as Olympiodorus called it, is simply
fantasy, and the most unreliable thing in us.
Says Olympiodorus, in Platonis Phaed.:
The fantasy is an impediment to our intellectual conceptions; and hence, when we are agitated by the inspiring influence of the Divinity, if the fantasy
intervenes, the enthusiastic energy ceases: for enthusiasm and the ecstasy are
contrary to each other. Should it be asked whether the soul is able to energize
without the fantasy, we reply, that its perception of universals proves that it
is able. It has perceptions, therefore, independent of the fantasy; at the same
time, however, the fantasy attends in its energies, just as a storm pursues him
who sails on the sea.
Ammonius Saccas asserted that the only faculty in man directly opposed to
prognostication, or looking into futurity, is memory. Furthermore, remember that
memory is one thing and mind or thought is another; one is a recording machine,
a register which very easily gets out of order; the other (thoughts) are eternal
and imperishable. Would you refuse to believe in the existence of certain things
or men only because your physical eyes have not seen them? Would not the
collective testimony of past generations who have seen him be a sufficient
guarantee that Julius Caesar once lived? Why should not the same testimony of
the psychic senses of the masses be taken into consideration ?
Q. But don't you think that these are too fine distinctions to be accepted by
the majority of mortals?
A. Say rather by the majority of materialists. And to them we say, behold: even
in the short span of ordinary existence, memory is too weak to register all the
events of a lifetime. How frequently do even most important events lie dormant
in our memory until awakened by some association of ideas, or aroused to
function and activity by some other link. This is especially the case with
people of advanced age, who are always found suffering from feebleness of
recollection. When, therefore, we remember that which we know about the physical and the spiritual principles in man, it is not the fact that our memory has
failed to record our precedent life and lives that ought to surprise us, but the
contrary, were it to happen.
Why Do We Not Remember Our Past Lives?
Q. You have given me a bird's eye view of the seven principles; now how do they account for our complete loss of any recollection of having lived before?
A. Very easily. Since those principles which we call physical, and none of which
is denied by science, though it calls them by other names-namely, the body,
life, passional and animal instincts, and the astral eidolon of every man
(whether perceived in thought or our mind's eye, or objectively and separate
from the physical body), which principles we call Sthula-sharira, Prana,
Kamarupa, andLinga-sharira (see above).
[Those principles] are disintegrated after death with their constituent
elements, memory along with its brain, this vanished memory of a vanished
personality, can neither remember nor record anything in the subsequent
reincarnation of the Ego. Reincarnation means that this Ego will be furnished
with a new body, a new brain, and a new memory. Therefore it would be as absurd to expect this memory to remember that which it has never recorded as it would be idle to examine under a microscope a shirt never worn by a murderer, and seek on it for the stains of blood which are to be found only on the clothes he wore.
It is not the clean shirt that we have to question, but the clothes worn during
the perpetration of the crime; and if these are burnt and destroyed, how can you
get at them?
Q. Aye! How can you get at the certainty that the crime was ever committed at
all, or that the "man in the clean shirt" ever lived before?
A. Not by physical processes, most assuredly; nor by relying on the testimony of that which exists no longer. But there is such a thing as circumstantial
evidence, since our wise laws accept it, more, perhaps, even than they should.
To get convinced of the fact of reincarnation and past lives, one must put
oneself in rapport with one's real permanent Ego, not one's evanescent memory.
Q. But how can people believe in that which they do not know, nor have ever
seen, far less put themselves in rapport with it?
A. If people, and the most learned, will believe in the Gravity, Ether, Force,
and what not of Science, abstractions "and working hypotheses," which they have neither seen, touched, smelt, heard, nor tasted-why should not other people
believe, on the same principle, in one's permanent Ego, a far more logical and
important "working hypothesis" than any other?
Q. What is, finally, this mysterious eternal principle? Can you explain its
nature so as to make it comprehensible to all?
A. The Ego which reincarnates, the individual and immortal-not personal-"I"; the
vehicle, in short, of the Atma-Buddhic Monad, that which is rewarded in Devachan and punished on earth, and that, finally, to which the reflection only of the Skandhas, or attributes, of every incarnation attaches itself.
There are five Skandhas or attributes in the Buddhist teachings: Rupa (form or
body), material qualities;Vedana , sensation; Sanna , abstract ideas;
Samkhara,tendencies of mind; Vinnana, mental powers. Of these we are formed, by them we are conscious of existence; and through them communicate with the world about us.
Q. What do you mean by Skandhas?
A. Just what I said: "attributes," among which is memory, all of which perish
like a flower, leaving behind them only a feeble perfume. Here is another
paragraph from H.S. Olcott's Buddhist Catechism which bears directly upon the
subject. It deals with the question as follows:
The aged man remembers the incidents of his youth, despite his being physically
and mentally changed. Why, then, is not the recollection of past lives brought
over by us from our last birth into the present birth? Because memory is
included within the Skandhas, and the Skandhas having changed with the new
existence, a memory, the record of that particular existence, develops. Yet the
record or reflection of all the past lives must survive, for when Prince Siddh
rtha became Buddha, the full sequence of His previous births were seen by Him …
and any one who attains to the state of Jñana can thus retrospectively trace the
line of his lives.
This proves to you that while the undying qualities of the personality-such as
love, goodness, charity, etc.-attach themselves to the immortal Ego,
photographing on it, so to speak, a permanent image of the divine aspect of the
man who was, his material Skandhas (those which generate the most marked Karmic effects) are as evanescent as a flash of lightning, and cannot impress the new brain of the new personality; yet their failing to do so impairs in no way the
identity of the reincarnating Ego.
Q. Do you mean to infer that which survives is only the Soul-memory, as you call it, that Soul or Ego being one and the same, while nothing of the personality
A. Not quite; something of each personality, unless the latter was an
absolutematerialist with not even a chink in his nature for a spiritual ray to
pass through, must survive, as it leaves its eternal impress on the incarnating
permanent Self or Spiritual Ego. (Or the Spiritual,in contradistinction to the
personal Self. The student must not confuse this Spiritual Ego with the "higher
self" which is Atma, the God within us, and inseparable from the Universal
The personality with its Skandhas is ever changing with every new birth. It is,
as said before, only the part played by the actor (the true Ego) for one night.
This is why we preserve no memory on the physical plane of our past lives,
though thereal "Ego" has lived them over and knows them all.
Q. Then how does it happen that the real or Spiritual man does not impress his
new personal "I" with this knowledge?
A. How is it that the servant-girls in a poor farmhouse could speak Hebrew and
play the violin in their trance or somnambular state, and knew neither when in
their normal condition? Because, as every genuine psychologist of the old, not
your modern, school, will tell you, the Spiritual Ego can act only when the
personal Ego is paralyzed. The Spiritual "I" in man is omniscient and has every
knowledge innate in it; while the personal self is the creature of its
environment and the slave of the physical memory. Could the former manifest
itself uninterruptedly, and without impediment, there would be no longer men on
earth, but we should all be gods.
Q. Still there ought to be exceptions, and some ought to remember.
A. And so there are. But who believes in their report? Such sensitives are
generally regarded as hallucinated hysteriacs, as crack-brained enthusiasts, or
humbugs, by modern materialism. Let them read, however, works on this subject, preeminently Reincarnation, a Study of Forgotten Truthby E.D. Walker, F.T.S., and see in it the mass of proofs which the able author brings to bear on this vexed question. One speaks to people of soul, and some ask "What is Soul?" "Have you ever proved its existence?" Of course it is useless to argue with those who are materialists. But even to them I would put the question:
Can you remember what you were or did when a baby? Have you preserved the
smallest recollection of your life, thoughts, or deeds, or that you lived at all
during the first eighteen months or two years of your existence? Then why not
deny that you have ever lived as a babe, on the same principle?
When to all this we add that the reincarnating Ego, or individuality, retains
during the Devachanic period merely the essence of the experience of its past
earth-life or personality, the whole physical experience involving into a state
of in potentia, or being, so to speak, translated into spiritual formulae; when
we remember further that the term between two rebirths is said to extend from
ten to fifteen centuries, during which time the physical consciousness is
totally and absolutely inactive, having no organs to act through, and therefore
no existence, the reason for the absence of all remembrance in the purely
physical memory is apparent.
Q. You just said that the Spiritual Ego was omniscient. Where, then, is that
vaunted omniscience during his Devachanic life, as you call it?
A. During that time it is latent and potential, because, first of all, the
Spiritual Ego (the compound of Buddhi-Manas) is not the Higher Self, which being one with the Universal Soul or Mind is alone omniscient; and, secondly, because Devachan is the idealized continuation of the terrestrial life just left behind, a period of retributive adjustment, and a reward for unmerited wrongs and sufferings undergone in that special life. It is omniscient only potentiallyin
Devachan, and de facto exclusively in Nirvana, when the Ego is merged in the
Universal Mind-Soul. Yet it rebecomesquasi omniscient during those hours on
earth when certain abnormal conditions and physiological changes in the body
make the Ego free from the trammels of matter. Thus the examples cited above of somnambulists, a poor servant speaking Hebrew, and another playing the violin, give you an illustration of the case in point. This does not mean that the
explanations of these two facts offered us by medical science have no truth in
them, for one girl had, years before, heard her master, a clergyman, read Hebrew
works aloud, and the other had heard an artist playing a violin at their farm.
But neither could have done so as perfectly as they did had they not been
ensouled by that which, owing to the sameness of its nature with the Universal
Mind, is omniscient. Here the higher principle acted on the Skandhas and moved
them; in the other, the personality being paralyzed, the individuality
manifested itself. Pray do not confuse the two.
On Individuality and Personality
Q. But what is the difference between the two?
A. Even Col. Olcott, forced to it by the logic of Esoteric philosophy, found
himself obliged to correct the mistakes of previous Orientalists who made no
such distinction, and gives the reader his reasons for it. Thus he says:
The successive appearances upon the earth, or "descents into generation," of the tanhaically coherent parts (Skandhas) of a certain being, are a succession of
personalities. In each birth the personality differs from that of a previous or
next succeeding birth. Karma, the deus ex machina, masks (or shall we say
reflects?) itself now in the personality of a sage, again as an artisan, and so
on throughout the string of births. But though personalities ever shift, the one
line of life along which they are strung, like beads, runs unbroken; it is ever
that particular line, never any other. It is therefore individual, an individual
vital undulation, which began in Nirvana, or the subjective side of nature, as
the light or heat undulation through aether, began at its dynamic source; is
careering through the objective side of nature under the impulse of Karma and
the creative direction of Tanha (the unsatisfied desire for existence); and
leads through many cyclic changes back to Nirvana. Mr. Rhys-Davids calls that
which passes from personality to personality along the individual chain
character, or doing.Since character is not a mere metaphysical abstraction, but
the sum of one's mental qualities and moral propensities, would it not help to
dispel what Mr. Rhys-Davids calls "the desperate expedient of a mystery" if we
regarded the life-undulation as individuality, and each of its series of natal
manifestations as a separate personality? The perfect individual, Buddhist
speaking, is a Buddha, I should say; for Buddha is but the rare flower of
humanity, without the least supernatural admixture. And as countless generations
("four asankheyyas and a hundred thousand cycles,") are required to develop a
man into a Buddha, and the iron will to become one runs throughout all the
successive births, what shall we call that which thus wills and perseveres?
Character? One's individuality: an individuality but partly manifested in any
one birth, but built up of fragments from all the births?
Q. I confess that I am still in the dark. Indeed it is just that difference,
then, that you cannot impress too much on our minds.
A. I try to; but alas, it is harder with some than to make them feel a reverence
for childish impossibilities, only because they are orthodox,and because
orthodoxy is respectable. To understand the idea well, you have to first study
the dual sets of principles: the spiritual,or those which belong to the
imperishable Ego; and the material,or those principles which make up the
ever-changing bodies or the series of personalities of that Ego. Let us fix
permanent names to these, and say that:
1. Atma, the "Higher Self," is neither your Spirit nor mine, but like sunlight
shines on all. It is the universally diffused "divine principle," and is
inseparable from its one and absolute Meta-Spirit, as the sunbeam is inseparable
2. Buddhi (the spiritual soul) is only its vehicle. Neither each separately, nor
the two collectively, are of any more use to the body of man, than sunlight and
its beams are for a mass of granite buried in the earth, unless the divine Duad
is assimilated by, and reflected in, some consciousness.Neither Atma nor Buddhi are ever reached by Karma, because the former is the highest aspect of Karma, its working agentof itself in one aspect, and the other is unconscious on this plane. This consciousness or mind is,
3. Manas, the derivation or product in a reflected form of Ahankara, "the
conception of I," or Ego-ship. It is, therefore, when inseparably united to the
first two, called the Spiritual Ego, and Taijasi (the radiant). This is the real
Individuality, or the divine man. It is this Ego which-having originally
incarnated in the senseless human form animated by, but unconscious (since it
had no consciousness) of, the presence in itself of the dual monad-made of that
human-like form a real man.Mahat or the "Universal Mind" is the source of Manas. The latter is Mahat, i.e., mind, in man. Manas is also called Kshetrajña, "embodied Spirit," because it is, according to our philosophy, the Manasaputras,or "Sons of the Universal Mind," who created,or rather produced, the thinking man, "manu," by incarnating in the third Race mankind in our Round. It is Manas, therefore, which is the real incarnating and permanent Spiritual Ego, the individuality, and our various and numberless personalities only its external masks.
It is that Ego, that "Causal Body," which overshadows every personality Karma
forces it to incarnate into; and this Ego which is held responsible for all the
sins committed through, and in, every new body or personality-the evanescent
masks which hide the true Individual through the long series of rebirths.
Q. But is this just? Why should this Ego receive punishment as the result of
deeds which it has forgotten?
A. It has not forgotten them; it knows and remembers its misdeeds as well as you remember what you have done yesterday. Is it because the memory of that bundle of physical compounds called "body" does not recollect what its predecessor (the personality that was) did, that you imagine that the real Ego has forgotten them? As well say it is unjust that the new boots on the feet of a boy, who is flogged for stealing apples, should be punished for that which they know nothing of.
Q. But are there no modes of communication between the Spiritual and human
consciousness or memory?
A. Of course there are; but they have never been recognized by your scientific
modern psychologists. To what do you attribute intuition, the "voice of the
conscience," premonitions, vague undefined reminiscences, etc., etc., if not to
such communications? Would that the majority of educated men, at least, had the fine spiritual perceptions of Coleridge, who shows how intuitional he is in some of his comments. Hear what he says with respect to the probability that "all thoughts are in themselves imperishable."
If the intelligent faculty (sudden 'revivals' of memory) should be rendered more
comprehensive, it would require only a different and appropriate organization,
the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial, to bring before every human
soul the collective experience of its whole past existence(existences, rather).
And this body celestial is our Manasic Ego.
On the Reward and Punishment of the Ego
Q. I have heard you say that the Ego, whatever the life of the person he
incarnated in may have been on Earth, is never visited with
A. Never, save in very exceptional and rare cases of which we will not speak
here, as the nature of the "punishment" in no way approaches any of your
theological conceptions of damnation.
Q. But if it is punished in this life for the misdeeds committed in a previous
one, then it is this Ego that ought to be rewarded also, whether here, or when
A. And so it is. If we do not admit of any punishment outside of this earth, it
is because the only state the Spiritual Self knows of, hereafter, is that of
Q. What do you mean?
A. Simply this: crimes and sins committed on a plane of objectivity and in a
world of matter, cannot receive punishment in a world of pure subjectivity.We
believe in no hell or paradise as localities; in no objective hellfires and
worms that never die, nor in any Jerusalem with streets paved with sapphires and
diamonds. What we believe in is a postmortem state or mental condition, such as we are in during a vivid dream. We believe in an immutable law of absolute Love, Justice, and Mercy. And believing in it, we say: Whatever the sin and dire
results of the original Karmic transgression of the now incarnated Egos no man
(or the outer material and periodical form of the Spiritual Entity) can be held,
with any degree of justice, responsible for the consequences of his birth. He
does not ask to be born, nor can he choose the parents that will give him life.
In every respect he is a victim to his environment, the child of circumstances
over which he has no control; and if each of his transgressions were impartially
investigated, there would be found nine out of every ten cases when he was the
one sinned against, rather than the sinner.
It is on this transgression that the cruel and illogical dogma of the Fallen
Angels has been built. It is explained in Vol. II of The Secret Doctrine. All
our "Egos" are thinking and rational entities (Manasaputas) who had lived,
whether under human or other forms, in the precedent life cycle (Manvantara),
and whose Karma it was to incarnate in the man of this one. It was taught in the
Mysteries that, having delayed to comply with this law (or having "refused to
create" as Hinduism says of the Kumaras and Christian legend of the Archangel
Michael), i.e., having failed to incarnate in due time, the bodies predestined
for them got defiled, hence the original sin of the senseless forms and the
punishment of the Egos. That which is meant by the rebellious angels being
hurled down into Hell is simply explained by these pure Spirits or Egos being
imprisoned in bodies of unclean matter, flesh.
Life is at best a heartless play, a stormy sea to cross, and a heavy burden
often too difficult to bear. The greatest philosophers have tried in vain to
fathom and find out its raison d'être, and have all failed except those who had
the key to it, namely, the Eastern sages. Life is, as Shakespeare describes it:
… but a walking shadow-a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Nothing in its separate parts, yet of the greatest importance in its
collectivity or series of lives. At any rate, almost every individual life is,
in its full development, a sorrow. And are we to believe that poor, helpless
man, after being tossed about like a piece of rotten timber on the angry billows
of life, is, if he proves too weak to resist them, to be punished by
never-ending damnation, or even a temporary punishment? Never! Whether a great or an average sinner, good or bad, guilty or innocent, once delivered of the
burden of physical life, the tired and worn-out Manu("thinking Ego") has won the right to a period of absolute rest and bliss. The same unerringly wise and just
rather than merciful Law, which inflicts upon the incarnated Ego the Karmic
punishment for every sin committed during the preceding life on Earth, provided
for the now disembodied Entity a long lease of mental rest, i.e., the entire
oblivion of every sad event, aye, to the smallest painful thought, that took
place in its last life as a personality, leaving in the soul-memory but the
reminiscence of that which was bliss, or led to happiness. Plotinus, who said
that our body was the true river of Lethe, for "souls plunged into it forget
all," meant more than he said. For, as our terrestrial body is like Lethe, so is
our celestial bodyin Devachan, and much more.
Q. Then am I to understand that the murderer, the transgressor of law divine and
human in every shape, is allowed to go unpunished?
A. Who ever said that? Our philosophy has a doctrine of punishment as stern as
that of the most rigid Calvinist, only far more philosophical and consistent
with absolute justice. No deed, not even a sinful thought, will go unpunished;
the latter more severely even than the former, as a thought is far more
potential in creating evil results than even a deed.
Verily I say unto you, that whosoever looketh at a woman to lust after her, hath
committed adultery with her already in his heart.
We believe in an unerring law of Retribution, called Karma, which asserts itself
in a natural concatenation of causes and their unavoidable results.
Q. And how, or where, does it act?
A. Every laborer is worthy of his hire, saith Wisdom in the Gospel; every
action, good or bad, is a prolific parent, saith the Wisdom of the Ages. Put the
two together, and you will find the "why." After allowing the Soul, escaped from
the pangs of personal life, a sufficient, aye, a hundredfold compensation,
Karma, with its army of Skandhas, waits at the threshold of Devachan, whence the Ego reemerges to assume a new incarnation. It is at this moment that the future destiny of the now-rested Ego trembles in the scales of just Retribution, as it now falls once again under the sway of active Karmic law. It is in this rebirth which is ready for it, a rebirth selected and prepared by this mysterious,
inexorable, but in the equity and wisdom of its decrees infallible law, that the
sins of the previous life of the Ego are punished. Only it is into no imaginary
Hell, with theatrical flames and ridiculous tailed and horned devils, that the
Ego is cast, but verily onto this earth, the plane and region of his sins, where
he will have to atone for every bad thought and deed. As he has sown, so will he
reap. Reincarnation will gather around him all those other Egos who have
suffered, whether directly or indirectly, at the hands, or even through the
unconscious instrumentality, of the past personality. They will be thrown by
Nemesis in the way of the new man, concealing the old, the eternal Ego, and …
Q. But where is the equity you speak of, since these new "personalities" are not
aware of having sinned or been sinned against?
A. Has the coat torn to shreds from the back of the man who stole it, by another
man who was robbed of it and recognizes his property, to be regarded as fairly
dealt with? The new "personality" is no better than a fresh suit of clothes with
its specific characteristics, color, form, and qualities; but the real man who
wears it is the same culprit as of old. It is the individualitywho suffers
through his "personality." And it is this, and this alone, that can account for
the terrible, still onlyapparent, injustice in the distribution of lots in life
to man. When your modern philosophers will have succeeded in showing to us a
good reason, why so many apparently innocent and good men are born only to
suffer during a whole lifetime; why so many are born poor unto starvation in the
slums of great cities, abandoned by fate and men; why, while these are born in
the gutter, others open their eyes to light in palaces; while a noble birth and
fortune seem often given to the worst of men and only rarely to the worthy;
while there are beggars whose inner selves are peers to the highest and noblest
of men; when this, and much more, is satisfactorily explained by either your
philosophers or theologians, then only, but not till then, you will have the
right to reject the theory of reincarnation. The highest and grandest of poets
have dimly perceived this truth of truths. Shelley believed in it, Shakespeare
must have thought of it when writing on the worthlessness of Birth. Remember his words:
Why should my birth keep down my mounting spirit?
Are not all creatures subject unto time?
There's legions now of beggars on the earth,
That their original did spring from Kings,
And many monarchs now, whose fathers were
The riff-raff of their age …
Alter the word fathers into Egos-and you will have the truth.
On the Kamaloka and Devachan
On the Fate of the Lower Principles
Q. You spoke of Kamaloka,what is it?
A. When the man dies, his lower three principles leave him forever; i.e., body,
life, and the vehicle of the latter, the astral body or the double of the living
man. And then, his four principles-the central or middle principle, the animal
soul or Kamarupa, with what it has assimilated from the lower Manas, and the
higher triad find themselves in Kamaloka. The latter is an astral locality, the
limbus of scholastic theology, the Hades of the ancients, and, strictly
speaking, a locality only in a relative sense. It has neither a definite area
nor boundary, but exists within subjective space; i.e., is beyond our sensuous
perceptions. Still it exists, and it is there that the astral eidolons of all
the beings that have lived, animals included, await their second death. For the
animals it comes with the disintegration and the entire fading out of their
astral particles to the last. For the human eidolonit begins when the
Atma-Buddhi-Manasic triad is said to "separate" itself from its lower
principles, or the reflection of the ex-personality,by falling into the
Q. And what happens after this?
A. Then the Kamarupic phantom, remaining bereft of its informing thinking
principle, the higher Manas, and the lower aspect of the latter, the animal
intelligence, no longer receiving light from the higher mind, and no longer
having a physical brain to work through, collapses.
Q. In what way?
A. Well, it falls into the state of the frog when certain portions of its brain
are taken out by the vivisector. It can think no more, even on the lowest animal
plane. Henceforth it is no longer even the lower Manas, since this "lower" is
nothing without the "higher."
Q. And is it thisnonentity which we find materializing in Seance rooms with
A. It is this nonentity. A true nonentity, however, only as to reasoning or
cogitating powers, still an Entity, however astral and fluidic, as shown in
certain cases when, having been magnetically and unconsciously drawn toward a
medium, it is revived for a time and lives in him by proxy, so to speak. This
"spook," or the Kamarupa, may be compared with the jelly-fish, which has an
ethereal gelatinous appearance so long as it is in its own element, or water
(the medium's specific aura), but which, no sooner is it thrown out of it, than
it dissolves in the hand or on the sand, especially in sunlight. In the medium's
Aura, it lives a kind of vicarious life and reasons and speaks either through
the medium's brain or those of other persons present. But this would lead us too
far, and upon other people's grounds, whereon I have no desire to trespass. Let
us keep to the subject of reincarnation.
Q. What of the latter? How long does the incarnating Ego remain in the
A. This, we are taught, depends on the degree of spirituality and the merit or
demerit of the last incarnation. The average time is from ten to fifteen
centuries, as I already told you.
Q. But why could not this Ego manifest and communicate with mortals as
Spiritualists will have it? What is there to prevent a mother from communicating
with the children she left on earth, a husband with his wife, and so on? It is a
most consoling belief, I must confess; nor do I wonder that those who believe in
it are so averse to give it up.
A. Nor are they forced to, unless they happen to prefer truth to fiction,
however "consoling." Uncongenial our doctrines may be to Spiritualists; yet,
nothing of what we believe in and teach is half as selfish and cruel as what
Q. I do not understand you. What is selfish?
A. Their doctrine of the return of Spirits, the real "personalities" as they
say; and I will tell you why. If Devachan-call it "paradise" if you like, a
"place of bliss and of supreme felicity," if it is anything-is such a place (or
say state), logic tells us that no sorrow or even a shade of pain can be
experienced therein. "God shall wipe away all the tears from the eyes" of those
in paradise, we read in the book of many promises. And if the "Spirits of the
dead" are enabled to return and see all that is happening on earth, and
especially in their homes, what kind of bliss can be in store for them?
Why Theosophists Do Not Believe in the Return of Pure "Spirits"
Q. What do you mean? Why should this interfere with their bliss?
A. Simply this; and here is an instance. A mother dies, leaving behind her
little helpless children-orphans whom she adores-perhaps a beloved husband also.
We say that her "Spirit" or Ego-that individuality which is now all impregnated,
for the entire Devachanic period, with the noblest feelings held by its late
personality,i.e., love for her children, pity for those who suffer, and so on-we
say that it is now entirely separated from the "vale of tears," that its future
bliss consists in that blessed ignorance of all the woes it left behind.
Spiritualists say, on the contrary, that it is as vividly aware of them, and
more so than before, for "Spirits see more than mortals in the flesh do." We say
that the bliss of the Devachaneeconsists in its complete conviction that it has
never left the earth, and that there is no such thing as death at all; that
thepostmortem spiritual consciousness of the mother will represent to her that
she lives surrounded by her children and all those whom she loved; that no gap,
no link, will be missing to make her disembodied state the most perfect and
absolute happiness. The Spiritualists deny this point blank. According to their
doctrine, unfortunate man is not liberated even by death from the sorrows of
this life. Not a drop from the life-cup of pain and suffering will miss his
lips; and whether willing or unwilling, since he sees everything now, shall he
drink it to the bitter dregs. Thus, the loving wife, who during her lifetime was
ready to save her husband sorrow at the price of her heart's blood, is now
doomed to see, in utter helplessness, his despair, and to register every hot
tear he sheds for her loss. Worse than that, she may see the tears dry too soon,
and another beloved face shine on him, the father of her children; find another
woman replacing her in his affections; doomed to hear her orphans giving the
holy name of "mother" to one indifferent to them, and to see those little
children neglected, if not ill-treated. According to this doctrine the "gentle
wafting to immortal life" becomes without any transition the way into a new path
of mental suffering! And yet, the columns of the Banner of Light, the veteran
journal of the American Spiritualists, are filled with messages from the dead,
the "dear departed ones," who all write to say how very happy they are! Is such
a state of knowledge consistent with bliss? Then bliss stands in such a case for
the greatest curse, and orthodox damnation must be a relief in comparison to it!
Q. But how does your theory avoid this? How can you reconcile the theory of
Soul's omniscience with its blindness to that which is taking place on earth?
A. Because such is the law of love and mercy. During every Devachanic period the Ego, omniscient as it is per se, clothes itself, so to say, with the reflection
of the "personality" that was. I have just told you that the ideal efflorescence
of all the abstract, therefore undying and eternal qualities or attributes, such
as love and mercy, the love of the good, the true and the beautiful, that ever
spoke in the heart of the living "personality," clung after death to the Ego,
and therefore followed it to Devachan. For the time being, then, the Ego becomes the ideal reflection of the human being it was when last on earth, and that is not omniscient. Were it that, it would never be in the state we call Devachan at all.
Q. What are your reasons for it?
A. If you want an answer on the strict lines of our philosophy, then I will say
that it is because everything is illusion (Maya ) outside of eternal truth,
which has neither form, color, nor limitation. He who has placed himself beyond
the veil of Maya -and such are the highest Adepts and Initiates-can have no
Devachan. As to the ordinary mortal, his bliss in it is complete. It is an
absoluteoblivion of all that gave it pain or sorrow in the past incarnation, and
even oblivion of the fact that such things as pain or sorrow exist at all. The
Devachanee lives its intermediate cycle between two incarnations surrounded by
everything it had aspired to in vain, and in the companionship of everyone it
loved on earth. It has reached the fulfillment of all its soul-yearnings. And
thus it lives throughout long centuries an existence of unalloyedhappiness,
which is the reward for its sufferings in earth-life. In short, it bathes in a
sea of uninterrupted felicity spanned only by events of still greater felicity
Q. But this is more than simple delusion, it is an existence of insane
A. From your standpoint it may be, not so from that of philosophy. Besides
which, is not our whole terrestrial life filled with such delusions? Have you
never met men and women living for years in a fool's paradise? And because you should happen to learn that the husband of a wife, whom she adores and believes herself as beloved by him, is untrue to her, would you go and break her heart and beautiful dream by rudely awakening her to the reality? I think not. I say it again, such oblivion and hallucination-if you call it so-are only a merciful
law of nature and strict justice. At any rate, it is a far more fascinating
prospect than the orthodox golden harp with a pair of wings. The assurance that
The soul that lives ascends frequently and runs familiarly through the streets
of the heavenly Jerusalem, visiting the patriarchs and prophets, saluting the
apostles, and admiring the army of martyrs.
-may seem of a more pious character to some. Nevertheless, it is a hallucination
of a far more delusive character, since mothers love their children with an
immortal love, we all know, while the personages mentioned in the "heavenly
Jerusalem" are still of a rather doubtful nature. But I would, still, rather
accept the "new Jerusalem," with its streets paved like the show windows of a
jeweler's shop, than find consolation in the heartless doctrine of the
Spiritualists. The idea alone that the intellectual conscious souls of one's
father, mother, daughter, or brother find their bliss in a "Summerland"-only a
little more natural, but just as ridiculous as the "New Jerusalem" in its
description-would be enough to make one lose every respect for one's "departed ones." To believe that a pure spirit can feel happy while doomed to witness the sins, mistakes, treachery, and, above all, the sufferings of those from whom it is severed by death and whom it loves best, without being able to help them, would be a maddening thought.
Q. There is something in your argument. I confess to having never seen it in
A. Just so, and one must be selfish to the core and utterly devoid of the sense
of retributive justice, to have ever imagined such a thing. We are with those
whom we have lost in material form, and far, far nearer to them now, than when
they were alive. And it is not only in the fancy of the Devachanee, as some may
imagine, but in reality. For pure divine love is not merely the blossom of a
human heart, but has its roots in eternity. Spiritual holy love is immortal, and
Karma brings sooner or later all those who loved each other with such a
spiritual affection to incarnate once more in the same family group. Again we
say that love beyond the grave, illusion though you may call it, has a magic and
divine potency which reacts on the living. A mother's Ego filled with love for
the imaginary children it sees near itself, living a life of happiness, as real
to it as when on earth-that love will always be felt by the children in flesh.
It will manifest in their dreams, and often in various events-in providential
protection and escape, for love is a strong shield, and is not limited by space
or time. As with this Devachanic "mother," so with the rest of human
relationships and attachments, save the purely selfish or material. Analogy will
suggest to you the rest.
Q. In no case, then, do you admit the possibility of the communication of the
living with the disembodied spirit?
A. Yes, there is a case, and even two exceptions to the rule.
The first exception is during the few days that follow immediately the death of
a person and before the Ego passes into the Devachanic state. Whether any living mortal, save a few exceptional cases has derived much benefit from the return of the spirit into the objective plane is another question. The spirit is dazed after death and falls very soon into what we call "predevachanic
unconsciousness." When the intensity of the desire in the dying person to return
for some purpose forced the higher consciousness to remain awake,and therefore it was really the individuality, the "Spirit" that communicated.
The second exception is found in the Nirmanakayas.
Q. What about them? And what does the name mean for you?
A. It is the name given to those who, though they have won the right to Nirvana
and cyclic rest have out of pity for mankind and those they left on earth
renounced the Nirv ic state. This is not "Devachan," as the latter is an
illusion of our consciousness, a happy dream, and as those who are fit for
Nirvana must have lost entirely every desire or possibility of the world's
Such an adept, or Saint, or whatever you may call him, believing it a selfish
act to rest in bliss while mankind groans under the burden of misery produced by ignorance, renounces Nirvana, and determines to remain invisible in spirit on
this earth. They have no material body, as they have left it behind; but
otherwise they remain with all their principles even in astral life in our
sphere. And such can and do communicate with a few elect ones, only surely not with ordinary mediums.
Q. I have put you the question about Nirmanakayas because I read in some German and other works that it was the name given to the terrestrial appearances or bodies assumed by Buddhas in the Northern Buddhist teachings.
A. So they are, only the Orientalists have confused this terrestrial body by
understanding it to be objective and physical instead of purely astral and
Q. And what good can they do on earth?
A. Not much, as regards individuals, as they have no right to interfere with
Karma, and can only advise and inspire mortals for the general good. Yet they do more beneficent actions than you imagine.
Q. To this Science would never subscribe, not even modern psychology. For them, no portion of intelligence can survive the physical brain. What would you answer them?
A. I would not even go to the trouble of answering, but would simply say, in the
words given to "M.A. Oxon,"
Intelligence is perpetuated after the body is dead. Though it is not a question
of the brain only … It is reasonable to propound the indestructibility of the
human spirit from what we know.
Q. But "M.A. Oxon" is a Spiritualist?
A. Quite so, and the only true Spiritualist I know of, though we may still
disagree with him on many a minor question. Apart from this, no Spiritualist
comes nearer to the occult truths than he does. Like any one of us he speaks
… of the surface dangers that beset the ill-equipped, feather-headed muddler
with the occult, who crosses the threshold without counting the cost. Some
things that I do know of Spiritualism and some that I do not.
Our only disagreement rests in the question of "Spirit Identity." Otherwise, I,
for one, coincide almost entirely with him, and accept the three propositions he
embodied in his address of July, 1884. It is this eminent Spiritualist, rather,
who disagrees with us, not we with him.
Q. What are these propositions?
A. They are:
1. That there is a life coincident with, and independent of the physical life of
2. That, as a necessary corollary, this life extends beyond the life of the
body. We say it extends throughout Devachan.
3. That there is communication between the denizens of that state of existence
and those of the world in which we now live.
All depend, you see, on the minor and secondary aspects of these fundamental
propositions. Everything depends on the views we take of Spirit and Soul, or
Individuality and Personality.Spiritualists confuse the two "into one." We
separate them, and say that, with the exceptions above enumerated, no Spiritwill
revisit the earth, though the animal Soul may. But let us return once more to
our direct subject, the Skandhas.
Q. I begin to understand better now. It is the Spirit, so to say, of those
Skandhas which are the most ennobling, which, attaching themselves to the
incarnating Ego, survive, and are added to the stock of its angelic experiences.
And it is the attributes connected with the material Skandhas, with selfish and
personal motives. which, disappearing from the field of action between two
incarnations, reappear at the subsequent incarnation as Karmic results to be
atoned for; and therefore the Spirit will not leave Devachan. Is it so?
A. Very nearly so. If you add to this that the law of retribution, or Karma,
rewarding the highest and most spiritual in Devachan, never fails to reward them
again on earth by giving them a further development, and furnishing the Ego with
a body fitted for it, then you will be quite correct.
A Few Words About the Skandhas
Q. What becomes of the other, the lower Skandhas of the personality, after the
death of the body? Are they quite destroyed?
A. They are and yet they are not-a fresh metaphysical and occult mystery for you. They are destroyed as the working stock in hand of the personality; they remain as Karmic effects, as germs, hanging in the atmosphere of the terrestrial plane, ready to come to life, as so many avenging fiends, to attach themselves to the new personality of the Ego when it reincarnates.
Q. This really passes my comprehension, and is very difficult to understand.
A. Not once that you have assimilated all the details. For then you will see
that for logic, consistency, profound philosophy, divine mercy and equity, this
doctrine of Reincarnation has not its equal on earth. It is a belief in a
perpetual progress for each incarnating Ego, or divine soul, in an evolution
from the outward into the inward, from the material to the Spiritual, arriving
at the end of each stage at absolute unity with the divine Principle. From
strength to strength, from the beauty and perfection of one plane to the greater
beauty and perfection of another, with accessions of new glory, of fresh
knowledge and power in each cycle, such is the destiny of every Ego, which thus becomes its own Savior in each world and incarnation.
Q. But Christianity teaches the same. It also preaches progression.
A. Yes, only with the addition of something else. It tells us of the
impossibilityof attaining Salvation without the aid of a miraculous Savior, and
therefore dooms to perdition all those who will not accept the dogma. This is
just the difference between Christian theology and Theosophy. The former
enforces belief in the Descent of the Spiritual Ego into the Lower Self; the
latter inculcates the necessity of endeavoring to elevate oneself to the
Christos, or Buddhi state.
Q. By teaching the annihilation of consciousness in case of failure, however,
don't you think that it amounts to the annihilation of Self, a in the opinion of
A. From the standpoint of those who believe in the resurrection of the body
literally,and insist that every bone, every artery and atom of flesh will be
raised bodily on the Judgment Day-of course it does. If you still insist that it
is the perishable form and finite qualities that make up immortal man, then we shall hardly understand each other. And if you do not understand that, by
limiting the existence of every Ego to one life on earth, you make of Deity an
ever-drunken Indra of the Pur ic dead letter, a cruel Moloch, a god who makes an inextricable mess on Earth, and yet claims thanks for it, then the sooner we drop the conversation the better.
Q. But let us return, now that the subject of the Skandhas is disposed of, to
the question of the consciousness which survives death. This is the point which
interests most people. Do we possess more knowledge in Devachan than we do in earthlife?
A. In one sense, we can acquire more knowledge; that is, we can develop further
any faculty which we loved and strove after during life, provided it is
concerned with abstract and ideal things, such as music, painting, poetry, etc.,
since Devachan is merely an idealized and subjective continuation of earth-life.
Q. But if in Devachan the Spirit is free from matter, why should it not possess
A. Because, as I told you, the Ego is, so to say, wedded to the memory of its
last incarnation. Thus, if you think over what I have said, and string all the
facts together, you will realize that the Devachanic state is not one of
omniscience, but a transcendental continuation of the personal life just
terminated. It is the rest of the soul from the toils of life.
Q. But the scientific materialists assert that after the death of man nothing
remains; that the human body simply disintegrates into its component elements;
and that what we call soul is merely a temporary self-consciousness produced as
a byproduct of organic action, which will evaporate like steam. Is not theirs a
strange state of mind?
A. Not strange at all, that I see. If they say that self-consciousness ceases
with the body, then in their case they simply utter an unconscious prophecy, for
once they are firmly convinced of what they assert, no conscious after-life is
possible for them. For there are exceptions to every rule.
On Postmortem and Postnatal Consciousness
Q. But if human self-consciousness survives death as a rule, why should there be exceptions?
A. In the fundamental principles of the spiritual world no exception is
possible. But there are rules for those who see, and rules for those who prefer
to remain blind.
Q. Quite so, I understand. This is but an aberration of the blind man, who
denies the existence of the sun because he does not see it. But after death his
spiritual eyes will certainly compel him to see. Is this what you mean?
A. He will not be compelled, nor will he see anything. Having persistently
denied during life the continuance of existence after death, he will be unable
to see it, because his spiritual capacity having been stunted in life, it cannot
develop after death, and he will remain blind. By insisting that he must see it,
you evidently mean one thing and I another. You speak of the spirit from the
spirit, or the flame from the flame-of Atma, in short-and you confuse it with
the human soul-Manas … You do not understand me; let me try to make it clear.
The whole gist of your question is to know whether, in the case of a downright
materialist, the complete loss of self-consciousness and self-perception after
death is possible? Isn't it so? I answer, it is possible. Because, believing
firmly in our Esoteric Doctrine, which refers to the postmortemperiod, or the
interval between two lives or births, as merely a transitory state, I say,
whether that interval between two acts of the illusionary drama of life lasts
one year or a million, that postmortem state may, without any breach of the
fundamental law, prove to be just the same state as that of a man who is in a
Q. But since you have just said that the fundamental laws of the after-death
state admit of no exceptions, how can this be?
A. Nor do I say that it does admit of an exception. But the spiritual law of
continuity applies only to things which are truly real. To one who has read and
understood Mundakya Upanishad and Vedantasara all this becomes very clear. I
will say more: it is sufficient to understand what we mean by Buddhi and the
duality of Manas to gain a clear perception why the materialist may fail to have
a self-conscious survival after death. Since Manas, in its lower aspect, is the
seat of the terrestrial mind, it can, therefore, give only that perception of
the Universe which is based on the evidence of that mind; it cannot give
spiritual vision. It is said in the Eastern school, that between Buddhi and
Manas (the Ego), or Isvara and Prajña *1) there is in reality no more difference
thanbetween a forest and its trees, a lake and its waters,as the Mundakya
teaches. One or hundreds of trees dead from loss of vitality, or uprooted, are
yet incapable of preventing the forest from being still a forest.
1] But, as I understand it, Buddhi represents in this simile the forest, and
Manas-Taijasi *2] the trees. And if Buddhi is immortal, how can that which is
similar to it, i.e.,Manas-Taijasi , entirely lose its consciousness till the day
of its new incarnation? I cannot understand it.
*1] Isvara is the collective consciousness of the manifested godhead, Brahma,
i.e. the collective consciousness of the host of Dhyan Chohans (see Secret
Doctrine); Prajña is their individual wisdom.
*2] Taijasi means the 'radiant', as a consequence of its union with Buddhi, i.e.
Manas, the human soul, enlightened by the rays of the divine soul. Hence
Manas-Taijasi can be described as radiant intellect, the human reason
enlightened by the light of the spirit; and Buddhi-Manas is the revelation of
the divine plus the human intellect and self-consciousness.
(These two footnotes reversely translated from Dutch.[ editor])
Q. But, as I understand it, Buddhi represents in this simile the forest and Manas-taijasi the trees. And if Buddha is immortal how can that which is similar to it i.e. Mana-taijasi entirely lose it consciousness till the day of its new incarnation ? I cannot understand it.
A. You cannot, because you will mix up an abstract representation of the whole
with its casual changes of form. Remember that if it can be said of Buddhi-Manas that it is unconditionally immortal, the same cannot be said of the lower Manas, still less of Taijasi , which is merely an attribute. Neither of these, neither
Manas nor Taijasi , can exist apart from Buddhi, the divine soul, because the
first (Manas) is, in its lower aspect, a quality of the terrestrial personality,
and the second (Taijasi ) is identical with the first, because it is the same
Manas only with the light of Buddhi reflected on it. In its turn, Buddhi would
remain only an impersonal spirit without this element which it borrows from the
human soul, which conditions and makes of it, in this illusive Universe, as it
were something separate from the universal soul for the whole period of the
cycle of incarnation. Say rather that Buddhi-Manascan neither die nor lose its
compound self-consciousness in Eternity, nor the recollection of its previous
incarnations in which the two-i.e., the spiritual and the human soul-had been
closely linked together. But it is not so in the case of a materialist, whose
human soul not only receives nothing from the divine soul, but even refuses to
recognize its existence. You can hardly apply this axiom to the attributes and
qualities of the human soul, for it would be like saying that because your
divine soul is immortal, therefore the bloom on your cheek must also be
immortal; whereas this bloom, like Taijasi , is simply a transitory phenomenon.
Q. Do I understand you to say that we must not mix in our minds the noumenon
with the phenomenon, the cause with its effect?
A. I do say so, and repeat that, limited to Manas or the human soul alone, the
radiance of Taijas itself becomes a mere question of time; because both
immortality and consciousness after death become, for the terrestrial
personality of man, simply conditioned attributes, as they depend entirely on
conditions and beliefs created by the human soul itself during the life of its
body. Karma acts incessantly: we reap in our after-life only the fruit of that
which we have ourselves sown in this.
Q. But if my Ego can, after the destruction of my body, become plunged in a
state of entire unconsciousness, then where can be the punishment for the sins
of my past life?
A. Our philosophy teaches that Karmic punishment reaches the Ego only in its
next incarnation. After death it receives only the reward for the unmerited
sufferings endured during its past incarnation.
(Some Theosophists have taken exception to this phrase, but the words are those of Master, and the meaning attached to the word unmerited is that given above. In the T.P.S. pamphlet No. 6, a phrase, criticized subsequently in Lucifer, was used which was intended to convey the same idea. In form, however, it was awkward and open to the criticism directed against it; but the essential idea was that men often suffer from the effects of the actions done by others, effects which thus do not strictly belong to their own Karma-and for these sufferings they of course deserve compensation.)
The whole punishment after death, even for the materialist, consists, therefore,
in the absence of any reward, and the utter loss of the consciousness of one's
bliss and rest. Karma is the child of the terrestrial Ego, the fruit of the
actions of the tree which is the objective personality visible to all, as much
as the fruit of all the thoughts and even motives of the spiritual "I"; but
Karma is also the tender mother, who heals the wounds inflicted by her during
the preceding life, before she will begin to torture this Ego by inflicting upon
him new ones. If it may be said that there is not a mental or physical suffering
in the life of a mortal which is not the direct fruit and consequence of some
sin in a preceding existence; on the other hand, since he does not preserve the
slightest recollection of it in his actual life, and feels himself not deserving
of such punishment, and therefore thinks he suffers for no guilt of his own,
this alone is sufficient to entitle the human soul to the fullest consolation,
rest, and bliss in his postmortemexistence. Death comes to our spiritual selves
ever as a deliverer and friend. For the materialist who, notwithstanding his
materialism, was not a bad man, the interval between the two lives will be like
the unbroken and placid sleep of a child, either entirely dreamless, or filled
with pictures of which he will have no definite perception; while for the
average mortal it will be a dream as vivid as life, and full of realistic bliss
Q. Then the personal man must always go on suffering blindly the Karmic
penalties which the Ego has incurred?
A. Not quite so. At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is
sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshaled before him, in its minutest
details. For one short instant the personal becomes one with the individual and
all-knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show to him the whole chain of
causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now understands
himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or self-deception. He reads his life,
remaining as a spectator looking down into the arena he is quitting; he feels
and knows the justice of all the suffering that has overtaken him.
Q. Does this happen to everyone?
A. Without any exception. Very good and holy men see, we are taught, not only
the life they are leaving, but even several preceding lives in which were
produced the causes that made them what they were in the life just closing. They
recognize the law of Karma in all its majesty and justice.
Q. Is there anything corresponding to this before rebirth?
A. There is. As the man at the moment of death has a retrospective insight into
the life he has led, so, at the moment he is reborn onto earth, the Ego,awaking
from the state of Devachan, has a prospective vision of the life which awaits
him, and realizes all the causes that have led to it. He realizes them and sees
futurity, because it is between Devachan and rebirth that the Ego regains his
full manasicconsciousness, and rebecomes for a short time the god he was,
before, in compliance with Karmic law, he first descended into matter and
incarnated in the first man of flesh. The "golden thread" sees all its "pearls"
and misses not one of them.
What is Really Meant by Annihilation
Q. I have heard some Theosophists speak of a golden thread on which their lives were strung. What do they mean by this?
A. In the Hindu Sacred books it is said that the part of us which undergoes
periodical incarnation is the Sutratman, which means literally the "Thread
Soul." It is a synonym of the reincarnating Ego-Manas conjoined with
Buddhi-which absorbs the Manasic recollections of all our preceding lives. It is
so called, because, like the pearls on a thread, so is the long series of human
lives strung together on that one thread. In some Upanishad these recurrent
rebirths are likened to the life of a mortal which oscillates periodically
between sleep and waking.
Q. This, I must say, does not seem very clear, and I will tell you why. For the
man who awakes, another day commences, but that man is the same in soul and body as he was the day before; whereas at every incarnation a full change takes place not only of the external envelope, sex, and personality, but even of the mental and psychic capacities. The simile does not seem to me quite correct. The man who arises from sleep remembers quite clearly what he has done yesterday, the day before, and even months and years ago. But none of us has the slightest recollection of a preceding life or of any fact or event concerning it … I may forget in the morning what I have dreamt during the night, still I know that I have slept and have the certainty that I lived during sleep; but what
recollection can I have of my past incarnation until the moment of death? How do you reconcile this?
A. Some people do recollect their past incarnations during life; but these are
Buddhas and Initiates. This is what the Yogis call Samm -Sambuddha, or the
knowledge of the whole series of one's past incarnations.
Q. But we ordinary mortals who have not reached Samm -Sambuddha, how are we to understand this simile?
A. By studying it and trying to understand more correctly the characteristics
and the three kinds of sleep. Sleep is a general and immutable law for man as
for beast, but there are different kinds of sleep and still more different
dreams and visions.
Q. But this takes us to another subject. Let us return to the materialist who,
while not denying dreams, which he could hardly do, yet denies immortality in
general and the survival of his own individuality.
A. And the materialist, without knowing it, is right. One who has no inner
perception of, and faith in, the immortality of his soul, in that man the soul
can never become Buddhi-Taijasi , but will remain simply Manas, and for Manas
alone there is no immortality possible. In order to live in the world to come a
conscious life, one has to believe first of all in that life during the
terrestrial existence. On these two aphorisms of the Secret Science all the
philosophy about the postmortem consciousness and the immortality of the soul is built. The Ego receives always according to its deserts. After the dissolution
of the body, there commences for it a period of full awakened consciousness, or a state of chaotic dreams, or an utterly dreamless sleep undistinguishable from annihilation, and these are the three kinds of sleep. If our physiologists find
the cause of dreams and visions in an unconscious preparation for them during
the waking hours, why cannot the same be admitted for the postmortem dreams?
I repeat it: death is sleep.After death, before the spiritual eyes of the soul,
begins a performance according to a program learnt and very often unconsciously composed by ourselves: the practical carrying out of correct beliefs or of illusions which have been created by ourselves. The Methodist will be Methodist, the Muslim a Muslim, at least for some time-in a perfect fool's paradise of each man's creation and making. These are the postmortem fruits of the tree of life.
Naturally, our belief or unbelief in the fact of conscious immortality is unable
to influence the unconditioned reality of the fact itself, once that it exists;
but the belief or unbelief in that immortality as the property of independent or
separate entities, cannot fail to give color to that fact in its application to
each of these entities. Now do you begin to understand it?
Q. I think I do. The materialist, disbelieving in everything that cannot be
proven to him by his five senses, or by scientific reasoning, based exclusively
on the data furnished by these senses in spite of their inadequacy, and
rejecting every spiritual manifestation, accepts life as the only conscious
existence. Therefore according to their beliefs so will it be unto them. They
will lose their personal Ego, and will plunge into a dreamless sleep until a new
awakening. Is it so?
A. Almost so. Remember the practically universal teaching of the two kinds of
conscious existence: the terrestrial and the spiritual. The latter must be
considered real from the very fact that it is inhabited by the eternal,
changeless, and immortal Monad; whereas the incarnating Ego dresses itself up in new garments entirely different from those of its previous incarnations, and in
which all except its spiritual prototype is doomed to a change so radical as to
leave no trace behind.
Q. How so? Can my conscious terrestrial "I" perish not only for a time, like the
consciousness of the materialist, but so entirely as to leave no trace behind?
A. According to the teaching, it must so perish and in its fullness; all except
the principle which, having united itself with the Monad, has thereby become a
purely spiritual and indestructible essence, one with it in the Eternity. But in
the case of an out-and-out materialist, in whose personal "I" no Buddhi has ever
reflected itself, how can the latter carry away into the Eternity one particle
of that terrestrial personality? Your spiritual "I" is immortal; but from your
present self it can carry away into Eternity that only which has become worthy
of immortality, namely, the aroma alone of the flower that has been mown by
Q. Well, and the flower, the terrestrial "I"?
A. The flower, as all past and future flowers which have blossomed and will have to blossom on the mother bough, the Sutratman, all children of one root or
Buddhi-will return to dust. Your present "I," as you yourself know, is not the
body now sitting before me, nor yet is it what I would call Manas-Sutratman, but
Q. But this does not explain to me, at all, why you call life after death
immortal, infinite, and real, and the terrestrial life a simple phantom or
illusion; since even that postmortem life has limits, however much wider they
may be than those of terrestrial life.
A. No doubt. The spiritual Ego of man moves in eternity like a pendulum between the hours of birth and death. But if these hours, marking the periods of life terrestrial and life spiritual, are limited in their duration, and if the very
number of such stages in Eternity between sleep and awakening, illusion and
reality, has its beginning and its end, on the other hand, the spiritual pilgrim
is eternal. Therefore are the hours of his postmortem life, when, disembodied,
he stands face to face with truth and not the mirages of his transitory earthly
existences, during the period of that pilgrimage which we call "the cycle of
rebirths"-the only reality in our conception. Such intervals, their limitation
notwithstanding, do not prevent the Ego, while ever perfecting itself, from
following undeviatingly, though gradually and slowly, the path to its last
transformation, when that Ego, having reached its goal, becomes a divine being.
These intervals and stages help towards this final result instead of hindering
it; and without such limited intervals the divine Ego could never reach its
ultimate goal. I have given you once already a familiar illustration by
comparing the Ego,or the individuality, to an actor, and its numerous and
various incarnations to the parts it plays. Will you call these parts or their
costumes the individuality of the actor himself? Like that actor, the Ego is
forced to play during the cycle of necessity, up to the very threshold of
ParaNirvana, many parts such as may be unpleasant to it. But as the bee collects
its honey from every flower, leaving the rest as food for the earthly worms, so
does our spiritual individuality, whether we call it Sutratman or Ego.
Collecting from every terrestrial personality, into which Karma forces it to
incarnate, the nectar alone of the spiritual qualities and self-consciousness,
it unites all these into one whole and emerges from its chrysalis as the
glorified Dhyani-Chohan. So much the worse for those terrestrial personalities
from which it could collect nothing. Such personalities cannot assuredly outlive
consciously their terrestrial existence.
Q. Thus, then, it seems that, for the terrestrial personality, immortality is
still conditional. Is, then, immortality itself not unconditional?
A. Not at all. But immortality cannot touch the non-existent: for all that which
exists as Sat, or emanates from Sat, immortality and Eternity are absolute.
Matter is the opposite pole of spirit, and yet the two are one. The essence of
all this, i.e., Spirit, Force, and Matter, or the three in one, is as endless as
it is beginningless; but the form acquired by this triple unity during its
incarnations, its externality, is certainly only the illusion of our personal
conceptions. Therefore do we call Nirvana and the Universal life alone a
reality, while relegating the terrestrial life, its terrestrial personality
included, and even its Devachanic existence, to the phantom realm of illusion.
Q. But why in such a case call sleep the reality, and waking the illusion?
A. It is simply a comparison made to facilitate the grasping of the subject, and
from the standpoint of terrestrial conceptions it is a very correct one.
Q. And still I cannot understand, if the life to come is based on justice and
the merited retribution for all our terrestrial suffering, how in the case of
materialists, many of whom are really honest and charitable men, there should
remain of their personality nothing but the refuse of a faded flower.
A. No one ever said such a thing. No materialist, however unbelieving, can die
forever in the fullness of his spiritual individuality. What was said is that
consciousness can disappear either fully or partially in the case of a
materialist, so that no conscious remains of his personality survive.
Q. But surely this is annihilation?
A. Certainly not. One can sleep a dead sleep and miss several stations during a
long railway journey, without the slightest recollection or consciousness, and
awake at another station and continue the journey past innumerable other
halting-places till the end of the journey or the goal is reached. Three kinds
of sleep were mentioned to you: the dreamless, the chaotic, and the one which is
so real, that to the sleeping man his dreams become full realities. If you
believe in the latter why can't you believe in the former; according to the
after-life a man has believed in and expected, such is the life he will have. He
who expected no life to come will have an absolute blank, amounting to
annihilation, in the interval between the two rebirths. This is just the
carrying out of the program we spoke of, a program created by the materialists
themselves. But there are various kinds of materialists, as you say. A selfish,
wicked Egoist, one who never shed a tear for anyone but himself, thus adding
entire indifference to the whole world to his unbelief, must, at the threshold
of death, drop his personality forever. This personality having no tendrils of
sympathy for the world around and hence nothing to hook onto Sutratman, it
follows that with the last breath every connection between the two is broken.
There being no Devachan for such a materialist, the Sutratman will reincarnate
almost immediately. But those materialists who erred in nothing but their
disbelief will oversleep but one station. And the time will come when that
ex-materialist will perceive himself in the Eternity and perhaps repent that he
lost even one day, one station, from the life eternal.
Q. Still, would it not be more correct to say that death is birth into a new
life, or a return once more into eternity?
A. You may if you like. Only remember that births differ, and that there are
births of "still-born" beings, which are failures of nature. Moreover, with your
Western fixed ideas about material life, the words living and being are quite
inapplicable to the pure subjective state of postmortem existence. It is just
because, save in a few philosophers who are not read by the many, and who
themselves are too confused to present a distinct picture of it, it is just
because your Western ideas of life and death have finally become so narrow, that on the one hand they have led to crass materialism, and on the other, to the
still more material conception of the other life, which the Spiritualists have
formulated in their Summerland. There the souls of men eat, drink, marry, and
live in a paradise quite as sensual as that of Mohammed, but even less
philosophical. Nor are the average conceptions of the uneducated Christians any
better, being if possible still more material. What between truncated angels,
brass trumpets, golden harps, and material hellfires, the Christian heaven seems
like a fairy scene at a Christmas pantomime.
It is because of these narrow conceptions that you find such difficulty in
understanding. It is just because the life of the disembodied soul, while
possessing all the vividness of reality, as in certain dreams, is devoid of
every grossly objective form of terrestrial life, that the Eastern philosophers
have compared it with visions during sleep.
Definite Words for Definite Things
Q. Don't you think it is because there are no definite and fixed terms to
indicate each principle in man, that such a confusion of ideas arises in our
minds with respect to the respective functions of these principles?
A. I have thought of it myself. The whole trouble has arisen from this: we have
started our expositions of, and discussion about, the principles, using their
Sanskrit names instead of coining immediately, for the use of Theosophists,
their equivalents in English. We must try and remedy this now.
Q. You will do well, as it may avoid further confusion; no two theosophical
writers, it seems to me, have hitherto agreed to call the same principle by the
A. The confusion is more apparent than real, however. I have heard some of our
Theosophists express surprise at, and criticize several essays speaking of these
principles; but, when examined, there was no worse mistake in them than that of
using the word Soul to cover the three principles without specifying the
distinctions. The first, as positively the clearest of our Theosophical writers,
Mr. A.P. Sinnett, has some comprehensive and admirably-written passages on the "Higher Self." His real idea has also been misconceived by some, owing to his using the word Soul in a general sense. Yet here are a few passages which will show to you how clear and comprehensive is all that he writes on the subject:
The human soul, once launched on the streams of evolution as a human
individuality, passes through alternate periods of physical and relatively
spiritual existence. It passes from the one plane, or stratum, or condition of
nature to the other under the guidance of its Karmic affinities; living in
incarnations the life which its Karma has preordained; modifying its progress
within the limitations of circumstances, and-developing fresh Karma by its use
or abuse of opportunities-it returns to spiritual existence (Devachan) after
each physical life-through the intervening region of Kamaloka-for rest and
refreshment and for the gradual absorption into its essence, as so much cosmic
progress, of the life's experience gained "on earth" or during physical
existence. This view of the matter will, moreover, have suggested many
collateral inferences to anyone thinking over the subject; for instance, that
the transfer of consciousness from the Kamaloka to the Devachanic stage of this
progression would necessarily be gradual; that in truth, no hard-and-fast line
separates the varieties of spiritual conditions, that even the spiritual and
physical planes, as psychic faculties in living people show, are not so
hopelessly walled off from one another as materialistic theories would suggest;
that all states of nature are all around us simultaneously, and appeal to
different perceptive faculties; and so on … It is clear that during physical
existence people who possess psychic faculties remain in connection with the
planes of super-physical consciousness; and although most people may not be
endowed with such faculties, we all, as the phenomena of sleep, even, and
especially … those of somnambulism or mesmerism, show, are capable of entering into conditions of consciousness that the five physical senses have nothing to do with. We-the souls within us-are not as it were altogether adrift in the ocean of matter. We clearly retain some surviving interest or rights in the
shore from which, for a time, we have floated off. The process of incarnation,
therefore, is not fully described when we speak of an alternate existence on the
physical and spiritual planes, and thus picture the soul as a complete entity
slipping entirely from the one state of existence to the other. The more correct
definitions of the process would probably represent incarnation as taking place
on this physical plane of nature by reason of an efflux emanating from the soul.
The Spiritual realm would all the while be the proper habitat of the Soul, which
would never entirely quit it; and that non-materializable portion of the Soul
which abides permanently on the spiritual plane may fitly, perhaps, be spoken of
as the Higher Self.
This "Higher Self" is Atma, and of course it is "non-materializable," as Mr.
Sinnett says. Even more, it can never be "objective" under any circumstances,
even to the highest spiritual perception. For Atma or the "Higher Self" is
really Brahma, the Absolute, and indistinguishable from it. In hours of Samadhi,
the higher spiritual consciousness of the Initiate is entirely absorbed in the
one essence, which is Atma, and therefore, being one with the whole, there can
be nothing objective for it. Now some of our Theosophists have got into the
habit of using the words Self and Ego as synonymous, of associating the term
Self with only man's higher individual or even personal "Self" or Ego,whereas
this term ought never to be applied except to the One universal Self. Hence the
confusion. Speaking of Manas, the "causal body," we may call it-when connecting it with the Buddhic radiance-the "Higher Ego," never the "Higher Self." For even Buddhi, the "Spiritual Soul," is not the Self, but the vehicle only of Self. All the other "Selves"-such as the "Individual" self and "personal" self-ought never to be spoken or written of without their qualifying and characteristic
Thus in this most excellent essay on the "Higher Self," this term is applied to
the sixth principleor Buddhi; and has in consequence given rise to just such
misunderstandings. The statement thatA child does not acquire its sixth principle-or become a morally responsible being capable of generating Karma-until seven years old.-proves what is meant therein by the Higher Self. Therefore, the able author is quite justified in explaining that after the "Higher Self" has passed into the human being and saturated the personality-in some of the finer organizations only-with its consciousness People with psychic faculties may indeed perceive this Higher Self through their finer senses from time to time.
But so are those, who limit the term Higher Selfto the Universal Divine
Principle, "justified" in misunderstanding him. For, when we read, without being
prepared for this shifting of metaphysical terms, that while
Fully manifesting on the physical plane … the Higher Self still remains a
conscious spiritual Ego on the corresponding plane of Nature.
We are apt to see in the "Higher Self" of this sentence, Atma, and in the
spiritual Ego, Manas,or rather Buddhi-Manas, and forthwith to criticize the
whole thing as incorrect.
To avoid henceforth such misapprehensions, I propose to translate literally from
the Occult Eastern terms their equivalents in English, and offer these for
[The Self and the Egos ]
The Higher Self is Atma, the inseparable ray of the Universal and One Self. It
is the God above, more than within, us. Happy the man who succeeds in saturating his inner Ego with it!
The Spiritual divine Ego is the Spiritual soul or Buddhi, in close union with
Manas, the mind-principle, without which it is no Ego at all, but only the Atmic
The Inner, or Higher "Ego" is Manas,the "Fifth" Principle, so-called,
independently of Buddhi. The Mind-Principle is only the Spiritual Ego when
merged into one with Buddhi-no materialist being supposed to have in himsuch an Ego, however great his intellectual capacities. It is the permanent
Individuality or the "Reincarnating Ego."
The Lower, or Personal "Ego" is the physical man in conjunction with his lower
Self, i.e., animal instincts, passions, desires, etc. It is called the "false
personality," and consists of the lower Manas combined with Kamarupa, and
operating through the Physical body and its phantom or "double."
The remaining principle Prana, or Life, is, strictly speaking, the radiating
force or Energy of Atma-as the Universal Life and the One Self-Its lower or
rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or
Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a
principle only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of
the living man.
Q. This division being so much simplified in its combinations will answer
better, I believe. The other is much too metaphysical.
A. If outsiders as well as Theosophists would agree to it, it would certainly
make matters much more comprehensible.
On the Nature of Our Thinking Principle
The Mystery of the Ego
Q. I perceive in the quotation you brought forward a little while ago from The
Buddhist Catechisma discrepancy that I would like to hear explained. It is there
stated that the Skandhas-memory included-change with every new incarnation. And yet, it is asserted that the reflection of the past lives, which, we are told,
are entirely made up of Skandhas, "must survive." At the present moment I am not quite clear in my mind as to what it is precisely that survives, and I would
like to have it explained. What is it? Is it only that "reflection," or those
Skandhas, or always that same Ego, the Manas?
A. I have just explained that the reincarnating Principle, or that which we call
the divineman, is indestructible throughout the life cycle: indestructible as a
thinking Entity, and even as an ethereal form. The "reflection" is only the
spiritualized remembrance,during the Devachanic period, of the ex-personality,
Mr. A. or Mrs. B.-with which the Ego identifies itself during that period. Since
the latter is but the continuation of the earth-life, so to say, the very acme
and pitch, in an unbroken series, of the few happy moments in that now past
existence, the Egohas to identify itself with the personal consciousness of that
life, if anything shall remain of it.
Q. This means that theEgo, notwithstanding its divine nature, passes every such
period between two incarnations in a state of mental obscuration, or temporary
A. You may regard it as you like. Believing that, outside the One Reality,
nothing is better than a passing illusion-the whole Universe included-we do not view it as insanity, but as a very natural sequence or development of the terrestrial life.
What is life? A bundle of the most varied experiences, of daily changing ideas,
emotions, and opinions. In our youth we are often enthusiastically devoted to an
ideal, to some hero or heroine whom we try to follow and revive; a few years
later, when the freshness of our youthful feelings has faded out and sobered
down, we are the first to laugh at our fancies. And yet there was a day when we
had so thoroughly identified our own personality with that of the ideal in our
mind-especially if it was that of a living being-that the former was entirely
merged and lost in the latter. Can it be said of a man of fifty that he is the
same being that he was at twenty? The innerman is the same; the outward living
personality is completely transformed and changed. Would you also call these
changes in the human mental states insanity?
Q. How would youname them, and especially how would you explain the permanence of one and the evanescence of the other?
A. We have our own doctrine ready, and to us it offers no difficulty. The clue
lies in the double consciousness of our mind, and also, in the dual nature of
the mental principle. There is a spiritual consciousness, the Manasic mind
illumined by the light of Buddhi, that which subjectively perceives
abstractions; and the sentient consciousness (the lowerManasic light),
inseparable from our physical brain and senses. This latter consciousness is
held in subjection by the brain and physical senses, and, being in its turn
equally dependent on them, must of course fade out and finally die with the
disappearance of the brain and physical senses. It is only the former kind of
consciousness, whose root lies in eternity, which survives and lives forever,
and may, therefore, be regarded as immortal. Everything else belongs to passing
Q. What do you really understand by illusion in this case?
A. It is very well described in the just-mentioned essay on "The Higher Self."
Says its author:
The theory we are considering (the interchange of ideas between the Higher Ego
and the lower self) harmonizes very well with the treatment of this world in
which we live as a phenomenal world of illusion, the spiritual plane of nature
being on the other hand the noumenal world or plane of reality. That region of
nature in which, so to speak, the permanent soul is rooted is more real than
that in which its transitory blossoms appear for a brief space to wither and
fall to pieces, while the plant recovers energy for sending forth a fresh
flower. Supposing flowers only were perceptible to ordinary senses, and their
roots existed in a state of Nature intangible and invisible to us, philosophers
in such a world who divined that there were such things as roots in another
plane of existence would be apt to say of the flowers: "These are not the real
plants; they are of no relative importance, merely illusive phenomena of the
This is what I mean. The world in which blossom the transitory and evanescent
flowers of personal lives is not the real permanent world; but that one in which
we find the root of consciousness, that root which is beyond illusion and dwells
in the eternity.
Q. What do you mean by the root dwelling in eternity?
A. I mean by this root the thinking entity, the Ego which incarnates, whether we
regard it as an "Angel," "Spirit," or a Force. Of that which falls under our
sensuous perceptions only what grows directly from, or is attached to this
invisible root above, can partake of its immortal life. Hence every noble
thought, idea, and aspiration of the personality it informs, proceeding from and
fed by this root, must become permanent. As to the physical consciousness, as it is a quality of the sentient but lower principle, (Kamarupa or animal instinct,
illuminated by the lower manasicreflection), or the human Soul-it must
disappear. That which displays activity, while the body is asleep or paralyzed,
is the higher consciousness, our memory registering but feebly and
inaccurately-because automatically-such experiences, and often failing to be
even slightly impressed by them.
Q. But how is it that Manas, although you call it Nous, a "God," is so weak
during its incarnations, as to be actually conquered and fettered by its body?
A. I might retort with the same question and ask:
How is it that he, whom you regard as "the God of Gods" and the One living God, is so weak as to allow evil (or the Devil) to have the best of him as much as of all his creatures, whether while he remains in Heaven, or during the time he was incarnated on this earth?
You are sure to reply again: "This is a Mystery; and we are forbidden to pry
into the mysteries of God." Not being forbidden to do so by our religious
philosophy, I answer your question that, unless a God descends as an Avatara,no divine principle can be otherwise than cramped and paralyzed by turbulent, animal matter. Heterogeneity will always have the upper hand over homogeneity, on this plane of illusions, and the nearer an essence is to its root-principle, Primordial Homogeneity, the more difficult it is for the latter to assert itself on earth. Spiritual and divine powers lie dormant in every human Being; and the wider the sweep of his spiritual vision the mightier will be the God within him. But as few men can feel that God, and since, as an average rule, deity is always bound and limited in our thought by earlier conceptions, those ideas that are inculcated in us from childhood, therefore, it is so difficult for you to
understand our philosophy.
Q. And is it this Ego of ours which is our God?
A. Not at all; "A God" is not the universal deity, but only a spark from the one
ocean of Divine Fire. Our God within us, or "our Father in Secret" is what we
call the Higher Self, Atma.Our incarnating Ego was a God in its origin, as were
all the primeval emanations of the One Unknown Principle. But since its "fall
into Matter," having to incarnate throughout the cycle, in succession, from
first to last, it is no longer a free and happy god, but a poor pilgrim on his
way to regain that which he has lost. I can answer you more fully by repeating
what is said of the Inner Man:
From the remotest antiquity mankind as a wholehave always been convinced of the existence of a personal spiritual entity within the personal physical man. This
inner entity was more or less divine, according to its proximity to the
crown.The closer the union the more serene man's destiny, the less dangerous the external conditions. This belief is neither bigotry nor superstition, only an
ever-present, instinctive feeling of the proximity of another spiritual and
invisible world, which, though it be subjective to the senses of the outward
man, is perfectly objective to the inner ego. Furthermore, they believed that
there are external and internal conditions which affect the determination of our
will upon our actions. They rejected fatalism, for fatalism implies a blind
course of some still blinder power. But they believed in destiny or Karma, which
from birth to death every man is weaving thread by thread around himself, as a
spider does his cobweb; and this destiny is guided by that presence termed by
some the guardian angel, or our more intimate astral inner man, who is but too
often the evil genius of the man of flesh or the personality. Both these lead on
Man, but one of them must prevail; and from the very beginning of the invisible
affray the stern and implacable law of compensation and retributionsteps in and
takes its course, following faithfully the fluctuating of the conflict. When the
last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the net-work of his own doing, then he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made
destiny. It then either fixes him like the inert shell against the immovable
rock, or like a feather carries him away in a whirlwind raised by his own
Such is the destiny of the Man-the true Ego, not the Automaton, the shell that
goes by that name. It is for him to become the conqueror over matter.
The Complex Nature of Manas
Q. But you wanted to tell me something of the essential nature of Manas, and of
the relation in which the Skandhas of physical man stand to it?
A. It is this nature, mysterious, Protean, beyond any grasp, and almost shadowy
in its correlations with the other principles, that is most difficult to
realize, and still more so to explain. Manas is a principle, and yet it is an
"Entity" and individuality or Ego. He is a "God," and yet he is doomed to an
endless cycle of incarnations, for each of which he is made responsible, and for
each of which he has to suffer. All this seems as contradictory as it is
puzzling; nevertheless, there are hundreds of people, even in Europe, who
realize all this perfectly, for they comprehend the Ego not only in its
integrity but in its many aspects. Finally, if I would make myself
comprehensible, I must begin by the beginning and give you the genealogy of this
Ego in a few lines.
Q. Say on.
A. Try to imagine a "Spirit," a celestial Being, whether we call it by one name
or another, divine in its essential nature, yet not pure enough to be one with
the All, and having, in order to achieve this, to do purify its nature as to
finally gain that goal. It can do so only by passing individually and
personally, i.e.,spiritually and physically, through every experience and
feeling that exists in the manifold or differentiated Universe. It has,
therefore, after having gained such experience in the lower kingdoms, and having
ascended higher and still higher with every rung on the ladder of being, to pass
through every experience on the human planes. In its very essence it is thought,
and is, therefore, called in its plurality Manasaputra, "the Sons of the
(Universal) mind." This individualized "Thought" is what we Theosophists call
the real human Ego, the thinking Entity imprisoned in a case of flesh and bones.
This is surely a Spiritual Entity, not Matter, and such Entities are the
incarnating Egos that inform the bundle of animal matter called mankind, and
whose names are Manasa or "Minds." But once imprisoned, or incarnate, their
essence becomes dual: that is to say, the rays of the eternal divine Mind,
considered as individual entities, assume a two-fold attribute which is (a)
their essential inherent characteristic, heaven-aspiring mind (higher Manas),
and (b) the human quality of thinking, or animal cogitation, rationalized owing
to the superiority of the human brain, the Kama-tending or lower Manas. One
gravitates toward Buddhi, the other, tending downward, to the seat of passions
and animal desires. The latter have no room in Devachan, nor can they associate
with the divine triad which ascends as one into mental bliss. Yet it is the Ego,
the Manasic Entity, which is held responsible for all the sins of the lower
attributes, just as a parent is answerable for the transgressions of his child,
so long as the latter remains irresponsible.
Q. Is this "child" the "personality"?
A. It is. When, therefore, it is stated that the "personality" dies with the
body it does not state all. The body, which was only the objective symbol of Mr.
A. or Mrs. B., fades away with all its material Skandhas, which are the visible
expressions thereof. But all that which constituted during life the spiritual
bundle of experiences, the noblest aspirations, undying affections, and
unselfishnature of Mr. A. or Mrs. B. clings for the time of the Devachanic
period to the Ego, which is identified with the spiritual portion of that
terrestrial Entity, now passed away out of sight. The Actor is so imbued with
the role just played by him that he dreams of it during the whole Devachanic
night, which visioncontinues till the hour strikes for him to return to the
stage of life to enact another part.
Q. But how is it that this doctrine, which you say is as old as thinking men,
has found no room, say, in Christian theology?
A. You are mistaken, it has; only theology has disfigured it out of all
recognition, as it has many other doctrines. Theology calls the Ego the Angel
that God gives us at the moment of our birth, to take care of our Soul. Instead
of holding that "Angel" responsible for the transgressions of the poor helpless
"Soul," it is the latter which, according to theological logic, is punished for
all the sins of both flesh and mind! It is the Soul, the immaterialbreath of God
and his alleged creation, which, by some most amazing intellectual jugglery, is
doomed to burn in a material hell without ever being consumed, while the "Angel" escapes scot-free, after folding his white pinions and wetting them with a few tears. Aye, these are our "ministering Spirits," the "messengers of mercy" who are sent, Bishop Mant tells us:
… to fulfill Good for Salvation's heirs, for us they still Grieve when we sin, rejoice when we repent …
Yet it becomes evident that if all the Bishops the world over were asked to
define once for all what they mean bySoul and its functions, they would be as
unable to do so as to show us any shadow of logic in the orthodox belief!
The Doctrine is Taught in St. John's Gospel
Q. To this the adherents to this belief might answer, that if even the orthodox
dogma does promise the impenitent sinner and materialist a bad time of it in a
rather too realistic Inferno, it gives them, on the other hand, a chance for
repentance to the last minute. Nor do they teach annihilation, or loss of
personality, which is all the same.
A. If the Church teaches nothing of the kind, on the other hand, Jesus does; and
that is something to those, at least, who place Christ higher than Christianity.
Q. Does Christ teach anything of the sort?
A. He does; and every well-informed Occultist and even Cabalist will tell you
so. Christ, or the fourth Gospel at any rate, teaches reincarnation as also the
annihilation of the personality, if you but forget the dead letter and hold to
the esoteric Spirit. Remember the parable spoken of by St. John. What does the
parable speak about if not of theupper triad in man? Atma is the Husbandman-the Spiritual Ego or Buddhi (Christos) the Vine, while the animal and vital Soul,
the personality, is the "branch."
I am the true vine, and my Father is the Husbandman. Every branch in me that
beareth not fruit he taketh away … As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself
except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the
Vine-ye are the branches. If a man abide not in me he is cast forth as a branch,
and is withered and cast into the fire and burned.
Now we explain it in this way. Disbelieving in the hellfire which theology
discovers as underlying the threat to the branches, we say that the "Husbandman" means Atma, the Symbol for the infinite, impersonal Principle, while the Vine stands for the Spiritual Soul, Christos, and each "branch" represents a new incarnation.
Q. But what proofs have you to support such an arbitrary interpretation?
A.Universal symbology is a warrant for its correctness and that it is not
arbitrary. Hermas says of "God" that he "planted the Vineyard," i.e., he created
mankind. In the Cabala, it is shown that the Aged of the Aged, or the "Long
Face," plants a vineyard, the latter typifying mankind; and a vine, meaning
Life. The Spirit of "KingMessiah" is, therefore, shown as washing his garments
inthe wine from above, from the creation of the world. [Zohar XL, 10] And King
Messiah is the Ego purified by washing his garments (i.e., his personalities in
rebirth), in the wine from above, or Buddhi. Adam, or A-Dam, is "blood." The
Life of the flesh is in the blood (nephesh-soul). And Adam-Kadmon is the
Only-Begotten. Noah also plants a vineyard-the allegorical hotbed of future
humanity. As a consequence of the adoption of the same allegory, we find it
reproduced in the Nazarene Codex.Seven vines are procreated-which seven vines are our Seven Races with their seven Saviors or Buddhas-which spring from Iukabar Zivo, and Ferho (or Parcha) Raba waters them.[Codex Nazareus, iii, pp. 60,61] When the blessed will ascend among the creatures of Light, they shall see Iavar-Xivo, Lord of Life, and the First Vine.[Cod. Naz., ii, p.281] These Cabalistic metaphors are thus naturally repeated in the Gospel according to St. John.
Let us not forget that in the human system-even according to those philosophies
which ignore our septenary division-the Ego or thinking man is called the Logos,
or the Son of Soul and Spirit. "Manas is the adopted Son of King *** and Queen
***" (esoteric equivalents for Atma and Buddhi), says an occult work. He is the
"man-god" of Plato, who crucifies himself in Space (or the duration of the life
cycle) for the redemption of Matter. This he does by incarnating over and over
again, thus leading mankind onward to perfection, and making thereby room for
lower forms to develop into higher. Not for one life does he cease progressing
himself and helping all physical nature to progress; even the occasional, very
rare event of his losing one of his personalities, in the case of the latter
being entirely devoid of even a spark of spirituality, helps toward his
Q. But surely, if theEgo is held responsible for the transgressions of its
personalities, it has to answer also for the loss, or rather the complete
annihilation, of one of such.
A. Not at all, unless it has done nothing to avert this dire fate. But if, all
its efforts notwithstanding, its voice, that of our conscience, was unable to
penetrate through the wall of matter, then the obtuseness of the latter
proceeding from the imperfect nature of the material is classed with other
failures of nature. The Ego is sufficiently punished by the loss of Devachan,
and especially by having to incarnate almost immediately.
Q. This doctrine of the possibility of losing one's soul-or personality, do you
call it?-militates against the ideal theories of both Christians and
Spiritualists, though Swedenborg adopts it to a certain extent, in what he
callsSpiritual death. They will never accept it.
A. This can in no way alter a fact in nature, if it be a fact, or prevent such a
thing occasionally taking place. The universe and everything in it, moral,
mental, physical, psychic, or Spiritual, is built on a perfect law of
equilibrium and harmony. As said before (see Isis Unveiled), the centripetal
force could not manifest itself without the centrifugal in the harmonious
revolutions of the spheres, and all forms and their progress are the products of
this dual force in nature. Now the Spirit (or Buddhi) is the centrifugal and the
soul (Manas) the centripetal spiritual energy; and to produce one result they
have to be in perfect union and harmony. Break or damage the centripetal motion of the earthly soul tending toward the center which attracts it; arrest its
progress by clogging it with a heavier weight of matter than it can bear, or
than is fit for the Devachanic state, and the harmony of the whole will be
destroyed. Personal life, or perhaps rather its ideal reflection, can only be
continued if sustained by the two-fold force, that is by the close union of
Buddhi and Manasin every rebirth or personal life. The least deviation from
harmony damages it; and when it is destroyed beyond redemption the two forces separate at the moment of death.
During a brief interval the personal form (called indifferently Kamarupa and Mayavirupa), the spiritual efflorescence of which, attaching itself to the Ego, follows it into Devachan and gives to the permanent individuality its personal coloring (pro tem, so to speak), is carried off to remain in Kamaloka and to be gradually annihilated.
For it is after the death of the utterly depraved, the unspiritual and the wicked beyond redemption, that arrives the critical and supreme moment. If during life the ultimate and desperate effort of the Inner Self (Manas), to unite something of the personality with itself and the high glimmering ray of the divine Buddhi, is
thwarted; if this ray is allowed to be more and more shut out from the
ever-thickening crust of physical brain, the Spiritual Ego or Manas, once freed
from the body, remains severed entirely from the ethereal relic of the
personality; and the latter, or Kamarupa, following its earthly attractions, is
drawn into and remains in Hades,which we call the Kamaloka. These are "the
withered branches" mentioned by Jesus as being cut off from the
Vine.Annihilation, however, is never instantaneous, and may require centuries
sometimes for its accomplishment. But there the personality remains along with
the remnants of other more fortunate personal Egos, and becomes with them a
shell and an Elementary.As said in Isis Unveiled, it is these two classes of
"Spirits," the shells and the Elementaries, which are the leading "Stars" on the
great spiritual stage of "materializations." And you may be sure of it, it is
not they who incarnate; and, therefore, so few of these "dear departed ones"
know anything of reincarnation, misleading thereby the Spiritualists.
Q. But does not the author of Isis Unveiled stand accused of having preached
A. By those who have misunderstood what was said, yes. At the time that work was written, reincarnation was not believed in by any Spiritualists, either English
or American, and what is said there of reincarnation was directed against the
French Spiritists, whose theory is as unphilosophical and absurd as the Eastern
teaching is logical and self-evident in its truth. The Reincarnationists of the
Allan Kardec School believe in an arbitrary and immediate reincarnation. With
them, the dead father can incarnate in his own unborn daughter, and so on. They
have neither Devachan, Karma, nor any philosophy that would warrant or prove the necessity of consecutive rebirths. But how can the author of Isis Unveiled argue against Karmic reincarnation, at long intervals varying between 1,000 and 1,500 years, when it is the fundamental belief of both Buddhists and Hindus?
Q. Then you reject the theories of both the Spiritists and the Spiritualists, in
A. Not in their entirety, but only with regard to their respective fundamental
beliefs. Both rely on what their "Spirits" tell them; and both disagree as much
with each other as we Theosophists disagree with both. Truth is one; and when we hear the French spooks preaching reincarnation, and the English spooks denying and denouncing the doctrine, we say that either the French or the English "Spirits" do not know what they are talking about. We believe with the
Spiritualists and the Spiritists in the existence of "Spirits," or invisible
Beings endowed with more or less intelligence. But, while in our teachings their
kinds and genera are legion, our opponents admit of no other than human
disembodied "Spirits," which, to our knowledge, are mostly Kamalokic Shells.
Q. You seem very bitter against Spirits. As you have given me your views and
your reasons for disbelieving in the materialization of, and direct
communication in seances, with the disembodied spirits-or the "spirits of the
dead"-would you mind enlightening me as to one more fact? Why are some
Theosophists never tired of saying how dangerous is intercourse with spirits,
and mediumship? Have they any particular reason for this?
A. We must suppose so. I know I have. Owing to my familiarity for over half a
century with these invisible, yet but too tangible and undeniable "influences,"
from the conscious Elementals, semi-consciousshells, down to the utterly
senseless and nondescript spooks of all kinds, I claim a certain right to my
Q. Can you give an instance or instances to show why these practices should be
regarded as dangerous?
A. This would require more time than I can give you. Every cause must be judged by the effects it produces. Go over the history of Spiritualism for the last
fifty years, ever since its reappearance in this century in America-and judge
for yourself whether it has done its votaries more good or harm. Pray understand me. I do not speak against real Spiritualism, but against the modern movement which goes under that name, and the so-called philosophy invented to explain its phenomena.
Q. Don't you believe in their phenomena at all?
A. It is because I believe in them with too good reason, and (save some cases of
deliberate fraud) know them to be as true as that you and I live, that all my
being revolts against them. Once more I speak only of physical, not mental or
even psychic phenomena. Like attracts like. There are several high-minded, pure,
good men and women, known to me personally, who have passed years of their lives under the direct guidance and even protection of high "Spirits," whether
disembodied or planetary. But these Intelligences are not of the type of the
John Kings and the Ernests who figure in seancerooms. These Intelligences guide and control mortals only in rare and exceptional cases to which they are
attracted and magnetically drawn by the Karmic past of the individual. It is not
enough to sit "for development" in order to attract them. That only opens the
door to a swarm of "spooks," good, bad, and indifferent, to which the medium
becomes a slave for life. It is against such promiscuous mediumship and
intercourse with goblins that I raise my voice, not against spiritual mysticism.
The latter is ennobling and holy; the former is of just the same nature as the
phenomena of two centuries ago, for which so many witches and wizards have been made to suffer. Read Glanvil and other authors on the subject of witchcraft, and you will find recorded there the parallels of most, if not all, of the physical phenomena of nineteenth century "Spiritualism."
Q. Do you mean to suggest that it is all witchcraft and nothing more?
A. What I mean is that, whether conscious or unconscious, all this dealing with
the dead is necromancy, and a most dangerous practice. For ages before Moses
such raising of the dead was regarded by all the intelligent nations as sinful
and cruel, inasmuch as it disturbs the rest of the souls and interferes with
their evolutionary development into higher states. The collective wisdom of all
past centuries has ever been loud in denouncing such practices. Finally, I say,
what I have never ceased repeating orally and in print for fifteen years: While
some of the so-called "spirits" do not know what they are talking about,
repeating merely-like poll-parrots-what they find in the mediums' and other
people's brains, others are most dangerous, and can only lead one to evil. These
are two self-evident facts. Go into Spiritualistic circles of the Allan Kardec
school, and you find "spirits" asserting reincarnation and speaking like Roman
Turn to the "dear departed ones" in England and America, and you
will hear them denying reincarnation through thick and thin, denouncing those
who teach it, and holding to Protestant views. Your best, your most powerful
mediums, have all suffered in health of body and mind. Think of the sad end of
Charles Foster, who died in an asylum, a raving lunatic; of Slade, an epileptic;
of Eglinton-the best medium now in England-subject to the same.
Look back over the life of D.D. Home, a man whose mind was steeped in gall and bitterness, who never had a good word to say of anyone whom he suspected of possessing psychic powers, and who slandered every other medium to the bitter end. This Calvin of Spiritualism suffered for years from a terrible spinal disease, brought on by his intercourse with the "spirits," and died a perfect wreck. Think again of the sad fate of poor Washington Irving Bishop. I knew him in New York, when he was fourteen, and he was undeniably a medium. It is true that the poor man stole a march on his "spirits," and baptized them "unconscious muscular action," to the great gaudiumof all the corporations of highly learned and scientific fools, and to the replenishment of his own pocket. But de mortuis nil nisi bonum; his end was a sad one. He had strenuously concealed his epileptic fits-the first and strongest symptom of genuine mediumship-and who knows whether he was dead or in
a trance when the postmortem examination was performed? His relatives insist
that he was alive, if we are to believe Reuter's telegrams. Finally, behold the
veteran mediums, the founders and prime movers of modern spiritualism-the Fox sisters. After more than forty years of intercourse with the "Angels," the
latter have led them to become incurable sots, who are now denouncing, in public lectures, their own life-long work and philosophy as a fraud. What kind of spirits must they be who prompted them, I ask you?
Q. But is your inference a correct one?
A. What would you infer if the best pupils of a particular school of singing
broke down from overstrained sore throats? That the method followed was a bad one. So I think the inference is equally fair with regard to Spiritualism when
we see their best mediums fall a prey to such a fate. We can only say: Let those
who are interested in the question judge the tree of Spiritualism by its fruits,
and ponder over the lesson. We Theosophists have always regarded the
Spiritualists as brothers having the same mystic tendency as ourselves, but they
have always regarded us as enemies. We, being in possession of an older
philosophy, have tried to help and warn them; but they have repaid us by
reviling and traducing us and our motives in every possible way. Nevertheless,
the best English Spiritualists say just as we do, wherever they treat of their
belief seriously. Hear "M.A. Oxon" confessing this truth:
Spiritualists are too much inclined to dwell exclusively on the intervention of
external spirits in this world of ours,and to ignore the powers of the incarnate
Spirit.Why vilify and abuse us, then, for saying precisely the same? Henceforward, we will have nothing more to do with Spiritualism. And now let us return to Reincarnation.
On the Mysteries of Reincarnation
Q. You mean, then, that we have all lived on earth before, in many past
incarnations, and shall go on so living?
A. I do. The life cycle, or rather the cycle of conscious life, begins with the
separation of the mortal animal-man into sexes, and will end with the close of
the last generation of men, in the seventh round and seventh race of mankind.
Considering we are only in the fourth round and fifth race, its duration is more
easily imagined than expressed.
Q. And we keep on incarnating in new personalities all the time?
A. Most assuredly so; because this life cycle or period of incarnation may be
best compared to human life. As each such life is composed of days of activity
separated by nights of sleep or of inaction, so, in the incarnation cycle, an
active life is followed by a Devachanic rest.
Q. And it is this succession of births that is generally defined as
A. Just so. It is only through these births that the perpetual progress of the
countless millions of Egos toward final perfection and final rest (as long as
was the period of activity) can be achieved.
Q. And what is it that regulates the duration, or special qualities of these
A. Karma, the universal law of retributive justice.
Q. Is it an intelligent law?
A. For the Materialist, who calls the law of periodicity which regulates the
marshaling of the several bodies, and all the other laws in nature, blind forces
and mechanical laws, no doubt Karma would be a law of chance and no more. For us, no adjective or qualification could describe that which is impersonal and no entity, but a universal operative law. If you question me about the causative
intelligence in it, I must answer you I do not know. But if you ask me to define
its effects and tell you what these are in our belief, I may say that the
experience of thousands of ages has shown us that they are absolute and unerring equity, wisdom, and intelligence.For Karma in its effects is an unfailing
redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern
adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal
impartiality. It is, in the strictest sense, "no respecter of persons," though,
on the other hand, it can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayer.
This is a belief common to Hindus and Buddhists, who both believe in Karma.
Q. In this Christian dogmas contradict both, and I doubt whether any Christian
will accept the teaching.
A. No; and Inman gave the reason for it many years ago. As he puts it, while
… the Christians will accept any nonsense, if promulgated by the Church as a
matter of faith … the Buddhists hold that nothing which is contradicted by sound reason can be a true doctrine of Buddha.
They do not believe in any pardon for their sins, except after an adequate and
just punishment for each evil deed or thought in a future incarnation, and a
proportionate compensation to the parties injured.
Q. Where is it so stated?
A. In most of their sacred works. Consider the following Theosophical tenet:
Buddhists believe that every act, word, or thought has its consequence, which
will appear sooner or later in the present or in the future state. Evil acts
will produce evil consequences, good acts will produce good consequences:
prosperity in this world, or birth in heaven (Devachan) … in the future state.
Q. Christians believe the same thing, don't they?
A. Oh, no; they believe in the pardon and the remission of all sins. They are
promised that if they only believe in the blood of Christ (an innocentvictim!),
in the blood offered by Him for the expiation of the sins of the whole of
mankind, it will atone for every mortal sin. And we believe neither in vicarious
atonement, nor in the possibility of the remission of the smallest sin by any
god, not even by a "personal Absolute" or "Infinite," if such a thing could have
any existence. What we believe in, is strict and impartial justice. Our idea of
the unknown Universal Deity, represented by Karma, is that it is a Power which
cannot fail, and can, therefore, have neither wrath nor mercy, only absolute
Equity, which leaves every cause, great or small, to work out its inevitable
effects. The saying of Jesus: "With what measure you mete it shall be measured
to you again," neither by expression nor implication points to any hope of
future mercy or salvation by proxy. This is why, recognizing as we do in our
philosophy the justice of this statement, we cannot recommend too strongly
mercy, charity, and forgiveness of mutual offenses. Resist not evil, and render
good for evil, are Buddhist precepts, and were first preached in view of the
implacability of Karmic law. For man to take the law into his own hands is
anyhow a sacrilegious presumption. Human Law may use restrictive not punitive
measures; but a man who, believing in Karma, still revenges himself and refuses
to forgive every injury, thereby rendering good for evil, is a criminal and only
hurts himself. As Karma is sure to punish the man who wronged him, by seeking to inflict an additional punishment on his enemy, he, who instead of leaving that
punishment to the great Law adds to it his own mite, only begets thereby a cause
for the future reward of his own enemy and a future punishment for himself. The
unfailing Regulator affects in each incarnation the quality of its successor;
and the sum of the merit or demerit in preceding ones determines it.
Q. Are we then to infer a man's past from his present?
A. Only so far as to believe that his present life is what it justly should be,
to atone for the sins of the past life. Of course-seers and great adepts
excepted-we cannot as average mortals know what those sins were. From our
paucity of data, it is impossible for us even to determine what an old man's
youth must have been; neither can we, for like reasons, draw final conclusions
merely from what we see in the life of some man, as to what his past life may
What is Karma?
Q. But what is Karma?
A. As I have said, we consider it as the Ultimate Law of the Universe, the
source, origin, and fount of all other laws which exist throughout Nature. Karma
is the unerring law which adjusts effect to cause, on the physical, mental, and
spiritual planes of being. As no cause remains without its due effect from
greatest to least, from a cosmic disturbance down to the movement of your hand, and as like produces like,Karma is that unseen and unknown law which adjusts wisely, intelligently, and equitably each effect to its cause, tracing the
latter back to its producer. Though itself unknowable,its action is perceivable.
Q. Then it is the "Absolute," the "Unknowable" again, and is not of much value
as an explanation of the problems of life?
A. On the contrary. For, though we do not know what Karma is per se, and in its essence, we do know how it works, and we can define and describe its mode of action with accuracy. We only do notknow its ultimate Cause, just as modern
philosophy universally admits that the ultimate Cause of anything is
Q. And what has Theosophy to say in regard to the solution of the more practical needs of humanity? What is the explanation which it offers in reference to the awful suffering and dire necessity prevalent among the so-called "lower
A. To be pointed, according to our teaching all these great social evils, the
distinction of classes in Society, and of the sexes in the affairs of life, the
unequal distribution of capital and of labor-all are due to what we tersely but
truly denominate Karma.
Q. But, surely, all these evils which seem to fall upon the masses somewhat
indiscriminately are not actual merited and individual Karma?
A. No, they cannot be so strictly defined in their effects as to show that each
individual environment, and the particular conditions of life in which each
person finds himself, are nothing more than the retributive Karma which the
individual generated in a previous life. We must not lose sight of the fact that
every atom is subject to the general law governing the whole body to which it
belongs, and here we come upon the wider track of the Karmic law. Do you not
perceive that the aggregate of individual Karma becomes that of the nation to
which those individuals belong, and further, that the sum total of National Karma
is that of the World? The evils that you speak of are not peculiar to the
individual or even to the Nation, they are more or less universal; and it is
upon this broad line of Human interdependence that the law of Karma finds its
legitimate and equable issue.
Q. Do I, then, understand that the law of Karma is not necessarily an individual
A. That is just what I mean. It is impossible that Karma could readjust the
balance of power in the world's life and progress, unless it had a broad and
general line of action. It is held as a truth among Theosophists that the
interdependence of Humanity is the cause of what is called Distributive Karma,
and it is this law which affords the solution to the great question of
collective suffering and its relief. It is an occult law, moreover, that no man
can rise superior to his individual failings, without lifting, be it ever so
little, the whole body of which he is an integral part. In the same way, no one
can sin, nor suffer the effects of sin, alone. In reality, there is no such
thing as "Separateness"; and the nearest approach to that selfish state, which
the laws of life permit, is in the intent or motive.
Q. And are there no means by which the distributive or national Karma might be
concentrated or collected, so to speak, and brought to its natural and
legitimate fulfillment without all this protracted suffering?
A. As a general rule, and within certain limits which define the age to which we
belong, the law of Karma cannot be hastened or retarded in its fulfillment. But
of this I am certain, the point of possibility in either of these directions has
never yet been touched. Listen to the following recital of one phase of national
suffering, and then ask yourself whether, admitting the working power of
individual, relative, and distributive Karma, these evils are not capable of
extensive modification and general relief. What I am about to read to you is
from the pen of a National Savior, one who, having overcome Self, and being free to choose, has elected to serve Humanity, in bearing at least as much as a
woman's shoulders can possibly bear of National Karma. This is what she says:
Yes, Nature always does speak, don't you think? only sometimes we make so much noise that we drown her voice. That is why it is so restful to go out of the
town and nestle awhile in the Mother's arms. I am thinking of the evening on
Hampstead Heath when we watched the sun go down; but oh! upon what suffering and misery that sun had set! A lady brought me yesterday a big hamper of wild flowers. I thought some of my East-end family had a better right to it than I, and so I took it down to a very poor school in Whitechapel this morning.
You should have seen the pallid little faces brighten! Thence I went to pay for some dinners at a little cookshop for some children. It was in a back street, narrow, full of jostling people; stench indescribable, from fish, meat, and other food, all reeking in a sun that, in Whitechapel, festers instead of purifying. The
cookshop was the quintessence of all the smells. Indescribable meat-pies at 1d.,
loathsome lumps of 'food' and swarms of flies, a very altar of Beelzebub! All
about, babies on the prowl for scraps, one, with the face of an angel, gathering
up cherrystones as a light and nutritious form of diet. I came westward with
every nerve shuddering and jarred, wondering whether anything can be done with some parts of London save swallowing them up in an earthquake and starting their inhabitants afresh, after a plunge into some purifying Lethe, out of which not a memory might emerge! And then I thought of Hampstead Heath, and-pondered.
If by any sacrifice one could win the power to save these people, the cost would not be worth counting; but, you see,they must be changed-and how can that be
wrought? In the condition they now are, they would not profit by any environment in which they might be placed; and yet, in their present surroundings they must continue to putrefy.
It breaks my heart, this endless, hopeless misery, and the brutish degradation that is at once its outgrowth and its root. It is like the banyan tree; every branch roots itself and sends out new shoots. What a difference between these feelings and the peaceful scene at Hampstead! and yet we, who are the brothers and sisters of these poor creatures, have only a right to use Hampstead Heaths to gain strength to save Whitechapels.
Q. That is a sad but beautiful letter, and I think it presents with painful
conspicuity the terrible workings of what you have called "Relative and
Distributive Karma." But alas! there seems no immediate hope of any relief short
of an earthquake, or some such general engulfment!
A. What right have we to think so while one-half of humanity is in a position to
effect an immediate relief of the privations which are suffered by their
fellows? When every individual has contributed to the general good what he can
of money, of labor, and of ennobling thought, then, and only then, will the
balance of National Karma be struck, and until then we have no right nor any
reasons for saying that there is more life on the earth than Nature can support.
It is reserved for the heroic souls, the Saviors of our Race and Nation, to find
out the cause of this unequal pressure of retributive Karma, and by a supreme
effort to readjust the balance of power, and save the people from a moral
engulfment a thousand times more disastrous and more permanently evil than the
like physical catastrophe, in which you seem to see the only possible outlet for
this accumulated misery.
Q. Well, then, tell me generally how you describe this law of Karma?
A. We describe Karma as that Law of readjustment which ever tends to restore
disturbed equilibrium in the physical, and broken harmony in the moral world. We say that Karma does not act in this or that particular way always; but that it
always does act so as to restore Harmony and preserve the balance of
equilibrium, in virtue of which the Universe exists.
Q. Give me an illustration.
A. Later on I will give you a full illustration. Think now of a pond. A stone
falls into the water and creates disturbing waves. These waves oscillate
backwards and forwards till at last, owing to the operation of what physicists
call the law of the dissipation of energy, they are brought to rest, and the
water returns to its condition of calm tranquility. Similarly all action, on
every plane, produces disturbance in the balanced harmony of the Universe, and
the vibrations so produced will continue to roll backwards and forwards, if its
area is limited, till equilibrium is restored. But since each such disturbance
starts from some particular point, it is clear that equilibrium and harmony can
only be restored by the reconverging to that same point of all the forces which
were set in motion from it. And here you have proof that the consequences of a
man's deeds, thoughts, etc. must all react upon himself with the same force with
which they were set in motion.
Q. But I see nothing of a moral character about this law. It looks to me like
the simple physical law that action and reaction are equal and opposite.
A. I am not surprised to hear you say that. Europeans have got so much into the
ingrained habit of considering right and wrong, good and evil, as matters of an
arbitrary code of law laid down either by men, or imposed upon them by a
Personal God. We Theosophists, however, say that "Good" and "Harmony," and "Evil" and "Dis-harmony," are synonymous. Further we maintain that all pain and suffering are results of want of Harmony, and that the one terrible and only cause of the disturbance of Harmony is selfishness in some form or another.
Hence Karma gives back to every man the actual consequences of his own actions, without any regard to their moral character; but since he receives his due for all, it is obvious that he will be made to atone for all sufferings which he has
caused, just as he will reap in joy and gladness the fruits of all the happiness
and harmony he had helped to produce. I can do no better than quote for your
benefit certain passages from books and articles written by our Theosophists-those who have a correct idea of Karma.
Q. I wish you would, as your literature seers to be very sparing on this
A. Because it is themost difficult of all our tenets. Some short time ago there
appeared the following objection from a Christian pen:
Granting that the teaching in regard to Theosophy is correct, and that "man must
be his own savior, must overcome self and conquer the evil that is in his dual
nature, to obtain the emancipation of his soul," what is man to do after he has
been awakened and converted to a certain extent from evil or wickedness? How is he to get emancipation, or pardon, or the blotting out of the evil or wickedness he has already done?
To this Mr. J.H. Conelly replies very pertinently that no one can hope to "make
the theosophical engine run on the theological track." As he has it:
The possibility of shirking individual responsibility is not among the concepts
of Theosophy. In this faith there is no such thing as pardoning, or "blotting
out of evil or wickedness already done," otherwise than by the adequate
punishment therefore of the wrong-doer and the restoration of the harmony in the universe that had been disturbed by his wrongful act. The evil has been his own, and while others must suffer its consequences, atonement can be made by nobody but himself.
The condition contemplated … in which a man shall have been "awakened and
converted to a certain extent from evil or wickedness," is that in which a man
shall have realized that his deeds are evil and deserving of punishment. In that
realization a sense of personal responsibility is inevitable, and just in
proportion to the extent of his awakening or "converting" must be the sense of
that awful responsibility. While it is strong upon him is the time when he is
urged to accept the doctrine of vicarious atonement.
He is told that he must also repent, but nothing is easier than that. It is an
amiable weakness of human nature that we are quite prone to regret the evil we
have done when our attention is called, and we have either suffered from it
ourselves or enjoyed its fruits. Possibly, close analysis of the feeling would
show us that thing which we regret is rather the necessity that seemed to
require the evil as a means of attainment of our selfish ends than the evil
Attractive as this prospect of casting our burden of sins "at the foot of the
cross" may be to the ordinary mind, it does not commend itself to the Theosophic student. He does not apprehend why the sinner by attaining knowledge of his evil can thereby merit any pardon for or the blotting out of his past wickedness; or why repentance and future right living entitle him to a suspension in his favor of the universal law of relation between cause and effect.
The results of his evil deeds continue to exist; the suffering caused to others by his wickedness is not blotted out. The Theosophical student takes the result of wickedness upon the innocent into his problem. He considers not only the guilty person, but his victims.
Evil is an infraction of the laws of harmony governing the universe, and the
penalty thereof must fall upon the violator of that law himself. Christ uttered
the warning, "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee," and St. Paul
said, "Work out your own salvation. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." That, by the way, is a fine metaphoric rendering of the sentence of the Pur as far antedating him-that "every man reaps the consequences of his own
This is the principle of the law of Karma which is taught by Theosophy. Sinnett,
in his Esoteric Buddhism,rendered Karma as "the law of ethical causation." "The
law of retribution," as Mme. Blavatsky translates its meaning, is better. It is
the power which
Just though mysterious, leads us on unerring
Through ways unmarked from guilt to punishment.
But it is more. It rewards merit as unerringly and amply as it punishes demerit.
It is the outcome of every act, of thought, word, and deed, and by it men mold
themselves, their lives and happenings. Eastern philosophy rejects the idea of a
newly created soul for every baby born. It believes in a limited number of
monads, evolving and growing more and more perfect through their assimilation of many successive personalities. Those personalities are the product of Karma and it is by Karma and reincarnation that the human monad in time returns to its
E.D. Walker, in his Reincarnation, offers the following explanation:
Briefly, the doctrine of Karma is that we have made ourselves what we are by
former actions, and are building our future eternity by present actions. There
is no destiny but what we ourselves determine. There is no salvation or
condemnation except what we ourselves bring about … Because it offers no shelter for culpable actions and necessitates a sterling manliness, it is less welcome to weak natures than the easy religious tenets of vicarious atonement, intercession, forgiveness, and deathbed conversions … In the domain of eternal
justice the offense and the punishment are inseparably connected as the same
event, because there is no real distinction between the action and its outcome …
It is Karma, or our old acts, that draws us back into earthly life. The spirit's
abode changes according to its Karma, and this Karma forbids any long
continuance in one condition, because it is always changing. So long as action
is governed by material and selfish motives, just so long must the effect of
that action be manifested in physical rebirths. Only the perfectly selfless man
can elude the gravitation of material life. Few have attained this, but it is
the goal of mankind.
And then the writer quotes from The Secret Doctrine:
Those who believe in Karma have to believe in destiny, which, from birth to
death, every man is weaving, thread by thread, around himself, as a spider does
his cobweb, and this destiny is guided either by the heavenly voice of the
invisible prototype outside of us, or by our more intimate astral or inner man,
who is but too often the evil genius of the embodied entity called man. Both
these lead on the outward man, but one of them must prevail; and from the very
beginning of the invisible affray the stern and implacable law of compensation
steps in and takes its course, faithfully following the fluctuations. When the
last strand is woven, and man is seemingly enwrapped in the network of his own
doing, then he finds himself completely under the empire of this self-made
destiny … An Occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or
cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach
that, nevertheless, it guards the good and watches over them in this as in
future lives; and that it punishes the evil-doer-aye, even to his seventh
rebirth-so long, in short, as the effect of his having thrown into perturbation
even the smallest atom in the infinite world of harmony has not been finally
readjusted. For the only decree of Karma-an eternal and immutable decree-is
absolute harmony in the world of matter as it is in the world of spirit. It is
not, therefore, Karma that rewards or punishes, but it is we who reward or
punish ourselves according to whether we work with, through and along with
nature, abiding by the laws on which that harmony depends, or-break them. Nor
would the ways of Karma be inscrutable were men to work in union and harmony, instead of disunion and strife. For our ignorance of those ways-which one portion of mankind calls the ways of Providence, dark and intricate; while
another sees in them the action of blind fatalism; and a third simple chance,
with neither gods nor devils to guide them-would surely disappear if we would
but attribute all these to their correct cause … We stand bewildered before the
mystery of our own making and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and
then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us. But verily there is not an
accident of our lives, not a misshapen day, or a misfortune, that could not be
traced back to our own doings in this or in another life … The law of Karma is
inextricably interwoven with that of reincarnation … It is only this doctrine
that can explain to us the mysterious problem of good and evil, and reconcile
man to the terrible and apparent injustice of life. Nothing but such certainty
can quiet our revolted sense of justice. For, when one unacquainted with the
noble doctrine looks around him and observes the inequalities of birth and
fortune, of intellect and capacities; when one sees honor paid to fools and
wastrels, on whom fortune has heaped her favors by mere privilege of birth, and
their nearest neighbor, with all his intellect and noble virtues-far more
deserving in every way-perishing for want and for lack of sympathy-when one sees all this and has to turn away, helpless to relieve the undeserved suffering,
one's ears ringing and heart aching with the cries of pain around him-that
blessed knowledge of Karma alone prevents him from cursing life and men as well as their supposed Creator … This law, whether conscious or unconscious,
predestines nothing and no one. It exists from and in eternity truly, for it is
eternity itself; and as such, since no act can be coequal with eternity, it
cannot be said to act, for it is action itself. It is not the wave which drowns
the man, but the personal action of the wretch who goes deliberately and places
himself under the impersonal action of the laws that govern the ocean's motion.
Karma creates nothing, nor does it design. It is man who plants and creates
causes, and Karmic law adjusts the effects, which adjustment is not an act but
universal harmony, tending ever to resume its original position, like a bough,
which, bent down too forcibly, rebounds with corresponding vigor. If it happen
to dislocate the arm that tried to bend it out of its natural position, shall we
say it is the bough which broke our arm or that our own folly has brought us to
grief? Karma has never sought to destroy intellectual and individual liberty,
like the god invented by the Monotheists. It has not involved its decrees in
darkness purposely to perplex man, nor shall it punish him who dares to
scrutinize its mysteries. On the contrary, he who unveils through study and
meditation its intricate paths, and throws light on those dark ways, in the
windings of which so many men perish owing to their ignorance of the labyrinth
of life, is working for the good of his fellowmen. Karma is an absolute and
eternal law in the world of manifestation; and as there can only be one
Absolute, as one Eternal, ever-present Cause, believers in Karma cannot be
regarded as atheists or materialists, still less as fatalists, for Karma is one
with the Unknowable, of which it is an aspect, in its effects in the phenomenal
Another able Theosophic writer says:
Every individual is making Karma either good or bad in each action and thought
of his daily round, and is at the same time working out in this life the Karma
brought about by the acts and desires of the last. When we see people afflicted
by congenital ailments it may be safely assumed that these ailments are the
inevitable results of causes started by themselves in a previous birth. It may
be argued that, as these afflictions are hereditary, they can have nothing to do
with a past incarnation; but it must be remembered that the Ego, the real man,
the individuality, has no spiritual origin in the parentage by which it is
reembodied, but it is drawn by the affinities which its previous mode of life
attracted round it into the current that carries it, when the time comes for
rebirth, to the home best fitted for the development of those tendencies … This
doctrine of Karma, when properly understood, is well calculated to guide and
assist those who realize its truth to a higher and better mode of life, for it
must not be forgotten that not only our actions but our thoughts also are most
assuredly followed by a crowd of circumstances that will influence for good or
for evil our own future, and, what is still more important, the future of many
of our fellow-creatures. If sins of omission and commission could in any case be only self-regarding, the fact on the sinner's Karma would be a matter of minor
consequence. The effect that every thought and act through life carries with it
for good or evil a corresponding influence on other members of the human family renders a strict sense of justice, morality, and unselfishness so necessary to future happiness or progress. A crime once committed, an evil thought sent out from the mind, are past recall-no amount of repentance can wipe out their
results in the future. Repentance, if sincere, will deter a man from repeating
errors; it cannot save him or others from the effects of those already produced,
which will most unerringly overtake him either in this life or in the next
Mr. J.H. Conelly proceeds-
The believers in a religion based upon such doctrine are willing it should be
compared with one in which man's destiny for eternity is determined by the
accidents of a single, brief earthly existence, during which he is cheered by
the promise that "as the tree falls so shall it lie"; in which his brightest
hope, when he wakes up to a knowledge of his wickedness, is the doctrine of
vicarious atonement, and in which even that is handicapped, according to the
Presbyterian Confession of Faith.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels
are predestinated unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting
These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained are particularly and
unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it
cannot be either increased or diminished … As God hath appointed the elect unto glory … Neither are any other redeemed by Christ effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of
his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the
glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by and to ordain them
to dishonor and wrath for their sin to the praise of his glorious justice.
This is what the able defender says. Nor can we do any better than wind up the
subject as he does, by a quotation from a magnificent poem. As he says:
The exquisite beauty of Edwin Arnold's exposition of Karma in The Light of Asia tempts to its reproduction here, but it is too long for quotation in full. Here
is a portion of it:
Karma-all that total of a soul
Which is the things it did, the thoughts it had,
The "self" it wove with woof of viewless time
Crossed on the warp invisible of acts.
Before beginning and without an end,
As space eternal and as surety sure,
Is fixed a Power divine which moves to good,
Only its laws endure.
It will not be despised of anyone;
Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;
The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,
The hidden ill with pains.
It seeth everywhere and marketh all;
Do right-it recompenseth! Do one wrong-
The equal retribution must be made,
Though Dharma tarry long.
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true,
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as naught, tomorrow it will judge
Or after many days.
Such is the law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is love, the end of it
Is peace and consummation sweet. Obey.
And now I advise you to compare our Theosophic views upon Karma, the law of Retribution, and say whether they are not both more philosophical and just than this cruel and idiotic dogma which makes of "God" a senseless fiend; the tenet, namely, that the "elect only" will be saved, and the rest doomed to eternal
Q. Yes, I see what you mean generally; but I wish you could give some concrete
example of the action of Karma?
A. That I cannot do. We can only feel sure, as I said before, that our present
lives and circumstances are the direct results of our own deeds and thoughts in
lives that are past. But we, who are not Seers or Initiates, cannot know
anything about the details of the working of the law of Karma.
Q. Can anyone, even an Adept or Seer, follow out this Karmic process of
readjustment in detail?
A. Certainly: "Those who know" can do so by the exercise of powers which are
latent even in all men.
Who Are Those Who Know?
Q. Does this hold equally of ourselves as of others?
A. Equally. Aa just said, the same limited vision exists for all, save those who
have reached in the present incarnation the acme of spiritual vision and
clairvoyance. We can only perceive that, if things with us ought to have been
different, they would have been different; that we are what we have made
ourselves, and have only what we have earned for ourselves.
Q. I am afraid such a conception would only embitter us.
A. I believe it is precisely the reverse. It is disbelief in the just law of
retribution that is more likely to awaken every combative feeling in man. A
child, as much as a man, resents a punishment, or even a reproof he believes to
be unmerited, far more than he does a more severe punishment, if he feels that
it is merited. Belief in Karma is the highest reason for reconcilement to one's
lot in this life, and the very strongest incentive towards effort to better the
succeeding rebirth. Both of these, indeed, would be destroyed if we supposed
that our lot was the result of anything but strict Law, or that destiny was in
any other hands than our own.
Q. You have just asserted that this system of Reincarnation under Karmic law
commended itself to reason, justice, and the moral sense. But, if so, is it not
at some sacrifice of the gentler qualities of sympathy and pity, and thus a
hardening of the finer instincts of human nature?
A. Only apparently, not really. No man can receive more or less than his deserts
without a corresponding injustice or partiality to others; and a law which could
be averted through compassion would bring about more misery than it saved, more irritation and curses than thanks. Remember also, that we do not administer the law, if we do create causes for its effects; it administers itself; and again, that the most copious provision for the manifestation of just compassion and mercy is shown in the state of Devachan.
Q. You speak of Adepts as being an exception to the rule of our general
ignorance. Do they really know more than we do of Reincarnation and after
A. They do, indeed. By the training of faculties we all possess, but which they
alone have developed to perfection, they have entered in spirit these various
planes and states we have been discussing. For long ages, one generation of
Adepts after another has studied the mysteries of being, of life, death, and
rebirth, and all have taught in their turn some of the facts so learned.
Q. And is the production of Adepts the aim of Theosophy?
A. Theosophy considers humanity as an emanation from divinity on its return path thereto. At an advanced point upon the path, Adeptship is reached by those who have devoted several incarnations to its achievement. For, remember well, no man has ever reached Adeptship in the Secret Sciences in one life; but many
incarnations are necessary for it after the formation of a conscious purpose and
the beginning of the needful training. Many may be the men and women in the very midst of our Society who have begun this uphill work toward illumination several incarnations ago, and who yet, owing to the personal illusions of the present life, are either ignorant of the fact, or on the road to losing every chance in this existence of progressing any farther. They feel an irresistible attraction
toward occultism and the Higher Life, and yet are too personal and
self-opinionated, too much in love with the deceptive allurements of mundane
life and the world's ephemeral pleasures, to give them up; and so lose their
chance in their present birth. But, for ordinary men, for the practical duties
of daily life, such a far-off result is inappropriate as an aim and quite
ineffective as a motive.
Q. What, then, may be their object or distinct purpose in joining the
A. Many are interested in our doctrines and feel instinctively that they are
truer than those of any dogmatic religion. Others have formed a fixed resolve to
attain the highest ideal of man's duty.
The Difference Between Faith and Knowledge, Or Blind and Reasoned Faith
Q. You say that they accept and believe in the doctrines of Theosophy. But, as
they do not belong to those Adepts you have just mentioned, then they must
accept your teachings on blind faith. In what does this differ from that of
A. As it differs on almost all the other points, so it differs on this one. What
you call "faith," and that which is blind faith, in reality, and with regard to
the dogmas of the Christian religions, becomes with us "knowledge," the logical
sequence of things we know, about facts in nature. Your Doctrines are based upon interpretation, therefore, upon the secondhandtestimony of Seers; ours upon the invariable and unvarying testimony of Seers. The ordinary Christian theology, for instance, holds that man is a creature of God, of three component
parts-body, soul, and spirit-all essential to his integrity, and all, either in
the gross form of physical earthly existence or in the etherealized form of
post-resurrection experience, needed to so constitute him forever, each man
having thus a permanent existence separate from other men, and from the Divine.
Theosophy, on the other hand, holds that man, being an emanation from the
Unknown, yet ever present and infinite Divine Essence, his body and everything
else is impermanent, hence an illusion; Spirit alone in him being the one
enduring substance, and even that losing its separated individuality at the
moment of its complete reunion with the Universal Spirit.
Q. If we lose even our individuality, then it becomes simply annihilation.
A. I say it does not,since I speak of separate, not of universal individuality.
The latter becomes as a part transformed into the whole; the dewdropis not
evaporated, but becomes the sea. Is physical man annihilated,when from a fetus
he becomes an old man? What kind of Satanic pride must be ours if we place our infinitesimally small consciousness and individuality higher than the universal
and infinite consciousness!
Q. It follows, then, that there is, de facto, no man, but all is Spirit?
A. You are mistaken. It thus follows that the union of Spirit with matter is but
temporary; or, to put it more clearly, since Spirit and matter are one, being
the two opposite poles of the universal manifested substance-that Spirit loses
its right to the name so long as the smallest particle and atom of its
manifesting substance still clings to any form, the result of differentiation.
To believe otherwise is blind faith.
Q. Thus it is on knowledge,not on faith, that you assert that the permanent
principle, the Spirit, simply makes a transit through matter?
A. I would put it otherwise and say-we assert that the appearance of the
permanent and oneprinciple, Spirit, as matter is transient, and, therefore, no
better than an illusion.
Q. Very well; and this, given out on knowledge not faith?
A. Just so. But as I see very well what you are driving at, I may just as well
tell you that we hold faith, such as you advocate, to be a mental disease, and
real faith, i.e., the pistis of the Greeks, as "belief based on knowledge,"
whether supplied by the evidence of physical or spiritual senses.
Q. What do you mean?
A. I mean, if it is the difference between the two that you want to know, then I
can tell you that between faith on authority and faith on one's spiritual
intuition, there is a very great difference.
Q. What is it?
A. One is human credulity and superstition, the other human belief and
intuition.As Professor Alexander Wilder says in his "Introduction to the
It is ignorance which leads to profanation. Men ridicule what they do not
properly understand … The undercurrent of this world is set towards one goal;
and inside of human credulity … is a power almost infinite, a holy faith capable
of apprehending the most supreme truths of all existence.
Those who limit that "credulity" to human authoritative dogmas alone, will never
fathom that power nor even perceive it in their natures. It is stuck fast to the
external plane and is unable to bring forth into play the essence that rules it;
for to do this they have to claim their right of private judgment, and this they
never dare to do.
Q. And is it that "intuition" which forces you to reject God as a personal
Father, Ruler, and Governor of the Universe?
A. Precisely. We believe in an ever unknowable Principle, because blind
aberration alone can make one maintain that the Universe, thinking man, and all
the marvels contained even in the world of matter, could have grown without some intelligent powers to bring about the extraordinarily wise arrangement of all
its parts. Nature may err, and often does, in its details and the external
manifestations of its materials, never in its inner causes and results. Ancient
pagans held on this question far more philosophical views than modern
philosophers, whether Agnostics, Materialists, or Christians; and no pagan
writer has ever yet advanced the proposition that cruelty and mercy are not
finite feelings, and can therefore be made the attributes of an infinite god.
Their gods, therefore, were all finite. The Siamese author of the Wheel of the
Law,expresses the same idea about your personal god as we do; he says:
A Buddhist might believe in the existence of a god, sublime above all human
qualities and attributes-a perfect god, above love, and hatred, and jealousy,
calmly resting in a quietude that nothing could disturb, and of such a god he
would speak no disparagement not from a desire to please him or fear to offend
him, but from natural veneration; but he cannot understand a god with the
attributes and qualities of men, a god who loves and hates, and shows anger; a
Deity who, whether described as by Christian Missionaries or by Mohammedans or Brahmins, or Jews, falls below his standard of even an ordinary good man.
Q. Faith for faith, is not the faith of the Christian who believes, in his human
helplessness and humility, that there is a merciful Father in Heaven who will
protect him from temptation, help him in life, and forgive him his
transgressions, better than the cold and proud, almost fatalistic faith of the
Buddhists, Vedantins, and Theosophists?
A. Persist in calling our belief "faith" if you will. But once we are again on
this ever-recurring question, I ask in my turn: faith for faith, is not the one
based on strict logic and reason better than the one which is based simply on
human authority or-hero-worship?Our "faith" has all the logical force of the
arithmetical truism that two and two will produce four. Your faith is like the
logic of some emotional women, of whom Tourgenyeff said that for them two and two were generally five, and a tallow candle into the bargain. Yours is a faith, moreover, which clashes not only with every conceivable view of justice and logic, but which, if analyzed, leads man to his moral perdition, checks the
progress of mankind, and positively making of might, right-transforms every
second man into a Cain to his brother Abel.
Q. What do you allude to?
Has God the Right to Forgive?
A. To the Doctrine of Atonement; I allude to that dangerous dogma in which you believe, and which teaches us that no matter how enormous our crimes against the laws of God and of man, we have but to believe in the self-sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of mankind, and his blood will wash out every stain. It is twenty years that I preach against it, and I may now draw your attention to a
paragraph from Isis Unveiled, written in 1875. This is what Christianity
teaches, and what we combat:
God's mercy is boundless and unfathomable. It is impossible to conceive of a
human sin so damnable that the price paid in advance for the redemption of the
sinner would not wipe it out if a thousandfold worse. And furthermore, it is
never too late to repent. Though the offender wait until the last minute of the
last hour of the last day of his mortal life, before his blanched lips utter the
confession of faith, he may go to Paradise; the dying thief did it, and so may
all others as vile. These are the assumptions of the Church, and of the Clergy;
assumptions banged at the heads of your countrymen by England's favorite
preachers, right in the "light of the nineteenth century," …
-this most paradoxical age of all. Now to what does it lead?
Q. Does it not make the Christian happier than the Buddhist or Brahmin?
A. No; not the educated man, at any rate, since the majority of these have long
since virtually lost all belief in this cruel dogma. But it leads those who
still believe in it more easily to the threshold of every conceivable crime,
than any other I know of. Let me quote to you once more:
If we step outside the little circle of creed and consider the universe as a
whole balanced by the exquisite adjustment of parts, how all sound logic, how
the faintest glimmering sense of Justice, revolts against this Vicarious
Atonement! If the criminal sinned only against himself, and wronged no one but
himself; if by sincere repentance he could cause the obliteration of past
events, not only from the memory of man, but also from that imperishable record, which no deity-not even the most Supreme of the Supreme-can cause to disappear, then this dogma might not be incomprehensible. But to maintain that one may wrong his fellowman, kill, disturb the equilibrium of society and the natural order of things, and then-through cowardice, hope, or compulsion, it matters not-be forgiven by believing that the spilling of one blood washes out the other blood spilt-this is preposterous!
Can the resultsof a crime be obliterated even though the crime itself should be pardoned? The effects of a cause are never limited to the boundaries of the cause, nor can the results of crime be confined to the offender and his victim.
Every good as well as evil action has its effects, as palpably as the stone flung into calm water. The simile is trite, but it is the best ever conceived, so let us use it. The eddying circles are greater and swifter as the disturbing object is greater or smaller, but the smallest pebble, nay, the tiniest speck, makes its ripples. And this disturbance is not alone visible and on the surface. Below, unseen, in every direction-outward and downward-drop pushes drop until the sides and bottom are touched by the force. More, the air above the water is agitated, and this
disturbance passes, as the physicists tell us, from stratum to stratum out into
space forever and ever; an impulse has been given to matter, and that is never
lost, can never be recalled! …
So with crime, and so with its opposite. The action may be instantaneous, the
effects are eternal. When, after the stone is once flung into the pond, we can
recall it to the hand, roll back the ripples, obliterate the force expended,
restore the etheric waves to their previous state of non-being, and wipe out
every trace of the act of throwing the missile, so that Time's record shall not
show that it ever happened, then, thenwe may patiently hear Christians argue for
the efficacy of this Atonement,-and cease to believe in Karmic Law. As it now stands, we call upon the whole world to decide, which of our two doctrines is the most appreciative of deific justice, and which is more reasonable, even on simple human evidence and logic.
Q. Yet millions believe in the Christian dogma and are happy.
A. Pure sentimentalism overpowering their thinking faculties, which no true
philanthropist or Altruist will ever accept. It is not even a dream of
selfishness, but a nightmare of the human intellect. Look where it leads to, and
tell me the name of that pagan country where crimes are more easily committed or more numerous than in Christian lands. Look at the long and ghastly annual
records of crimes committed in European countries; and behold Protestant and
Biblical America. There, conversions effected in prisons are more numerous than those made by public revivals and preaching. See how the ledger-balance of
Christian justice (!) stands: Red-handed murderers, urged on by the demons of
lust, revenge, cupidity, fanaticism, or mere brutal thirst for blood, who kill
their victims, in most cases, without giving them time to repent or call on
Jesus. These, perhaps, died sinful, and, of course-consistently with theological
logic-met the reward of their greater or lesser of fences. But the murderer,
overtaken by human justice, is imprisoned, wept over by sentimentalists, prayed
with and at, pronounces the charmed words of conversion, and goes to the
scaffold a redeemed child of Jesus! Except for the murder, he would not have
been prayed with, redeemed, pardoned. Clearly this man did well to murder, for
thus he gained eternal happiness! And how about the victim, and his, or her
family, relatives, dependents, social relations; has justice no recompense for
them? Must they suffer in this world and the next, while he who wronged them
sits beside the "holy thief" of Calvary, and is forever blessed? On this
question the clergy keep a prudent silence. (Isis Unveiled) And now you know why Theosophists-whose fundamental belief and hope is justice for all, in Heaven as on earth, and in Karma-reject this dogma.
Q. The ultimate destiny of man, then, is not a Heaven presided over by God, but
the gradual transformation of matter into its primordial element, Spirit?
A. It is to that final goal to which all tends in nature.
Q. Do not some of you regard this association or "fall of spirit into matter" as
evil, and rebirth as a sorrow?
A. Some do, and therefore strive to shorten their period of probation on earth.
It is not an unmixed evil, however, since it ensures the experience upon which
we mount to knowledge and wisdom. I mean that experience which teaches that the needs of our spiritual nature can never be met by other than spiritual
happiness. As long as we are in the body, we are subjected to pain, suffering
and all the disappointing incidents occurring during life. Therefore, and to
palliate this, we finally acquire knowledge which alone can afford us relief and
hope of a better future.
What is Practical Theosophy?
Q. Why, then, the need for rebirths, since all alike fail to secure a permanent
A. Because the final goal cannot be reached in any way but through life
experiences, and because the bulk of these consist in pain and suffering. It is
only through the latter that we can learn. Joys and pleasures teach us nothing;
they are evanescent, and can only bring in the long run satiety. Moreover, our
constant failure to find any permanent satisfaction in life which would meet the
wants of our higher nature, shows us plainly that those wants can be met only on
their own plane, to wit-the spiritual.
Q. Is the natural result of this a desire to quit life by one means or another?
A. If you mean by such desire "suicide," then I say, most decidedly not. Such a
result can never be a "natural" one, but is ever due to a morbid brain disease,
or to most decided and strong materialistic views. It is the worst of crimes and
dire in its results. But if by desire, you mean simply aspiration to reach
spiritual existence, not a wish to quit the earth, then I would call it a very
natural desire indeed. Otherwise voluntary death would be an abandonment of our present post and of the duties incumbent on us, as well as an attempt to shirk Karmic responsibilities, and thus involve the creation of new Karma.
Q. But if actions on the material plane are unsatisfying, why should duties,
which are such actions, be imperative?
A. First of all, because our philosophy teaches us that the object of doing our
duties to all men and to ourselves the last, is not the attainment of personal
happiness, but of the happiness of others; the fulfillment of right for the sake
of right, not for what it may bring us. Happiness, or rather contentment, may
indeed follow the performance of duty, but is not and must not be the motive for
Q. What do you understand precisely by "duty" in Theosophy? It cannot be the
Christian duties preached by Jesus and his Apostles, since you recognize
A. You are once more mistaken. What you call "Christian duties" were inculcated by every great moral and religious Reformer ages before the Christian era. All that was great, generous, heroic, was, in days of old, not only talked about and preached from pulpits as in our own time, but acted upon sometimes by whole nations. The history of the Buddhist reform is full of the most noble and most heroically unselfish acts.
Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren, be
pitiful, be courteous; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but
contrariwise, blessing …
-was practically carried out by the followers of Buddha, several centuries
before Peter. The Ethics of Christianity are grand, no doubt; but as undeniably
they are not new, and have originated as "Pagan" duties.
Q. And how would you define these duties, or "duty," in general, as you
understand the term?
A. Duty is that whichis due to Humanity, to our fellowmen, neighbors, family,
and especially that which we owe to all those who are poorer and more helpless
than we are ourselves. This is a debt which, if left unpaid during life, leaves
us spiritually insolvent and morally bankrupt in our next incarnation. Theosophy
is the quintessence of duty.
Q. So is Christianity when rightly understood and carried out.
A. No doubt it is; but then, were it not a lip-religion in practice, Theosophy
would have little to do amidst Christians. Unfortunately it is but such
lip-ethics. Those who practice their duty towards all, and for duty's own sake,
are few; and fewer still are those who perform that duty, remaining content with
the satisfaction of their own secret consciousness. It is- … the public voice
Of praise that honors virtue and rewards it, -which is ever uppermost in the
minds of the "world renowned" philanthropists. Modern ethics are beautiful to
read about and hear discussed; but what are words unless converted into actions?
Finally: if you ask me how we understand Theosophical duty practically and in
view of Karma, I may answer you that our duty is to drink without a murmur to
the last drop, whatever contents the cup of life may have in store for us, to
pluck the roses of life only for the fragrance they may shed on others, and to
be ourselves content but with the thorns, if that fragrance cannot be enjoyed
without depriving someone else of it.
Q. All this is very vague. What do you do more than Christians do?
A. It is not what we members of the Theosophical Society do-though some of us try our best-but how much farther Theosophy leads to good than modern
Christianity does. I say-action, enforced action, instead of mere intention and
talk. A man may be what he likes, the most worldly, selfish and hard-hearted of
men, even a deep-dyed rascal, and it will not prevent him from calling himself a
Christian, or others from so regarding him. But no Theosophist has the right to
this name, unless he is thoroughly imbued with the correctness of Carlyle's
truism: "The end of man is an action and not a thought,though it were the
noblest"-and unless he sets and models his daily life upon this truth. The
profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it; and the more beautiful and
grand it sounds, the more loudly virtue or duty is talked about instead of being
acted upon, the more forcibly it will always remind one of the Dead Sea fruit.
Cant is the most loathsome of all vices; and cant is the most prominent feature
of the greatest Protestant country of this century-England.
Q. What do you consider as due to humanity at large?
A. Full recognition of equal rights and privileges for all, and without
distinction of race, color, social position, or birth.
Q. When would you consider such due not given?
A. When there is the slightest invasion of another's right-be that other a man
or a nation; when there is any failure to show him the same justice, kindness,
consideration, or mercy which we desire for ourselves. The whole present system of politics is built on the oblivion of such rights, and the most fierce
assertion of national selfishness. The French say: "Like master, like man." They
ought to add, "Like national policy, like citizen."
Q. Do you take any part in politics?
A. As a Society, we carefully avoid them, for the reasons given below. To seek
to achieve political reforms before we have effected a reform in human nature,
is like putting new wine into old bottles. Make men feel and recognize in their
innermost hearts what is their real, true duty to all men, and every old abuse
of power, every iniquitous law in the national policy, based on human, social,
or political selfishness, will disappear of itself. Foolish is the gardener who
seeks to weed his flowerbed of poisonous plants by cutting them off from the
surface of the soil, instead of tearing them out by the roots. No lasting
political reform can be ever achieved with the same selfish men at the head of
affairs as of old.
The Relations of the T.S. to Political Reforms
Q. The Theosophical Society is not, then, a political organization?
A. Certainly not. It is international in the highest sense in that its members
comprise men and women of all races, creeds, and forms of thought, who work
together for one object, the improvement of humanity; but as a society it takes
absolutely no part in any national or party politics.
Q. Why is this?
A. Just for the reasons I have mentioned. Moreover, political action must
necessarily vary with the circumstances of the time and with the idiosyncrasies
of individuals. While from the very nature of their position as Theosophists the
members of the T.S. are agreed on the principles of Theosophy, or they would not belong to the society at all, it does not thereby follow that they agree on
every other subject. As a society they can only act together in matters which
are common to all-that is, in Theosophy itself; as individuals, each is left
perfectly free to follow out his or her particular line of political thought and
action, so long as this does not conflict with Theosophical principles or hurt
the Theosophical Society.
Q. But surely the T.S. does not stand altogether aloof from the social questions
which are now so fast coming to the front?
A. The very principles of the T.S. are a proof that it does not-or, rather, that
most of its members do not-so stand aloof. If humanity can only be developed
mentally and spiritually by the enforcement, first of all, of the soundest and
most scientific physiological laws, it is the bounden duty of all who strive for
this development to do their utmost to see that those laws shall be generally
carried out. All Theosophists are only too sadly aware that, in Occidental
countries especially, the social condition of large masses of the people renders
it impossible for either their bodies or their spirits to be properly trained,
so that the development of both is thereby arrested. As this training and
development is one of the express objects of Theosophy, the T.S. is in thorough sympathy and harmony with all true efforts in this direction.
Q. But what do you mean by "true efforts"? Each social reformer has his own
panacea, and each believes his to be the one and only thing which can improve
and save humanity?
A. Perfectly true, and this is the real reason why so little satisfactory social
work is accomplished. In most of these panaceas there is no really guiding
principle, and there is certainly no one principle which connects them all.
Valuable time and energy are thus wasted; for men, instead of cooperating,
strive one against the other, often, it is to be feared, for the sake of fame
and reward rather than for the great cause which they profess to have at heart,
and which should be supreme in their lives.
Q. How, then, should Theosophical principles be applied so that social
cooperation may be promoted and true efforts for social amelioration be carried
A. Let me briefly remind you what these principles are-universal Unity and
Causation; Human Solidarity; the Law of Karma; Reincarnation. These are the four links of the golden chain which should bind humanity into one family, one
A. In the present state of society, especially in so-called civilized countries,
we are continually brought face to face with the fact that large numbers of
people are suffering from misery, poverty, and disease. Their physical condition
is wretched, and their mental and spiritual faculties are often almost dormant.
On the other hand, many persons at the opposite end of the social scale are
leading lives of careless indifference, material luxury, and selfish indulgence.
Neither of these forms of existence is mere chance. Both are the effects of the
conditions which surround those who are subject to them, and the neglect of
social duty on the one side is most closely connected with the stunted and
arrested development on the other. In sociology, as in all branches of true
science, the law of universal causation holds good. But this causation
necessarily implies, as its logical outcome, that human solidarity on which
Theosophy so strongly insists. If the action of one reacts on the lives of all,
and this is the true scientific idea, then it is only by all men becoming
brothers and all women sisters, and by all practicing in their daily lives true
brotherhood and true sisterhood, that the real human solidarity, which lies at
the root of the elevation of the race, can ever be attained. It is this action
and interaction, this true brotherhood and sisterhood, in which each shall live
for all and all for each, which is one of the fundamental Theosophical
principles that every Theosophist should be bound, not only to teach, but to
carry out in his or her individual life.
Q. All this is very well as a general principle, but how would you apply it in a
A. Look for a moment at what you would call the concrete facts of human society.
Contrast the lives not only of the masses of the people, but of many of those
who are called the middle and upper classes, with what they might be under
healthier and nobler conditions, where justice, kindness, and love were
paramount, instead of the selfishness, indifference, and brutality which now too
often seem to reign supreme. All good and evil things in humanity have their
roots in human character, and this character is, and has been, conditioned by
the endless chain of cause and effect. But this conditioning applies to the
future as well as to the present and the past. Selfishness, indifference, and
brutality can never be the normal state of the race-to believe so would be to
despair of humanity-and that no Theosophist can do. Progress can be attained,
and only attained, by the development of the nobler qualities. Now, true
evolution teaches us that by altering the surroundings of the organism we can
alter and improve the organism; and in the strictest sense this is true with
regard to man. Every Theosophist, therefore, is bound to do his utmost to help
on, by all the means in his power, every wise and well-considered social effort
which has for its object the amelioration of the condition of the poor. Such
efforts should be made with a view to their ultimate social emancipation, or the
development of the sense of duty in those who now so often neglect it in nearly
every relation of life.
Q. Agreed. But who is to decide whether social efforts are wise or unwise?
A. No one person and no society can lay down a hard-and-fast rule in this
respect. Much must necessarily be left to the individual judgment. One general
test may, however, be given. Will the proposed action tend to promote that true
brotherhood which it is the aim of Theosophy to bring about? No real Theosophist will have much difficulty in applying such a test; once he is satisfied of this, his duty will lie in the direction of forming public opinion. And this can be attained only by inculcating those higher and nobler conceptions of public and private duties which lie at the root of all spiritual and material improvement.
In every conceivable case he himself must be a center of spiritual action, and
from him and his own daily individual life must radiate those higher spiritual
forces which alone can regenerate his fellowmen.
Q. But why should he do this? Are not he and all, as you teach, conditioned by
their Karma, and must not Karma necessarily work itself out on certain lines?
A. It is this very law of Karma which gives strength to all that I have said.
The individual cannot separate himself from the race, nor the race from the
individual. The law of Karma applies equally to all, although all are not
equally developed. In helping on the development of others, the Theosophist
believes that he is not only helping them to fulfill their Karma, but that he is
also, in the strictest sense, fulfilling his own. It is the development of
humanity, of which both he and they are integral parts, that he has always in
view, and he knows that any failure on his part to respond to the highest within
him retards not only himself but all, in their progressive march. By his
actions, he can make it either more difficult or more easy for humanity to
attain the next higher plane of being.
Q. How does this bear on the fourth of the principles you mentioned, viz.,
A. The connection is most intimate. If our present lives depend upon the
development of certain principles which are a growth from the germs left by a
previous existence, the law holds good as regards the future. Once grasp the
idea that universal causation is not merely present, but past, present, and
future, and every action on our present plane falls naturally and easily into
its true place, and is seen in its true relation to ourselves and to others.
Every mean and selfish action sends us backward and not forward, while every
noble thought and every unselfish deed are stepping-stones to the higher and
more glorious planes of being. If this life were all, then in many respects it
would indeed be poor and mean; but regarded as a preparation for the next sphere of existence, it may be used as the golden gate through which we may pass, not selfishly and alone, but in company with our fellows, to the palaces which lie
Q. Is equal justice to all and love to every creature the highest standard of
A. No; there is an even far higher one.
Q. What can it be?
A. The giving to othersmore than to oneself-self-sacrifice. Such was the
standard and abounding measure which marked so preeminently the greatest
Teachers and Masters of Humanity-e.g., Gautama Buddha in History, and Jesus of Nazareth as in the Gospels. This trait alone was enough to secure to them the
perpetual reverence and gratitude of the generations of men that come after
them. We say, however, that self-sacrifice has to be performed with
discrimination; and such a self-abandonment, if made without justice, or
blindly, regardless of subsequent results, may often prove not only made in
vain, but harmful. One of the fundamental rules of Theosophy is, justice to
oneself-viewed as a unit of collective humanity, not as a personal self-justice,
not more but not less than to others; unless, indeed, by the sacrifice of the
oneself we can benefit the many.
Q. Could you make your idea clearer by giving an instance?
A. There are many instances to illustrate it in history. Self-sacrifice for
practical good to save many, or several people, Theosophy holds as far higher
than self-abnegation for a sectarian idea, such as that of "saving the heathen
from damnation," for instance. In our opinion, Father Damien, the young man of
thirty who offered his whole life in sacrifice for the benefit and alleviation
of the sufferings of the lepers at Molokai, and who went to live for eighteen
years alone with them, to finally catch the loathsome disease and die, has not
died in vain. He has given relief and relative happiness to thousands of
miserable wretches. He has brought to them consolation, mental and physical.
He threw a streak of light into the black and dreary night of an existence, the
hopelessness of which is unparalleled in the records of human suffering. He was
a true Theosophist, and his memory will live forever in our annals. In our sight
this poor Belgian priest stands immeasurably higher than-for instance-all those
sincere but vain-glorious fools, the Missionaries who have sacrificed their
lives in the South Sea Islands or China. What good have they done? They went in one case to those who are not yet ripe for any truth; and in the other to a
nation whose systems of religious philosophy are as grand as any, if only the
men who have them would live up to the standard of Confucius and their other
sages. And they died victims of irresponsible cannibals and savages, and of
popular fanaticism and hatred. Whereas, by going to the slums of Whitechapel or some other such locality of those that stagnate right under the blazing sun of
our civilization, full of Christian savages and mental leprosy, they might have
done real good, and preserved their lives for a better and worthier cause.
Q. But the Christians do not think so?
A. Of course not, because they act on an erroneous belief. They think that by
baptizing the body of an irresponsible savage they save his soul from damnation.
One church forgets her martyrs, the other beatifies and raises statues to such
men as Labro, who sacrificed his body for forty years only to benefit the vermin
which it bred. Had we the means to do so, we would raise a statue to Father
Damien, the true, practical saint, and perpetuate his memory forever as a living
exemplar of Theosophical heroism and of Buddha- and Christ-like mercy and
Q. Then you regard self-sacrifice as a duty?
A. We do; and explain it by showing that altruism is an integral part of
self-development. But we have to discriminate. A man has no right to starve
himselfto death that another man may have food, unless the life of that man is
obviously more useful to the many than is his own life. But it is his duty to
sacrifice his own comfort, and to work for others if they are unable to work for
themselves. It is his duty to give all that which is wholly his own and can
benefit no one but himself if he selfishly keeps it from others. Theosophy
teaches self-abnegation, but does not teach rash and useless self-sacrifice, nor
does it justify fanaticism.
Q. But how are we to reach such an elevated status?
A. By the enlightened application of our precepts to practice. By the use of our
higher reason, spiritual intuition, and moral sense, and by following the
dictates of what we call "the still small voice" of our conscience, which is
that of our Ego, and which speaks louder in us than the earthquakes and the
thunders of Jehovah, wherein "the Lord is not."
Q. If such are our duties to humanity at large, what do you understand by our
duties to our immediate surroundings?
A. Just the same, plusthose that arise from special obligations with regard to
Q. Then it is not true, as it is said, that no sooner does a man enter into the
Theosophical Society than he begins to be gradually severed from his wife,
children, and family duties?
A. It is a groundless slander, like so many others. The first of the
Theosophical duties is to do one's duty by all men, and especially by those to
whom one's specific responsibilities are due, because one has either voluntarily
undertaken them, such as marriage ties, or because one's destiny has allied one
to them; I mean those we owe to parents or next of kin.
Q. And what may be the duty of a Theosophist to himself?
A. To control and conquer,through the Higher, the lower self. To purify himself
inwardly and morally; to fear no one, and nought, save the tribunal of his own
conscience. Never to do a thing by halves; i.e.,if he thinks it the right thing
to do, let him do it openly and boldly, and if wrong, never touch it at all. It
is the duty of a Theosophist to lighten his burden by thinking of the wise
aphorism of Epictetus, who says:Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflection the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power, and consequently should not be any part of your concern.
Q. But suppose a member of your Society should plead inability to practice
altruism by other people, on the ground that "charity begins at home," urging
that he is too busy, or too poor, to benefit mankind or even any of its
units-what are your rules in such a case?
A. No man has a right to say that he can do nothing for others, on any pretext
whatever. "By doing the proper duty in the proper place, a man may make the
world his debtor," says an English writer. A cup of cold water given in time to
a thirsty wayfarer is a nobler duty and more worth, than a dozen of dinners
given away, out of season, to men who can afford to pay for them. No man who has not got it in him will ever become a Theosophist; but he may remain a member of our Society all the same. We have no rules by which we could force any man to become a practical Theosophist, if he does not desire to be one.
Q. Then why does he enter the Society at all?
A. That is best known to him who does so. For, here again, we have no right to
prejudge a person, not even if the voice of a whole community should be against
him, and I may tell you why. In our day, vox populi(so far as regards the voice
of the educated, at any rate) is no longer vox dei, but ever that of prejudice,
of selfish motives, and often simply that of unpopularity. Our duty is to sow
seeds broadcast for the future, and see they are good; not to stop to enquire
why we should do so, and how and wherefore we are obliged to lose our time,
since those who will reap the harvest in days to come will never be ourselves.
Q. How do you Theosophists regard the Christian duty of charity?
A. What charity do you mean? Charity of mind, or practical charity in the
Q. I mean practical charity, as your idea of Universal brotherhood would
include, of course, charity of mind.
A. Then you have in your mind the practical carrying out of the commandments
given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount?
Q. Precisely so.
A. Then why call them "Christian"? Because, although your Savior preached and
practiced them, the last thing the Christians of today think of is to carry them
out in their lives.
Q. And yet many are those who pass their lives in dispensing charity?
A. Yes, out of the surplus of their great fortunes. But point out to me that
Christian, among the most philanthropic, who would give to the shivering and
starving thief, who would steal his coat, his cloak also; or offer his right
cheek to him who smote him on the left, and never think of resenting it?
Q. Ah, but you must remember that these precepts have not to be taken literally.
Times and circumstances have changed since Christ's day. Moreover, He spoke in Parables.
A. Then why don't your Churches teach that the doctrine of damnation and
hellfire is to be understood as a parable too? Why do some of your most popular preachers, while virtually allowing these "parables" to be understood as you take them, insist on the literal meaning of the fires of Hell and the physical
tortures of an "Asbestos-like" soul? If one is a "parable," then the other is.
If Hellfire is a literal truth, then Christ's commandments in the Sermon on the
Mount have to be obeyed to the very letter. And I tell you that many who do not
believe in the Divinity of Christ-like Count Leo Tolstoi and more than one
Theosophist-do carry out these noble, because universal, precepts literally; and
many more good men and women would do so, were they not more than certain that such a walk in life would very probably land them in a lunatic asylum-so Christian are your laws!
Q. But surely everyone knows that millions and millions are spent annually on
private and public charities?
A. Oh, yes; half of which sticks to the hands it passes through before getting
to the needy; while a good portion or remainder gets into the hands of
professional beggars, those who are too lazy to work, thus doing no good
whatever to those who are really in misery and suffering. Haven't you heard that
the first result of the great outflow of charity towards the East-end of London
was to raise the rents in Whitechapel by some twenty percent?
Q. What would you do, then?
A. Act individually and not collectively; follow the Northern Buddhist precepts:
Never put food into the mouth of the hungry by the hand of another.
Never let the shadow of thy neighbor (a third person) come between thyself and
the object of thy bounty.
Never give to the Sun time to dry a tear before thou hast wiped it.
Again Never give money to the needy, or food to the priest, who begs at thy door, through thy servants, lest thy money should diminish gratitude, and thy food turn to gall.
Q. But how can this be applied practically?
A. The Theosophical ideas of charity mean personal exertion for others;
personalmercy and kindness; personal interest in the welfare of those who
suffer; personal sympathy, forethought and assistance in their troubles or
needs. It is important to note that we Theosophists do not believe in giving
money, if we had it, through other people's hands or organizations. We believe
in giving to the money a thousandfold greater power and effectiveness by our
personal contact and sympathy with those who need it. We believe in relieving
the starvation of the soul, as much if not more than the emptiness of the
stomach; for gratitude does more good to the man who feels it, than to him for
whom it is felt. Where's the gratitude which your "millions of pounds" should
have called forth, or the good feelings provoked by them? Is it shown in the
hatred of the East-End poor for the rich? In the growth of the party of anarchy
and disorder? Or by those thousands of unfortunate working girls, victims to the
"sweating" system, driven daily to eke out a living by going on the streets? Do
your helpless old men and women thank you for the workhouses; or your poor for the poisonously unhealthy dwellings in which they are allowed to breed new
generations of diseased, and rickety children, only to put money into the
pockets of the insatiable Shylocks who own houses? Therefore it is that every
sovereign of all those "millions," contributed by good and would-be charitable
people, falls like a burning curse instead of a blessing on the poor whom it
should relieve. We call this generating national Karma, and terrible will be its
results on the day of reckoning.