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Theosophy

Theosophy

Term derived from the Greek theos (rod) and sophia (wisdom), denoting a philosophical-religious system that claims absolute knowledge of the existence and nature of the deity, and is not to be confused with the later system evolved by the founders of the Theosophical Society.

This knowledge, or theosophy, it is claimed, may be obtained by special individual revelation, or through the operation of some higher faculty. It is the transcendent character of the godhead of theosophical systems that differentiates them from the philosophical systems of the speculative or absolute type, which usually proceed deductively from the idea of God. God is conceived in theosophical systems as the transcendent source of being, from whom human beings in their natural state are far removed.

Theosophy is practically another name for speculative mysticism. Thus Kabalistic and Neoplatonic conceptions of divine emanations are in reality theosophical, as are the mystical systems of Jakob Boehme and Baader.

Theosophy has also come to signify the tenets and teachings of the founders of the Theosophical Society. This society was founded in the United States in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Col. H. S. Olcott, and others. Its objectives were to establish a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, to promote the study of comparative religion and philosophy, and to investigate the mystic powers of life and matter.

The conception of the Universal Brotherhood was based upon the oriental idea of one lifethat ultimate oneness underlies all diversity, whether inward or outward. The study of comparative religion had materialized into a definite system of belief, the bounds of which were dogmatically fixed. It was set forth in the theosophical system that all the great religions of the world originated from one supreme source and that they are merely expressions of a central "Wisdom Religion" vouch-safed to various races of the earth in such a manner as is best suited to time and geographical circumstances.

Underlying these was a secret doctrine or esoteric teaching, which, it was stated, had been the possession for ages of certain Mahatmas, or adepts, in mysticism and occultism. With these Blavatsky claimed to be in direct communication, and she herself manifested occult phenomena, producing the ringing of astral bells, and so forth.

On several occasions these effects were unmasked as fraudulent, but many people believed that Blavatsky was one of those rare personalities who possess great natural psychic powers, which at times failing her, she augmented by fraudulent methods.

The evidence for the existence of the Great White Brotherhood of Mahatmas, the existence of which she asserted, was unfortunately somewhat inconclusive. It rested, for the most part, on the statements of Blavatsky, Olcott, A. P. Sinnett, Charles W. Leadbeater, and other committed Theosophists, who claimed to have seen or communicated with them.

With every desire to do justice to these upholders of the theosophical argument, it is necessary to point out that in occult, or pseudo-occult experiences, the question of hallucination enters very largely, and the ecstatic condition may be responsible for subjective appearances that seem real enough to the visionary.

Again, the written communications of the Mahatmasthe Mahatma letters give rise to much doubt. One Mahatma employed the American system of spelling, and this was accounted for by the circumstance that his English had been sophisticated by reading American books. A study of these letters leaves little doubt that their style, script, and purpose were nearer to Blavatsky than to Tibetan or Himalayan hermitages.

The revelations of Blavatsky in her books Isis Unveiled (2 vols., 1877) and The Secret Doctrine (2 vols., 1888-97) are an extraordinary mixture of Buddhistic, Brahministic, and Kabalistic matter with a basic theme of religious unity and the persistence of occult and miraculous phenomena throughout history.

The Theosophical Society has numbered among its members many persons of high ability, whose statement and exegesis of their faith has placed it upon a much higher level and more definite foundation.

The system was constructed in a manner akin to genius, and evolved on highly intricate lines. It was, to a great extent, pieced together after the death of the original founder of the society, on which event a schism occurred in the Brotherhood through the claims to leadership of William Q. Judge, of New York, who died in 1896, and who was followed by Katherine Tingley, the founder of the great Theosophical community at Point Loma, California.

Olcott became the leader of the remaining part of the original Theosophical Society in America and India, being assisted in his work by Annie Besant, but a more or less independent organization was founded in England.

A brief outline of the tenets of Theosophy may be stated as follows. It posits a rational belief in its views rather than blind faith, and allows for individual differences of opinion. It professes to be a religious philosophy that holds the germs of all others. It has also its aspect as a sciencea science of life and of the soul.

The basic teaching is that there are three absolute truths that cannot be lost, but yet may remain silent for lack of speech. (1) The soul of humanity is immortal and its future is the future of the thing, whose growth and splendor has no limit. (2) The principle that gives life dwells in us and without us, is undying and eternally beneficent, is not heard, or seen, or smelt, but is perceived by the man who desires perception. (3) Each individual is his or her own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to oneself, decreer of one's life, one's reward, one's punishment.

Although Theosophy posits the existence of an absolute, it does not pretend to knowledge of its attributes. In the absolute are innumerable universes and in each universe countless solar systems. Each solar system is the expression of a being called the Logos, the Word of God, or the Solar Deity, who permeates it and exists above it and outside it.

Below this Solar Deity are his seven ministers, called Planetary Spirits, whose relation to him is like that of the nerve centers to the brain, so that all his voluntary acts come through him to them. Under them are vast hosts or orders of spiritual beings called devas, or angels, who assist in many ways. This world is ruled by a great official who represents the Solar Deity, who is in absolute control of all the evolution that takes place upon this planet. When a new religion is to be founded, this being either comes or sends pupils to institute it.

In the earlier stages of the development of humanity the great officials of the hierarchy are provided from more highly evolved parts of the system, but whenever human beings can be trained to the necessary level of power and wisdom these offices are held by them. They can only be filled by adepts, who in goodness, power, and wisdom are immeasurably greater than ordinary individuals, and have attained the summit of human evolution. These advance until they themselves become of the nature of deities.

There are many degrees and many lines of activity among these, but some of them always remain within touch of the Earth and assist in the spiritual evolution of humanity. This body is called the "Great White Brotherhood." Its members do not dwell together, but live separately apart from the world and are in constant telepathic communication with one another.

Their knowledge of higher forces is so great that they have no necessity for meeting in the physical world, but each dwells in his own country, and their power remains unsuspected among those who live near them. These adepts are willing to take as apprentices those who have resolved to devote themselves utterly to the service of humankind. Blavatsky was presumed to be such an apprentice. One of these masters said: "In order to succeed the pupil must leave his own world and come into ours."

The Theosophical conception of the constitution of the human being is that he or she is in essence a spark of the divine fire belonging to the monadic world. For the purposes of human evolution, this monad manifests itself in lower worlds. Entering the spiritual world it manifests itself there as the triple spirit; one of its three aspects always remains in the spiritual sphere.

The second aspect manifests itself in the intuitional world, and the third in the higher mental world, and these two are collated with intuition and intelligence. These three aspects combined make up the ego, which is individual personality during the human stage of evolution. The way or path towards enlightenment and emancipation is known as karma.

The human personality is composed of a complex organization consisting of seven principles, which are united and interdependent, yet divided into certain groups, each capable of maintaining a kind of personality. Each of these principles is composed of its own form of matter and possesses its own laws of time, space, and motion.

The most gross of those, the physical body, is known as rupa, which becomes more and more refined until we reach the universal self, atma, but the circumstance that determines the individual's powers, tests, and advantages, or in short his or her character, is the karma, which is the sum of bodily, mental, and spiritual growth and is spread over many lives past and future. If in one existence the individual is handicapped by any defect, mental or physical, it may be regarded as the outcome of past delinquencies. This doctrine is common to both Buddhism and Brahminism, from which Theosophy derives.

Returning to concepts of the constitution of the human being, the ego existing in the higher mental world cannot enter the physical world until it has drawn around itself a veil composed of the matter of these spheres, nor can it think in any but an abstract manner without themits concrete ideas being due to them. Having assumed the astral and physical bodies, it is born as a human being, and having lived out its Earth-life sojourns for a time in the astral world, until it can succeed in throwing off the shackles of the astral body.

When that is achieved the individual finds himself or herself living in the mental body. The stay in this sphere is usually a long onethe strength of the mental constitution depending upon the nature of the thoughts to which one has habituated oneself. But he or she is not yet sufficiently developed to proceed to higher planes, and once more descends into the denser physical sphere to again go through the same round. It is only through that descent that a full recognition of the higher worlds is developed in the individual.

In the higher mental world, the permanent vehicle is a causal body, which consists of matter of the first, second, and third sub-divisions of that world. As the ego unfolds one's latent possibilities in the course of one's evolution, this matter is greatly brought into action, but it is only in the perfect individual or adept that it is developed to its fullest extent. In the causal body, none of the possibilities of the grosser bodies can manifest themselves.

The mental body is built up of matter of the four lower subdivisions of the mental world, and expresses the individual's concrete thoughts. Its size and shape are determined by those of the causal vehicle.

While on Earth the personality wears the physical, mental, and astral bodies all at once. It is the astral that connects one with the astral plane during sleep or trance. It is easy to see how the doctrine of reincarnation arose from this idea. The ego must travel from existence to existence, physical, astral, mental, until it can transcend the mental world and enter the higher spheres

The Theosophical path to the goal of Nirvana is derived from Buddhistic teaching, but there are also other elements in itKabalistic and Greek. The path is the great work whereby the inner nature of the individual is consciously transformed and developed. A radical alternation must be made in the aims and motives of the ordinary mortal. The path is long and difficult, and as has been said extends over many existences. Morality alone is insufficient to the full awakening of the spiritual faculty, without which progress in the path is impossible. Something incomparably higher is necessary.

The physical and spiritual exercises recommended by Theosophy are those formulated in the Hindu philosophical system known as raja yoga. The most strenuous efforts alone can impel the individual along the path, and thus to mount by the practice of vidya, that higher wisdom that awakens the latent faculties and concentrates effort in the direction of union with the absolute.

The way is described as long and difficult, but as the disciple advances he or she becomes more convinced of ultimate success, by the possession of transcendental faculties that greatly assist in overcoming difficulties. But these must not be sought for their own sake, as to gain knowledge of them for evil purposes is tantamount to the practice of black magic.

(See also Kabala )

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Theosophy

THEOSOPHY

THEOSOPHY is defined by its expounders as a religion-philosophy-science brought to America by "messengers of the guardians and preservers of the ancient Wisdom-Religion of the East." Its founder was an eccentric Russian noblewoman, Helena P. Blavatsky. In July 1848, at age sixteen, she was married to a forty-one-year-old government official. She ran away after three months to Constantinople and joined a circus. After extensive travels in the Far East where she claimed to have received instruction from "Sages of the Orient," she came to New York City on 7 July 1873 and, two years later, with William Q. Judge, Henry Steel Olcott, and fifteen others, formed the Theosophical Society. The purpose of the organization was to further a universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, color, sex, caste, or creed; to further the study of the ancient scriptures and teachings such as Brahmanical, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian; and to investigate the "unexplained laws of Nature" and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man.

At first, the theosophists displayed an interest in spiritualism but later repudiated it, stating that spiritistic phenomena "were but a meagre part of a larger whole." Later, Madame Blavatsky formed what she termed an "esoteric section," which was a select group of promising students gathered to study the more profound teachings of theosophy. Madame Blavatsky left the United States in 1878 and formed theosophical societies in England and India, which recognized her leadership until her death in 1891.

The teachings of theosophy stress universal brotherhood to be a fact in nature on which its philosophy and religion are based. Theosophy proclaims a "Deific Absolute Essence, infinite and unconditioned … from which all starts, and into which everything returns." Man has an immortal soul, but the soul is a tenant of many different bodies in many different lives. Every soul must become perfect before the next stage of existence can be entered upon, and those who go forward most rapidly must wait for all. For this, many reincarnations are necessary. Theosophy accepts the miracles of Jesus but denies their supernatural character, holding that they were accomplished through natural laws.

As of 2001, there were 130 theosophical study centers and theosophical societies—known as lodges—in the United States.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Campbell, Bruce F. Ancient Wisdom Revised: A History of the Theosophical Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Greenwalt, Emmet A. The Point Loma Community in California, 1897–1942: A Theosophical Experiment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1955.

Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru. London: Secker and War-burg, 1993.

William W.Sweet/f. b.

See alsoAsian Religions and Sects ; Cults ; New Age Movement ; Utopian Communities .

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theosophy

theosophy (thēŏs´əfē) [Gr.,=divine wisdom], philosophical system having affinities with mysticism and claiming insight into the nature of God and the world through direct knowledge, philosophical speculation, or some physical process. This system of thought differs from many other philosophical positions in that it begins with an assumption of the absolute reality of the essence of God, from which it deduces the essentially spiritual nature of the universe. Other assumptions frequently found in theosophical doctrine are that God is the transcendent source of all being and all good; that evil exists in the world because of human desire for finite goods and may be overcome by complete absorption in the infinite; and that sacred writings and doctrines are interpreted through allegory. This is the position of much speculative mysticism. However, mysticism generally confines itself to the soul's relation to God, while the theosophist uses these theories to formulate a complete philosophy of humanity and nature.

History

The Neoplatonists, the Gnostics, and the kabbalists are generally considered types of theosophists. Jakob Boehme, regarded as the father of modern theosophy, developed a complete theosophical system attempting to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful and all-good God with the presence of evil in the world. The philosophy and theology of Asia, especially of India, contain a vast body of theosophical doctrine. Modern theosophy draws much of its vocabulary from Indian sources. The Theosophical Society, with which theosophy is now generally identified, was founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky; associated with her were H. S. Olcott and W. Q. Judge. Blavatsky wrote The Secret Doctrine (1888, repr. 1964) and Key to Theosophy (1931, rev. ed. 1969). An active exponent of theosophy in Europe, America, and the East was Annie Besant, who added many works to the literature on the subject.

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theosophy

the·os·o·phy / [unvoicedth]ēˈäsəfē/ • n. any of a number of philosophies maintaining that a knowledge of God may be achieved through spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations, esp. the movement founded in 1875 as the Theosophical Society by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907). DERIVATIVES: the·os·o·pher / -fər/ n. the·o·soph·ic / ˌ[unvoicedth]ēəˈsäfik/ adj. the·o·soph·i·cal / ˌ[unvoicedth]ēəˈsäfikəl/ adj. the·o·soph·i·cal·ly / ˌ[unvoicedth]ēəˈsäfik(ə)lē/ adv. the·os·o·phist / -fist/ n.

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theosophy

theosophy Religious philosophy that originated in the ancient world but was given new impetus when the mystic Helen Blavatsky (b. Russia) founded the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875. Modern theosophy continues a mystical tradition in Western thought represented by such thinkers as Pythagoras and Plotinus, but is most significant in Indian thought. The main aims of the Theosophical Society are to promote a spiritual brotherhood of all humanity; to encourage the comparative study of religions, philosophy, and science; and to develop latent spiritual powers. Belief in the transmigration of souls also occupies an important place in theosophical doctrine.See also Besant

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theosophy

theosophy any of a number of philosophies maintaining that a knowledge of God may be achieved through spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations, especially the movement founded in 1875 as the Theosophical Society by Helena Blavatsky (1831–91) and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), following Hindu and Buddhist teachings and seeking universal brotherhood.

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theosophy

theosophy system of philosophical speculation basing the knowledge of nature on that of the divine nature. XVII. — medL. theosophia — late Gr. theosophíā, f. theós god + sophós wise; see -Y3.
Hence theosophist, earlier theosopher, theosophic(al) XVII.

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theosophy

theosophydaffy, taffy •Amalfi •Cavafy, Gaddafi •Effie •beefy, Fifi, leafy •cliffy, iffy, jiffy, Liffey, niffy, sniffy, spiffy, squiffy, stiffy, whiffy •salsify •coffee, toffee •wharfie •Sophie, strophe, trophy •Dufy, goofy, Sufi •fluffy, huffy, puffy, roughie, roughy, scruffy, snuffy, stuffy, toughie •comfy • atrophy •anastrophe, catastrophe •calligraphy, epigraphy, tachygraphy •dystrophy, epistrophe •autobiography, bibliography, biography, cardiography, cartography, chirography, choreography, chromatography, cinematography, cosmography, cryptography, demography, discography, filmography, geography, hagiography, historiography, hydrography, iconography, lexicography, lithography, oceanography, orthography, palaeography (US paleography), photography, pornography, radiography, reprography, stenography, topography, typography •apostrophe •gymnosophy, philosophy, theosophy •furphy, murphy, scurfy, surfy, turfy

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