What is Theosophy?

A General View for Inquirers

By Charles J. Ryan

Published as part of a set in the 1930s and '40s by Theosophical University Press; Revised Electronic Edition copyright 1998 by Theosophical University Press. Electronic version ISBN 1-55700-101-4. All rights reserved. This edition may be downloaded for off-line viewing without charge. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial or other use in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Theosophical University Press. Because of current limitations in ASCII character fonts, and for ease in searching, no diacritical marks appear in the electronic version of the text.


Section 1

What is Theosophy?
Theosophy a Unity of Religion, Science, and Philosophy
Universal Laws in Nature
The Theosophical Society

Section 2

Universal Brotherhood and the Divinity of Man
The Seven Principles of Man
Reincarnation or Reimbodiment in the Flesh
The Law of Karma
Man after Death

Section 3

Theosophy and Science
Evolution through Globes, Rounds, and Races
Psychology and Theosophy
The Masters of Wisdom, Compassion, and Peace
Theosophy and Mythology
Theosophy and Religion
Theosophy in the Bible

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Section 1

What is Theosophy?

Theosophy a Unity of Religion, Science, and Philosophy

Universal Laws in Nature

The Theosophical Society

What Is Theosophy?

Examine yourselves; realize that there is divinity within you, call it by what name you please. . . . Examine your own inner movements of consciousness, and you will know that these things of glory are in you. They are the working in you of your inner god, your spiritual inner sun.
This is the message of the great Sages and Seers of all the ages. . . .
. . . that living fire of consciousness within your breast which tells you of your oneness with all that is, and of your kinship with everything that is; for verily you are akin to the gods who are the rulers and counselors and governors of the Universe. -- G. de Purucker, Questions We All Ask

WHAT, indeed, is theosophy? This question, now being asked with increasing earnestness, cannot be answered in one sentence, but the leaders of the Theosophical Movement have given a few pithy expressions of its various aspects which form a fitting introduction. Helena P. Blavatsky, the Founder of the Theosophical Society, said:

Theosophy is, then, the archaic Wisdom-Religion, the esoteric doctrine once known in every ancient country having claims to civilization. -- The Theosophist, October 1879
Theosophy is the quintessence of duty. -- The Key to Theosophy

William Q. Judge begins his Ocean of Theosophy with this:

Theosophy is that ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings; unfathomable in its deepest parts, it gives the greatest minds their fullest scope, yet, shallow enough at its shores, it will not overwhelm the understanding of a child. . . . Embracing both the scientific and the religious, Theosophy is a scientific religion and a religious science.

According to Katherine Tingley:

Theosophy is the inner life in every religion. It is no new religion, but is as old as truth itself. . . .
Theosophy will bring something to you that can never pass away: the consciousness of your divine, your inner self; a conviction of your inherent power to conserve your energy along the highest spiritual lines. For man cannot find his true place in the great scheme of human life until he has ennobled and enriched his nature with the consciousness of his divinity. . . .
Think of theosophy not so much as a body of philosophic or other teaching, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion. -- Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, Chapter 1

G. de Purucker, the fourth leader of the Theosophical Society, defines the theosophical philosophy in these words:

The Theosophical philosophy is not something which has been invented by anybody at any time: it is the formulation of the truths of Nature -- not of outer Nature alone, which is but the effectual mirroring of hid causes; but more particularly of the vast causal realms behind the outer Nature which our senses know -- behind the outer veil of Reality; for these inner and causal realms are the inner Heart of Things. These truths were originally formulated in systematic manner in far past time by Great Seers. This formulation of natural truth has come down to our own times checked and tested in every age by new generations of these Great Seers. This formulation today is called Theosophy. -- The Theosophical Path, Jan. 1930, pp. 3-4

Theosophy is not a religion in the ordinary sense; and the Theosophical Society is not a Church in any sense. H. P. Blavatsky was inflexibly opposed to the idea that it should degenerate into a sect and set up hard-and-fast dogmas or traffic with sectarian methods.

The object of its founders was to liberate man from bondage by presenting a philosophy of life that would show him how to find the truth within himself. The literature presented by the Theosophical Society, though a statement in modern form of the ancient wisdom, is not offered as a creed, but is intended to provoke thought and study. It gives an explanation of the problems of life that every person can verify for himself, if he so will. Belief in, and the wish to promote, the brotherhood of mankind are the only prerequisites for good standing in the Theosophical Society.

Theosophy touches life at all points and illuminates every problem, but, naturally, different people find certain aspects more attractive than others -- especially at the beginning. To the most intuitive, who immediately perceive the practical importance of its teachings for the happiness and welfare of humanity, this is the greatest incentive to its study; others appreciate its profound speculative features; some are attracted by its revelation of the inner meaning and basic unity of the great world religions; and there are many who prefer the scientific aspect, which includes the rational explanation of occult phenomena. To meet these conditions we must consider as many aspects of our subject as space permits.

Theosophy a Unity of Religion, Science, and Philosophy

From the foregoing citations the reader will rightly conclude that theosophy is very inclusive. Dr. de Purucker says:

Now, the operations of the human consciousness are threefold, if you analyze them carefully; and these threefold operations men have designated by the words religion, philosophy, and science. . . .
They are not fundamentally different, but are like the three sides of a triangle, or like three views or ways of looking at truth, and their unified vision proclaims the recondite facts of Being. -- Man in Evolution, Chapter 1

The mistake of the modern age is to separate the field of knowledge into divisions. We notice this particularly in science, wherein specialization is becoming an embarrassment. In demonstrating that religion, philosophy, and science are and must be a unity, theosophy does not strain any point to combine factors that are really not harmonious; it simply presents well-known facts from a new aspect.

Another artificial and fatal division that vanishes in the light of theosophy is that between the speculations of philosophy and the practical conduct of life. A fundamental principle in theosophy, one that cannot be too strongly emphasized, is that its teachings cannot be properly understood without a sincere effort to make them a power in our everyday lives; theosophy is not for Sundays alone. As H. P. Blavatsky said, "Theosophist is who Theosophy does," and as Dr. de Purucker says, "Love is the cement of the universe," without which it would fall to pieces (in other words, "God is Love"). So how can we expect to understand the laws of nature if we outrage them by our selfish thoughts and acts? Belief and conduct cannot be separated in the true.

Universal Laws in Nature

The beginner in theosophy has a right to know the foundations of the theosophical structure, although only the briefest outline can be given here.

There is one infinite Life, without beginning or end; no such thing as dead matter exists in nature. Every atom is a spark of the one Life. The divine unity behind all manifestation, commonly called spirit and matter, which some call God, others That (Sanskrit sat or tat), is so infinitely beyond comprehension that we can only stand in mute awe and refuse to insult its majesty by attempting to describe it. The most reverent conception for us is that which comes from Oriental teachings: absolute compassion. Early mystical Christianity says:

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. -- John 1:18

The initiate Paul repeats:

Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see . . . -- 1 Timothy 6:16
God is Love. -- 1 John 4:16

Those statements are purely theosophical, and they are not atheistic. From the Unknowable its manifestation in the dualities of spirit and matter descends in cycles of manvantara (activity) and pralaya (repose), ranging from cosmic, solar, and world periods to such familiar alternations as sleeping and waking. The evolution of the human soul by physical incarnation, alternating with rest in spiritual conditions, has its place in this universal law of cycles.

In the East this process is called the Great Breath. During the outbreathing the gods awake: hierarchies of innumerable degrees of spiritual and other beings become active. With the inbreathing the process is reversed: the manifested universe returns to the Father, enriched by experience.

Man on earth is a life-atom of the Divine, immersed in matter, a pilgrim seeking his way back to the source. At a certain stage of experience an inner awakening takes place, and it is then possible for him to step knowingly upon what is called the path. As love is the law of life, the only way to find the path to the god within is by obeying the law of compassion, of brotherhood. So we find every true spiritual teacher throughout the ages bringing the same message, which Dr. de Purucker has phrased in the following way:

Love is the cement of the universe. Learn to forgive. Learn to love. Each one of you is an incarnate god. Be it!

The aim of the Theosophical Society is to spread this teaching of universal brotherhood by revealing the facts on which it rests, and thus showing it to be the inevitable way to peace and happiness. H. P. Blavatsky, the one who was chosen to establish the modern Theosophical Movement, gives the key to the whole situation in a few words:

Our duty is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions.

There exist on earth, though unknown to the world at large, a few rare souls, the efflorescence of the age, who have purified themselves from all traces of personal selfishness and have become living incarnations of love and wisdom. Such are the Masters of wisdom, compassion, and peace who established the Theosophical Movement and who uphold and protect it today. These Masters of life have realized the truth of the most fundamental teaching of the wisdom-religion, theosophy, the oneness of man with the universe. They have found the divinity within, the inner god. They know the meaning of what the Upanishads say in so many ways: "THAT thou art."

The Theosophical Society

The Theosophy Society was founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian of high social rank. Her purpose was to restore theosophy to the West and thereby to build a firm foundation for the brotherhood of mankind. In her day Western civilization was in real danger from the increase of materialism, partly arising from the wonderful discoveries of physical science which seemed to discredit all spiritual interpretations of life; and H. P. Blavatsky was sent by the great Lodge of Guardians to counteract this by spreading theosophy. Not only science, but popular religion was materialistic: on the one hand blind force, and on the other rigid dogmatic formalism. A short time before the foundation of the Theosophical Society, Lord Lytton wrote:

Look where we will around us in every direction the sources of pure spiritual life appear to be altogether stagnant, or else trickling feebly in shrunken and turbid streams. . . . wherever the grandest issues of Humanity are at stake, man's spiritual attitude towards them is one either of hopeless fatigue or fierce anarchical impatience. And this is the more deplorable because it is accompanied by a feverish materialistic activity. Yes, this age of ours is materialistic; and perhaps the saddest and dreariest thing in the ever-increasing materialism of the age is the ghostly squeaking and gibbering of helpless lamentation made over it by the theologists, who croak about their old dry wells wherein no spiritual life is left. Meanwhile society seems to be everywhere organizing animalism. -- Fort-nightly Review, 1871

H. P. Blavatsky was specialty fitted for her mission by brilliant intelligence, dauntless courage, and overmastering desire to lift some of the burden of sorrow from the world. Her qualifications included trained occult faculties, which enabled her to demonstrate the theosophical teaching that man has far greater powers than he suspects locked up in his inner nature. After many wanderings in both hemispheres, she met certain members of the Tibetan Lodge of Initiates who prepared her for her coming work. She well knew that it involved the sacrifice of all that most people hold dear, and that the bitter hostility of the forces of prejudice and reaction would be aroused, yet she did not hesitate. However, in spite of having to endure both the crudest and most refined forms of persecution, and of being constantly misunderstood and misrepresented, she succeeded in spreading theosophy far and wide and in creating a large and active Society of earnest students and workers. Her teachings have already powerfully affected modern thought, and in the twentieth century, science, philosophy, and religion have been moving towards theosophy with rapidly increasing speed. In fact clergymen are preaching it from the pulpit, sometimes even using the name theosophy.

H. P. Blavatsky always repudiated the claim of having invented theosophy. Again and again she gave the credit for her teachings to her superiors, the guardians of the sacred knowledge. Her duty was to present it in a form acceptable to the West. As her work was chiefly intended to give Western civilization a new spiritual impulse, she was directed to begin in America, to which country she was sent by her teachers, the Masters of wisdom, in 1873.

On November 17, 1875, the Theosophical Society was established by her with the assistance of Col. H. S. Olcott, W. Q. Judge, and others, at New York. The remainder of her life was spent in spreading theosophy by personal teaching, writing books, editing magazines, and establishing Lodges in many countries. She died in London in 1891. In the sixteen years of her public activity the Society gained thousands of members, national and local centers were organized throughout the world, and a large literature was produced.

In 1888 Madame Blavatsky brought out her greatest work, The Secret Doctrine, which has had such a powerful effect on modern thought, and founded the Eastern or Esoteric School for the instruction of the more devoted students and as the energizing heart of the Movement.

After her death in 1891, William Q. Judge, her trusted American representative, who had been personally trained by her, was called on to keep the Movement true to the lines she had laid down; and when he passed away in 1896, Katherine Tingley took his place. She reorganized the Constitution of the Society and in 1900 established the administrative center at Point Loma, California.

Upon her death in 1929, G. de Purucker, who had occupied responsible positions at Point Loma for nearly thirty years, became Leader of the Theosophical Society. Dr. de Purucker expanded the scope of Theosophical University, making it a valuable adjunct to the work of the Society. By lectures, classes, and through his numerous writings such as Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, he clarified and made intelligible to the lay mind the profound philosophy given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. Shortly before his death in 1942 he removed the International Headquarters of the Society to Covina, California.

Under Arthur L. Conger the original line of teaching and training in the Society continued, with particular emphasis upon making the theosophical literature widely known, so that the beneficent teachings of the theosophical philosophy may be applied directly to human problems. He moved the International Headquarters to its present location near Pasadena, California, where it has continued under James A. Long and the present Leader, Grace F. Knoche.

Section 2