The Key to Theosophy
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 text-book 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 enquirer, 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 not of the language, is due to depth 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 convinced.
Some care has been taken in disentangling some part of
what is true from what is false in Spiritualistic teachings as to the
post-mortem 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. -- H. P. B.
THEOSOPHY AND THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
MEANING OF THE NAME
and its doctrines are often referred to as a new-fangled religion. Is it a
THEOSOPHIST. It is not. Theosophy is Divine Knowledge
ENQUIRER. What is the
real meaning of the term?
THEOSOPHIST. "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.
ENQUIRER. What is the
origin of the name?
THEOSOPHIST. 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
who started the Eclectic Theosophical system.
ENQUIRER. What was the
object of this system?
THEOSOPHIST. 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."
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.
ENQUIRER. 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?
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 right key." (Eclect. Philo.)
POLICY OF THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
ENQUIRER. 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 them?
THEOSOPHIST. 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. In
those days, the Jew Aristobulus affirmed that the ethics of Aristotle
represented the esoteric teachings of the Law of Moses; Philo Judaeus endeavoured 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 endeavoured to induce Gentiles and Christians, Jews and Idolaters,
to lay aside their contentions and strifes, 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.
ENQUIRER. What are
your authorities for saying this of the ancient Theosophists of Alexandria?
THEOSOPHIST. 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
ENQUIRER. Was he
encouraged and supported by the Church because, notwithstanding his heresies,
Ammonius taught Christianity and was a Christian?
THEOSOPHIST. 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."
Moreover, as says the Edinburgh Encyclopoedia, "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 religion."
WISDOM-RELIGION ESOTERIC IN ALL AGES
ENQUIRER. Since Ammonius never committed anything to
writing, how can one feel sure that such were his teachings?
THEOSOPHIST. 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 (counsellor 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
ENQUIRER. How have the
latter tenets reached our day, since you hold that what is properly called the
WISDOM-RELIGION was esoteric?
THEOSOPHIST. 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.
ENQUIRER. Where and by
whom was it so preserved?
THEOSOPHIST. 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.
ENQUIRER. Can you give
me some proofs of its esotericism?
THEOSOPHIST. 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 Mercavah (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 e 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? "To you," he says, "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" (Mark iv. 11). "The Essenes of Judea and Carmel made
similar distinctions, dividing their adherents into neophytes, brethren, and the
perfect, or those initiated" (Eclec. Phil.). Examples might be
brought from every country to this effect.
ENQUIRER. Can you
attain the "Secret Wisdom" simply by study? Encyclopaedias define Theosophy
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
THEOSOPHIST. 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."
ENQUIRER. What is your
explanation of it?
THEOSOPHIST. 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 Prof.
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 practised by the Yogis, who facilitate it physically by the
greatest abstinence in food and drink, and mentally by an incessant endeavour 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
then, is not, as held by some, a newly devised scheme?
THEOSOPHIST. 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.
ENQUIRER. 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?
THEOSOPHIST. 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.
ENQUIRER. You have
brought forward proofs that such secrecy has existed; but what was the real
cause for it?
THEOSOPHIST. The causes for it were: Firstly, the
perversity of average human nature and its selfishness, always tending to the
gratification of personal desires to the detriment of neighbours and
next of kin. Such people could never be entrusted with divine secrets. Secondly,
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.
IS NOT BUDDHISM
ENQUIRER. You are
often spoken of as "Esoteric Buddhists." Are you then all followers of
THEOSOPHIST. 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 "Wisdomism" (Bodha,
bodhi, "intelligence," "wisdom") instead of Buddhism, Gautama's
religious philosophy. Theosophy, as already said, is the WISDOM-RELIGION.
ENQUIRER. What is the
difference between Buddhism, the religion founded by the Prince of Kapilavastu,
and Budhism, the "Wisdomism" which you say is synonymous with
THEOSOPHIST. 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 only.
ENQUIRER. But some
Orientalists deny that Buddha ever taught any esoteric doctrine at all?
THEOSOPHIST. 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. Edkins' Chinese
Buddhism -- especially the chapters on the Exoteric and Esoteric schools
and teachings -- and then compare the testimony of the whole ancient world upon
ENQUIRER. But are not
the ethics of Theosophy identical with those taught by Buddha?
THEOSOPHIST. 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.
ENQUIRER. Are there
any great points of difference?
THEOSOPHIST. 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 post-mortem
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.
called Analogeticists. As explained by Prof. Alex. Wilder, F. T. S., in his
"Eclectic Philosophy," 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 Laertius 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 Brahm-Vidya, divine knowledge.
 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 invisible. (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 Kabalists. 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. Boehme 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 ecstacy, 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 -- (Vide Eclectic Philos., by A. Wilder.)
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 "Eclectic Philosophy" very
pertinently remarks: "The Buddhistic, 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. . . . Panaenus, Athenagoras, and Clement were
thoroughly instructed in Platonic philosophy, and comprehended its essential
unity with the Oriental systems."
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 Encyclopoedia 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."
is what the scholarly author of "The Eclectic Philosophy," Prof.
A. 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 every-day
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
vapours 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."