"wisdom of the divine" (Greek: θεοσοφία theosophia), designates several bodies of
ideas. Philosophers such as Emanuel Swedenborg and Jacob Boehme are commonly called theosophists. The word was revived in
the nineteenth century by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to designate her religious philosophy which holds that all religions are
attempts by humanity to approach the absolute, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth. Together with
Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others, Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in 1875. This society has since
split into a number of organizations, some of which no longer use the term "theosophy".
A formal definition from the Concise Oxford Dictionary describes
Theosophy as "any of various philosophies professing to achieve a knowledge of God by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition,
or special individual revelation; esp. a modern movement following Hindu and Buddhist teachings, and seeking universal brotherhood."
Madame Blavatsky's theosophy would, however, not fall under this definition, as it is non-theistic.
Adherents of Theosophy maintain that it is a "body of truth" that
forms the basis of all religions. Theosophy, they claim, represents a modern face of Sanatana Dharma, "the eternal truth,"
as the proper religion.
The motto of the parent society is : "There is no religion
higher than Truth."
The Three Objects
There are three objects to which one must assent in order to join the Theosophical
• To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity
without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
• To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy
• To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.
Basic Theosophical Beliefs
Consciousness is universal and individual
to Theosophy, nature does not operate by chance. Every event, past or present, happens because of laws which are part of a
universal paradigm. Theosophists hold that everything, living or not, is put together from basic building blocks evolving
towards consciousness. H.P. Blavatsky's Theosophy is non-theistic, however some of her followers seem closer to theistic attitudes.
Man is "provisionally" immortal
believe that all human beings in their "higher selves" are immortal, but their lower personalities are unconscious of the
link with their eternal spiritual nature and will perish.
Reincarnation is universal
Buddhism, from which much of Theosophical thought springs, Theosophy teaches that beings have attained the human state through
myriad reincarnations, passing through the mineral, plant and animal stages since before the birth of life on earth. However,
Theosophy differs from the esoteric belief that regression is possible. Human beings cannot reincarnate as animals or plants
again except in the rare cases of disintegrating "lost souls." Conversely, people are considered only the epitome of physical
life on Earth and not the end stage of evolution, which continues for further stages, including the form of the Dhyani Chohans
or Buddhic beings.
Theosophy is similar to the beliefs
of the Hindu Arya Samaj sect concerning karma, dharma and cosmogony. Theosophy teaches that evil and good are the result of
differentiation of spirit/matter in a cycle of becoming. There is a natural involution of spirit into matter followed by an
evolution of matter back into spirit. The purpose of the Universe is for spirit to manifest itself self-consciously through
that every thing of whatever kind is from one divine source. All things are "monads" in reality. All monads potentially possess
the same principles and their forms and natures are an expression of their present consciousness level.
Theosophists believe that religion,
philosophy, science, the arts, commerce, and philanthropy, among other "virtues," lead people ever closer to "the Absolute."
Planets, solar systems and even galaxies are seen as conscious beings,
fulfilling their own evolutionary paths.
The spiritual units of the universe are the monads, which at different
times may manifest as planets, angels, human beings or in various other forms.
Theosophists also believe that human civilization, like all other
parts of the universe, develops through cycles of seven stages. Thus, in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second
age, they are known as Hyperboreans; in the third as Lemurians; and in the fourth, Atlanteans. Since Atlantis was the nadir
of the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity's psychic gifts.
Emblem of the Theosophical
Society (Adyar)described at Theosophy, as well as many other esoteric groups and occult societies, claims that the universe
is ordered by the number seven. The reincarnating unit, the monad, consists of the two spiritual constituents of a sum of
seven human 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 molder, 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 coworking on the physical
plane of forces and faculties streaming through their astral vehicle or linga-sarira, the pattern or model of the physical
• 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 kama (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 colorless force, good or bad according to the way the mind and soul use it. It is the
seat of the living electric impulses, desires, 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 imbodied, 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. 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.
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 India but existed in ancient Greece 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,
The Theosophical Society
esotericism, however, begins with Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) usually known as Madame Blavatsky. In 1875
she founded the Theosophical Society in New York City together with Henry Steel Olcott, who was a government investigator,
lawyer and writer. Madame Blavatsky was a world traveler who eventually settled in India where, with Olcott, she established
the headquarters of the Society. She claimed numerous psychic and spiritualist powers. 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), a commentary on The Book of Dzyan, is based on esoteric Buddhism
and also Hinduism. These writings became the basic pillars of the Theosophical movement, together with The Mahatma Letters,
purported to originate with highly evolved humans directing HPB and the Theosophical Society
Upon Blavatsky's death in 1891, several Theosophical societies
emerged following a series of schisms. Annie Besant became leader of the society based in Adyar India, while William Quan
Judge split off the American Section of the Theosophical Society in New York which later moved to Point Loma, Covina, and
Pasadena, California 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 fiction writer Talbot Mundy was 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 went to Point Loma in 1900 to help Katherine Tingley, left in 1904,
and founded his society in 1909.
Rudolf Steiner created a successful branch of the Theosophical
Society Adyar 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) — having already
founded his own Anthroposophical Society a month earlier — after he refused members of the Order of the Star of the
East membership in the German Section, opposing the theosophical principle of admitting members from all religious persuasions.
The great majority of German-speaking theosophists, as well as several others, joined Steiner's new society. (Steiner later
became famous for his ideas about education, resulting in an international network of "Steiner Schools.")
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 Kayfabe which published, among others, Rainbow Circle writers like Hobhouse and Chiozza Money.
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, California.
Other organizations based on the theosophical teachings include
The Lucis Trust, Share International, Agni Yoga, The Bridge to Freedom, The Summit Lighthouse / Church Universal and Triumphant,
and The Temple of The Presence.
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
USA. The largest section of The Theosophical Society , the Indian section, at one time had more than 20 000 members, now reduced
to around 10 000.
Theosophy was closely linked to the Indian independence movement;
The Indian National Congress being founded during a Theosophical conference, and many of its leaders, including M. K. Gandhi
being associated with theosophy.
The present-day New Age movement is to a considerable extent
based on the teachings originating with HP Blavatsky.
|Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras, India 1890