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This article is about the philosophy introduced by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in association with Ascended Masters. See Theosophy for other uses.


Theosophy is a doctrine of religious philosophy and metaphysics. Theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the "Spiritual Hierarchy" to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth. The founding members, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), and William Quan Judge (1851–96), established the Theosophical Society in 1875.

Etymology

Blavatsky addressed the name in the beginning of The Key to Theosophy:

Theosophy, literally "god-wisdom" ( ), designated several bodies of ideas predating Blavatsky:

The term appeared in Neoplatonism. Porphyry De Abstinentia (4.9) mentioned "Greek and Chaldean theosophy", Ἑλληνική, Χαλδαϊκὴ θεοσοφία. The adjective θεόσοφος "wise in divine things" was applied by Iamblichus (De mysteriis 7.1) to the gymnosophists (Γυμνοσοφισταί), i.e. the Indian yogis or sadhus.

There was a group of Renaissance philosophers: Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, Robert Fludd, and, especially, Jacob Boehme; the Enlightenment theologian Emanuel Swedenborg was influenced by these.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines theosophy as: "Any system of speculation which bases the knowledge of nature upon that of the divine nature", noting it is used in particular with reference to Boehme.

The three objects

The three declared objects of the original Theosophical Society as established by Blavatsky, Judge and Olcott were as follows:
  • First — To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
  • Second — To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
  • Third — To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man."


Basic Theosophical beliefs

Evolution and Race

Theosophists believe that religion, philosophy, science, the arts, commerce, and philanthropy, among other "virtues," lead people ever closer to "the Absolute." Planets, solar systems, galaxies, and the cosmositself are regarded as conscious entities, fulfilling their own evolutionary paths. The spiritual units of consciousness in the universe are the Monads, which may manifest as angels, human beings or in various other forms. According to Blavatsky, the Monad is the reincarnating unit of the human soul, consisting of the two highest of the seven constituent parts of the human soul. All beings, regardless of stature or complexity, are informed by such a Monad.

Theosophical writings propose that human civilizations, like all other parts of the universe, develop cyclically through seven stages. Blavatsky posited that the whole humanity, and indeed every reincarnating human monad, evolves through a series of seven "Root Races". Thus in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second age, they were sexless beings inhabiting the now lost continent of Hyperborea; in the third age the giant Lemurianswere informed by spiritual impulses endowing them with human consciousness and sexual reproduction. Modern humans finally developed on the continent of Atlantis. Since Atlantis was the nadirof the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity's psychic gifts. The term psychic here really means the realization of the permeability of consciousness as it had not been known earlier in evolution, although sensed by some more sensitive individuals of our species.

Most of present day humanity belongs to the fifth rootrace, the Aryans, which originally developed on Atlantis,. The older races will eventually die out, as the fifth rootrace in time will be replaced by the more advanced peoples of the sixth root race which is set to develop on the reemerging Lemurian continent.

Blavatsky claimed that "The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian with ample reservations. The Semites, especially the Arabs, are later Aryans—degenerate in spirituality and perfected in materiality.". However, this statement was not made in a spirit of attacking any ethnicity. In fact, the main purpose of the Theosophical Society was "To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour", and the Society's membership actually includes members of all nations, races and religions.

Guido von List(and his followers such as Lanz von Liebenfels) later took up some of Blavatsky's theories, mixing them with nationalism to formulate Ariosophy, a precursor of nazism. Ariosophy emphasized intellectual expositions of racial evolution. The Thule Societywas one of several German occult groups drawing on Ariosophy to preach Aryan supremacy. It provides a direct link between occult racial theories and the racial ideology of Hitler and the emerging Nazi party."

The Septenary

Emblem of the Theosophical Society (Adyar) described at [1]
Theosophists opine that the most material of the vestures of the Soul are interpenetrated by the particles of the more subtle vesture. For example they claim that -The "Sthula-Sarira" or most material body, is, as science is aware, mostly space at its atomic level (as all matter is known to be), and these interstitial spaces are inhabited by those subtler particles of the Astral Body or Linga sarira, and so on for the other more energy-like envelopes of the Soul. The important thing about this interpenetration of each sheath, is that we see the inner person as a fluid and unbroken continuity, although varying in density/flexibility and energy and therefore more and more susceptible to the behest of the Real Person - the Soul/Higher Self since they are less and less encumbered by material boundaries. Perhaps the image of a suspension or colloidin chemistry is an apt perspective. And since matter is merely the material counterpart of consciousness (ultimately our aspect being pure consciousness), this interpenetration of sheaths allows for consciousness to interpenetrate Man's nature and explains how we are sensitive to what we think of as external stimuli, through the five senses.Theosophy, as well as many other esoteric groups and occultsocieties, claims in their esoteric cosmologythat the universe is ordered by the number seven. The reincarnating consciousness of the monad utilizes spirit/matter forms in seven bodies:
  • The first body is called sthula-sarira (Sanskrit, from sthula meaning coarse, gross, not refined, heavy, bulky, fat in the sense of bigness, conditioned and differentiated matter + sarira to moulder, waste away). A gross body, impermanent because of its wholly compounded character. The physical body is usually considered as the lowest substance-principle. The physical form is the result of the harmonious co-working on the physical plane of forces and faculties streaming through their astral vehicle or linga-sarira, the pattern or model of the physical body.
  • The second body is called Linga-Sarira, (Sanskrit, from linga meaning characteristic mark, model, pattern + sarira, from the verbal root sri to moulder, waste away). A pattern or model that is impermanent; the model-body or astral body, only slightly more ethereal than the physical body. It is the astral model around which the physical body is built, and from which the physical body flows or develops as growth proceeds.
  • The third body is prana (Sanskrit, from pra before + the verbal root an to breathe, to live). In theosophy, the breath of life. This life or prana works on, in, and around us, pulsating unceasingly during the term of physical existence. Prana is "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."
  • The fourth principle is kāma (Sanskrit, from the verbal root kam meaning to desire). Desire; the desire principle is the driving, impelling force. Born from the interaction of atman, buddhi, and manas, kama per se is a colourless force, good or bad according to the way the mind and soul use it. It is the seat of the living electrical impulses, desires, and aspirations, considered in their energetic aspect.
  • The fifth principle is manas (Sanskrit, from the verbal root man meaning to think). The seat of mentation and egoic consciousness; in humanity Manas is the human person, the reincarnating ego, immortal in essence, enduring in its higher aspects through the entire manvantara. When embodied, manas is dual, gravitating toward buddhi in its higher aspects and in its lower aspects toward kama. The first is intuitive mind, the second the animal, ratiocinative consciousness, the lower mentality and passions of the personality.
  • The sixth principle or vehicle is Buddhi (Sanskrit, from the verbal root budh to awaken, enlighten, know). The vehicle of pure, universal spirit, hence an inseparable garment or vehicle of atman, which is, in its essence, of the highest plane of akasa or alaya. In man buddhi is the spiritual soul, the faculty of discriminating, the channel through which streams divine inspiration from the atman to the ego, and therefore that faculty which enables us to discern between good and evil: spiritual conscience. The qualities of the buddhic principle when awakened are higher judgment, instant understanding, discrimination, intuition, love that has no bounds, and consequent universal forgiveness.
  • The seventh is called Atman (Sanskrit). Self; pure consciousness, that cosmic self which is the same in every dweller on this globe and on every one of the planetary or stellar bodies in space. It is the feeling and knowledge of "I am," pure cognition, the abstract idea of self. It does not differ at all throughout the cosmos except in degree of self-recognition. It may also be considered as the First Logos in the human microcosm. During incarnation the lowest aspects of atman take on attributes, because it is linked with buddhi, as the buddhi is linked with manas, as the manas is linked with kama, etc.


See: Encyclopedic Theosophic Glossary

History

Original usage

Theosophists trace the origin of Theosophy to the universal striving for spiritual knowledge that existed in all cultures. It is found in an unbroken chain in Indiamarker but existed in ancient Greecemarker and also in the writings of Plato (427-347 BCE), Plotinus (204-270) and other neo-Platonists, as well as Jakob Boehme (1575-1624).Some relevant quotations:

...we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell.
— The Socrates of Plato, Phaedrus


To the philosopher, the body is "a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge..."


...what is purification but...the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
— The Socrates of Plato, Phaedo


The Theosophical Society

Modern Theosophical esotericism, however, begins with Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) usually known as Madame Blavatsky. In 1875 she founded the Theosophical Society in New York Citymarker together with Henry Steel Olcott, who was a lawyer and writer.During the Civil War Col. Olcott worked to root out corruption in war contracts. Blavatsky was a world traveler who eventually settled in India where, with Olcott, she established the headquarters of the Society in Bangalore. Her first major book Isis Unveiled(1877) presented elements mainly from the Western wisdom tradition based on her extensive travels in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Her second major work The Secret Doctrine(1888), contains a commentary on The Book of Dzyan, and is based upon what she called an Unwritten Secret Doctrine (really the Wisdom tradition or Wisdom Religion allotted to Man), which is described as the underlying basis of all the religions of humanity. These writings, along with her Key to Theosophyand The Voice of the Silenceare key texts for genuine students.

Upon Blavatsky's death in 1891, several Theosophical societies emerged following a series of schisms. Annie Besant became leader of the society based in Adyarmarker, India, while William Quan Judge split off the American Section of the Theosophical Society in New York which later moved to Point Lomamarker, Covinamarker, and Pasadena, Californiamarker under a series of leaders: Katherine Tingley, Gottfried de Purucker, Colonel Arthur L.Conger, James A.Long, Grace F.Knoche, and in March 2006 Randell C.Grubb. The great pulp fictionwriter Talbot Mundywas a member of the Point Loma group, and wrote many articles for its newsletter. Yet another international theosophical organization, the United Lodge of Theosophists, was formed by Robert Crosbie. He was a student of William Quan Judge and after his death went to Point Loma in 1900 to help Katherine Tingley's Thesosphical society, and which he left in 1904 to found the ULT in 1909. He experienced a lack of respect for the original work of Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge in Tingley's work and wished to bring that original stream of study back to the world, through a re-presentation of unaltered original writings.

Rudolf Steiner created a successful branch of the Theosophical Societymarker in Germany.He focused on a Western esoteric path that incorporated the influences of Christianity and natural science, resulting in tensions with Annie Besant (cf. Rudolf Steiner and the Theosophical Society); these were seriously exacerbated by Steiner refusing members of the Order of the Star of the Eastmembership in the Theosophical Society's German Section. Steiner was vehemently opposed to The Order of the Star of the East's proclamation that the young boy, Jiddu Krishnamurti, was the incarnation of Maitreya(who was believed to have "over-shadowed" Jesus Christ). (Krishnamurti later repudiated this role and left the Society to pursue an independent career of spiritual teaching.) In 1913 Steiner founded his own Anthroposophical Society; the great majority of German-speaking theosophists joined the new society, which grew rapidly. Steiner later became most famous for his ideas about education, resulting in an international network of "Steiner Schools," also known as Waldorf schools. Other influences of anthroposophical thoughtinclude biodynamic agriculture, anthroposophic medicineand the acting techniques of Michael Chekhov.

In North London, another splinter group split off to form the Palmers Green Lodge under the leadership of the occultist and colonial adventurer, Thomas Neumark-Jones. The Palmers Green Lodge published the journal Kayfabewhich published, among others, Rainbow Circle writers like Hobhouse and Chiozza Money. Charles Howard Hinton, a prominent British intellectual, also wrote extensively about Theosophy. After the death of William Quan Judge, another society, the United Lodge of Theosophists, emerged, recognizing no leader after Judge; it is now based in Los Angeles, Californiamarker.

Other organizations loosely based on the theosophical teachings of Helena Blavatsky, Besant and Leadbeater include the Agni Yoga, "I AM" Activity, The Bridge to Freedomand The Summit Lighthouse. These various offshoots dispute the authenticity of their rivals. Thus followers of the United Lodge of Theosophists will claim that only " the Writings of HPB, William Quan Judge and Robert Crosbie can be trusted to contain unadulterated concepts and ethical direction."

Influence

At its strongest in membership and intensity during the 1920s the parent Theosophical Society (or Theosophical Society Adyar) had around 7,000 members in the USAmarker.[5475]The largest section of The Theosophical Society, the Indian section, at one time had more than 20,000 members, is now around 13,000. In the last several decades, there was a steady increase in membership in India, whereas outside India, the membership has been dropping. In the US, the current membership is around 3,900 which is about the same as it was in 1913, ninety-six years ago. Member statistics past, is at /leadbeater.org/tillettcwlappendix4.htm> and current at http://teozofija.info/Teozofsko_gibanje/Membership_Statistics_2007-08.htm

Theosophy was closely linked to the Indian independence movement: the Indian National Congresswas founded during a Theosophical conference, and many of its leaders, including M.K.Gandhiwere associated with theosophy.

The present-day New Age movementis to a considerable extent based on the teachings of Blavatsky, though some writers have described Alice Baileyas the founder of the "New Age movement". However, the term was used prior to Bailey; a weekly Journal of Christian liberalism and Socialism called The New Agewas published as early as 1894.
James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, in Perspectives on the New Age wrote, "The most important—though certainly not the only—source of this transformative metaphor, as well as the term "New Age," was Theosophy, particularly as the Theosophical perspective was mediated to the movement by the works of Alice Bailey."


Scholar Alvin Boyd Kuhnwrote his thesis, Theosophy: A Modern Revival of Ancient Wisdom, on the subject - perhaps the first instance in which an individual has been "permitted" by any modern American or European university to obtain his doctorate with a thesis on Theosophy.

Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy, aside from the musicianslisted below, include Aldous Huxley, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Franz Kafka, William Butler Yeats, George William Russell(Æ), Owen Barfield, and T.S.Eliot, in Europe, and Arthur Dove, George Lucas, Katherine Dreier, Robert Duncan, Marsden Hartley, Wallace Stevens, and James Jonesin America.

Some prominent Hindu leaders, such as Swami Vivekanandacriticized Theosophy.

Music

Composers such as Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Dane Rudhyar, Gustav Holst, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, and most famously Alexander Scriabinwere Theosophists whose beliefs influenced their music, especially by providing a justification or rationale for their dissonant counterpoint. According to Rudhyar, Scriabin was "the one great pioneer of the new music of a reborn Western civilization, the father of the future musician." (Rudhyar 1926b, 899) and an antidote to "the Latin reactionaries and their apostle, Stravinsky" and the "rule-ordained" music of "Schoenberg's group." (Ibid., 900-901) Scriabin devised a quartalsynthetic chord, often called his "mystic" chord, and before his death Scriabin planned a multimedia work to be performed in the Himalayas that would bring about the armageddon; "a grandiose religious synthesis of all arts which would herald the birth of a new world." (AMG [5476]). This piece, Mysterium, was never realized, due to his death in 1915.

Notes

  1. The Theosophist, Vol. 75, No. 6. Page ii.
  2. History of the New Age periodical, Brown University, Modernist Journals Project
  3. Lewis, James R. and J. Gordon Melton. Perspectives on the New Age. SUNY Press. 1992. p xi
  4. Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Ph.D. A Biographical Sketch of his life and work, by Richard Alvin Sattelberg, B.A., M.S..
  5. Carter, Steven R. James Jones: An American Literary Orientalist Master. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1998, ISBN 0-252-02371-4
  6. Vivekananda. STRAY REMARKS ON THEOSOPHY The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Volume 4


References

  • Blavatsky, Helena: The Key to Theosophy, ISBN 0-911500-07-3
  • Carlson, Maria. No Religion Higher than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875-1922. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-691-05682-X
  • René Guénon. Theosophy: History of a Pseudo-Religion (2004), Sophia Perennis. ISBN 0-900588-79-9
  • Roth, Christopher F., "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Washington, Peter Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (1993), London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN 0-436-56418-1 Review


See also



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