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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 791 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ORIENTAL THEOSOPHY The term " theosophy " has in recent years obtained a some-what wide currency in a restricted signification as denominating the beliefs and teachings of the Theosophical Society. This society was founded in the United States of America in the year 1895 by Madame H. P. Blavatsky (q.v.), in connexion with Colonel H. S. Olcott (d. 1906) and others. The main objects of the society were thus set out: (I) To establish a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity; (2) to promote the study of comparative religion and philosophy; (3) to make a systematic investigation into the mystic potencies of life and matter, or what is usually termed " occultism." As regards the first object the mere fact of joining the society and becoming an " initiated fellow " was supposed to involve a certain kind of intellectual and social brotherhood, though not implying anything in the nature of an economic union. This latter aspect of the fraternity was to be satisfied by the contribution from each fellow of five dollars by way of initiation fee. The society's theory of universal brotherhood was, however, of far wider scope, being based upon a mystical conception of " the One Life "—an idea derived from and common to various forms ;of Eastern thought, Vedic and Buddhist. It implies the necessary interdependence of all that is—that ultimate' Oneness which underlies and sustains all phenomenal diversity, whether inwardly or outwardly, whether individual or universal. The theosophical conception of brotherhood is thus rather transcendental than materialistic, and is not therefore to be regarded as the exact equivalent of the socialistic doctrine of the solidarity of the human race. The second object of the society, the study of comparative religion and philosophy, soon crystallized into an exposition of a more or less definite system of dogmatic teaching. The leading thesis seems to have been that all the great religions of the world originated from the same supreme source, and that they were all to be regarded as so many divers expressions of one and the same fundamental truth, or " Wisdom Religion," in such form and dress as was best adapted to suit the times and the people for whose spiritual growth and development religious instruction was required. Now, in order to discern this underlying truth in the various and apparently conflicting world creeds, appeal was made to a " Secret Doctrine," and " Esoteric Teaching," which Madame Blavatsky proclaimed had been held for ages as a sacred possession and trust by certain mysterious adepts in occultism, or " Mahatmas," with whom she said she was in psychical as well as in direct physical communication. It is here that the theosophical movement showed its most serious shortcomings. From time to time Madame Blavatsky's numerous friends and associates were allowed to witness the manifestations of " occult phenomena," which she averred were the outcome of her connexion with these " Mahatmas." The fraudulent character of the " phenomena " was on several occasions exposed by numerous painstaking investigators (see Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vols. iii. and ix., and A Modern Priestess of Isis, by Solovyoff). There are, moreover, numerous passages in the sacred books of the East, especially those of the Buddhists, which warn the student against the assumption that " magical" performances of any kind are to be regarded as proving the truth of the performer's teaching; and indeed it must be owned in justice to the theosophists that similar warnings are to be found scattered through-out their writings ; while even Madame Blavatsky herself was wont to expatiate on the folly of accepting her " phenomena " as the mark of spiritual truth. Yet at the same time it cannot well be denied that she was in the habit of pointing to the said marvels as evidence of her Mahatma's existence. If theosophy were to be judged solely by the published revelations of this " Secret Doctrine " it would hardly be de-serving of serious consideration; for, as suggested in the separate article on Madame Blavatsky, the revelations them-selves appear to have been no more than a crude compilation of vague, contradictory and garbled extracts from various periodicals, books and translations. It was an article of faith with her disciples that the outward and visible Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was on certain occasions the vehicle of psychic powers of transcendent spiritual import. Although there is not much to justify such a proposition, it may perhaps be con-ceded that she was in many respects abnormal and that some of her work is characteristic of a process known to modern psychologists as " automatism," or in other words that it is the result of a spasmodic uprush to the surface of sub-conscious mental activities. Apart, however, from these pseudo-revelations the Theosophical Society has given rise to an extensive literature, some of which displays a high degree of argumentative and expository ability; and moreover the movement has from time to time attracted the attention and secured the co-operation of many earnest seekers, of some few of whom. it can be truly said that they possessed undoubted spiritual power, in-sight and knowledge. Soon after the" death of Madame Blavatsky a split in the society was brought about by Mr Wm. Q. Judge (d. 1896) of New York, who claimed the leadership; and there came into existence two if not three separate theosophical societies (following Judge and later Mrs Katherine Tingley in America, Olcott and Mrs Annie Besant in America and India, with a more or less independent organization in England), each one con-tending that the original afflatus of the founder had descendedupon it exclusively. The fortunes of the societies are, however, of less importance than their leading doctrine. It will be surmised from what has been said that any concise statement of orthodox theosophy is hardly to be expected; though from the materials available a fairly definite outline of its leading tenets can be deciphered. We will try to give a cursory review of three of the most important of these, viz.: the constitution and development of the personality or ego; the doctrine of " Karma "; and the Way or Path towards enlightenment and emancipation. Human personality, we learn, is the temporary manifestation of a complex organization consisting of " seven principles," which are united and inter-dependent, yet divided into certain groups, each capable of maintaining temporarily a spurious kind of personality of its own and sometimes capable of acting, so to speak, as a distinct vehicle of our conscious individual life Each "principle" is composed of its own form of matter, determined and conditioned by its own laws of time, space and motion, and is, as it were, the repository of our various memories and volitions. These seven " principles," starting from the most gross—the physical body, or " Rripa "---become more and more subtle and attenuated until we reach the Universal Self " Atma," the centre as also the matrix of the whole, both individual and universal. Now that which binds together these elements of our nature and maintains their interrelation in their respective spheres of activity—that which determines an individual's powers, his tastes, his opportunities, advantages and drawbacks, in a word, the character—is his " Karma." Broadly speaking, it is the sum of an individual's bodily, mental and spiritual growth; having its roots, as it were, spread over many lives, past and future. The two sentences, " as a man soweth, so must he reap," and " as he reaps so also he must have sown," give comprehensive expression to the idea of Karmic activity. The doctrine of Karma is with modification common to both Buddhism and Brahminism, and in their expositions theosophists have apparently drawn from both sources. The theosophic " Path " to the final goal of emancipation or Nirvana, is in a. great measure derived from the Buddhist literature, available to the English-speaking peoples through numerous excellent translations, more especially those of Professor T. W. Rhys Davids, and also from the many translations in all the European languages of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads. Theosophic teachings on this subject are not, however, exclusively Oriental, for following their contention that they are the exponents of the universal and unchangeable "Wisdom Religion" of all the ages, theosophists have selected from various sources—Vedic, Buddhist, Greek and Cabalistic—certain passages for the purpose of exposition and illustration. To the uninitiated it would appear that this selection has been made, generally speaking, at random; it is at any rate lacking in the wise discrimination one would expect from the supposed source of its inspiration. Nevertheless theosophists by their investigations and expositions have undoubtedly been brought in touch with some of the most profound thought in both ancient and modern worlds; and this fact in itself has assuredly had an inspiring and ennobling influence upon their lives and work. The histories of all the great religious and philosophic movements show them as developments of an evolutionary process, arriving at their accepted dogmas through long periods of contention between numerous tendencies and cross-currents, resulting in some compromises and not a little confusion of thought. So it is in the main with theosophy. It has followed Buddhism in deprecating any reliance upon ritual. Ceremonial and sacrificial observances of all kinds are held to be useless in themselves, but operative for good or ill indirectly by their effect upon the mental attitude of those who practise them. Theosophists insist, however, that all religious observances had their origin in some mystical process, the true meaning of which has in most instances been lost. The Path is represented as the great work whereby the inner nature of the individual is consciously transformed and developed. The views of life held by the ordinary mortal as well as his aims and motives must be radically altered; and simultaneously a change must take place in his modes of speech, conduct and thought. The Path is said to be long and difficult, and with most individuals must extend over many lives. It is divided into four stages, each one representing the degree of spiritual growth and karmic development at which the " chela " or disciple has arrived. But even the entrance upon the very first stage implies some-thing more than, and something fundamentally different from, the life of an ordinary layman, however morally excellent this life may be. Morality, important though it be as preparatory to the " higher life," does not alone lend itself to that awakening of the spiritual faculties without which progress along the Path is not possible. In good citizenship morality is practised out of regard to certain preconceived notions of the needs, the' health and happiness of ourselves, our fellows and the community at large. According to theosophy, it would appear that these notions are for the most part mistaken, or at any rate they are quite insignificant in comparison with the interests with which the traveller along the Path soon finds himself absorbed. It is not that human needs are to be disregarded, but that the pabulum which he now sees that humanity really requires is of an incomparably higher order than that which is generally so considered. 'The physical methods and spiritual exercises re-commended by theosophists are those inculcated in the systems known in Hindu philosophy as Raja Yoga in contradistinction to the Hatha Yoga system, which is most commonly to be met with in India, and in which the material aspects are given greater prominence. The Path has an active and a passive side. Fresh knowledge, new forces and faculties, have to be acquired by positive and strenuous efforts, while, on the other hand, delusions and superstitions are to be abandoned by an attitude of conscious neglect; or to use the phraseology of the Hindus, Avidyi, nescience—the mental state of the unenlightened—through which the individual energies are scattered and dissipated in futile effort, is. gradually replaced by Vidyd, the higher wisdom which dispels the darkness of the mind, awakens our latent faculties and concentrates our efforts in the direction of that harmonious union, which ultimately results in Nirvana. Although the .way of the disciple or " chela " is always represented as long and difficult, it is said that as he proceeds, the transcendental faculties which arise to help him enable him to pursue the right course with ever increasing confidence and security. These powers of the mind, or " siddhi," should never be sought for their own sake, or be used for selfish purposes. The attempt to develop and use them without regard to the higher purpose is spoken of as practising the arts of " black magic," the exercise of which invariably leads to disaster. It is proclaimed that were the " chela " to attempt to make an improper use of his powers—that is to say, were he to yield to the promptings of selfishness, lust or antagonism—such a lapse would at once set in action counteracting forces, which not only retard his upward growth, but which would, were such evil courses persisted in, lead ultimately to the obliteration of all his newly acquired psychic possessions. The Path may also be described in terms of the "seven principles." It may be said to be a process of unification, whereby the centres of volition, consciousness and active memory are systematically shifted upwards from the lower to the higher " principles " until they have become firmly established in the " Buddhi," or " sixth principle." As this last stage is approached the " chela " becomes less and less dependent on the guidance of traditions and scriptures. The truth be-comes revealed to him by the opening of his inner vision, and he learns to see Dharma, the Eternal Law, as it were, face to face. Thus theosophists may be said to accept in their own sense the saying: " He who does the Will shall know the doctrine." Along the Path are ranged ten great obstacles, or fetters, the Buddhist Sanyojanas, which have to be successively over-come before the final goal is reached. As these sanyojanas give a very good idea of what has been termed the negative aspect of the Path, we may enumerate them as follows: 1. The delusion of personality—the belief in a permanent and unchangeable egoentity. 2. Doubt as to the use of the higher efforts, or as to the possibility of solving the great aysteries of life. 3. The reliance upon ritual—seeking salvation through outward acts. 4. Lust. 5. Ill-will, or antagonism. 6. Love of this life and its possessions—" The care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches." 7. The egoistic longing for a future life. 8. Pride. 9. Self-righteousness. Io. Nescience. A few words should be added as to the theosophic hell, or " Avichi." This is described as a long drawn-out dream of bitter memories—a vivid consciousness of failure without volition, or the power of initiative—a dream of lost opportunities and futile regrets, of ambitions thwarted and hopes denied, of neglected duties, abused powers and impotent hate; a dream ending ultimately in the oblivion of utter annihilation. There is no doubt much of valuable suggestion to be found in the philosophic system, or rather the conglomerate of systems, which pass to-day under the name of theosophy; and probably much has been done by means of its propaganda to popularize Eastern thought in the West, and in the East to reawaken a truer appreciation of its own philosophic treasures; but however that may be, the serious student would be well advised to seek his information and his inspiration from the fountain-heads of the theosophists' doctrines, which are all easily accessible in translations; and to avoid the confusions and errors of writers who in most cases have but a superficial if any knowledge of the original languages and systems from which their doctrine has been arbitrarily culled. (ST G. L. F.-P.) TH$OT, CATHERINE (d. 1794), French visionary, was born at Barenton (Manche). From her youth a victim of hallucinations, a long course of religious asceticism in the convent of the Miramiones in Paris unhinged her mind, and she was placed under restraint. Liberated in 1782, her early delusions concerning a Messiah became accentuated; that she was destined to be the mother of the new Messiah, she was now assured; she pictured to her followers the fantastic features of the coming Paradise .on earth; and was hailed as the " Mother of God." From the idea of the advent of a Messiah to its realization was but a step; in Robespierre the Theotists saw the redeemer of mankind; and preparations for his initiation were put in train. The enemies of Robespierre, resenting his theocratic aims, seized upon his relations with the Theotists as an engine of revenge; Catherine, with Gerle (q.v.) and others, was arrested and imprisoned, and a letter to Robespierre discovered in her house: In the Convention M. G. A. Vadier trumped up the conspiracy of Theot, asserting that Catherine was a tool of Pitt, that the mummeries of the Theotists were but a cloak for clerical and reactionary intrigue, and hinting that Robespierre favoured their designs. The case was adjourned to the Revolutionary Tribunal, and figured in the proceedings of the 9th Thermidor. The accused were ultimately acquitted, Catherine herself having died in prison on the 1st of September 1794.
End of Article: ORIENTAL

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