Compass Newsletter Autumn 2021 No.46

The Fogs Must Lift
‘Doing’ Theosophy
A DREAM — Grace Frances Knoche
DUTY — Hannah Berman
The Star Thrower

I would never let the least fear or despair come before me, but if I cannot see the road, nor the goal for the fog, I would simply sit down and wait; I would not allow the fog to make me think no road was there, and that I was not to pass it. The fogs must lift.

W.Q. Judge, Letters That Have Helped Me

‘Doing’ Theosophy

When we engage with Theosophy we are picking up a thread begun in a previous life, at least, but in the mists of time who knows when. It is an engagement taken willingly for the impulse rests in our soul. Intellectual standing means little, though we will develop it. The mixing of the intellectual with the spiritual, in balance, will be required. This balance will be proportional to our natural capability and will be progressive and a long course of labour in this respect is necessary. A love of truth and wisdom will be the impulse and we, in turn, will be the provider of that to others. Unflinching courage, devotion and perseverance is constantly required, again in proportion to our ability. None is asked to do more than they are capable of. Each is motivated by an earnest purpose to learn the truth wherever that may be found. We encounter expanding horizons of truth realising the universe will always be much richer than our ability to understand it and how we experience it unfolds as we progress.

We can’t know Theosophy without ‘doing’ Theosophy. We can’t know harmony till we are incapable of causing disharmony. We can’t know Brotherhood without ‘doing’ Theosophy in our daily life and applying those concepts in whatever way presented. Only ‘doing’ Theosophy brings us into contact with all the concepts of Theosophy. ‘Doing’ Theosophy is no more than living our daily life informed by our understanding of Theosophical concepts. This will not be the same for all for we are all different. The Key to Theosophy has the statement ‘…that no man can rise superior to his individual failings, without lifting, be it ever so little, the whole body of which he is an integral part’…There will be times when the task seems too difficult to carry out but as Mr. Judge advises ‘the fogs must lift’. There is no examiner. There is no arbiter. These reside within ourselves and it is to ourselves we must answer. There should be no thought of ‘not doing enough’. Doing what we can is enough. It was a decision taken willingly in the knowledge the end is good and correct.

A DREAM — Grace Frances Knoche

Many years ago I had a dream which I shall now relate as it came to me, with no addition or subtraction of essential points. I do so with the hope that it may bring help to those others who at times may feel the erosion of despair.

It occurred one afternoon, when sick with discouragement and the sharp pain of loneliness, I lay down to rest, wondering why? why? why? The next thing I knew I found myself completely surrounded by water; in fact I was right in it, but I had no feeling of wetness, or inability to breathe. On and on I drifted in the blue water, without apparent reason, until suddenly I was startled by the projection of a sheer precipice of yellow sandstone directly in front of me. The waters had apparently receded, and I saw that the cliff dropped inimitably downwards into a cavern of blackness, and likewise loomed far upwards into the blue of the sky. Up and down I looked, wondering strangely what was going to happen. I knew I must do something, but what? I could attempt to scale the precipice with the hope of freedom, but this seemed quite impossible; or on the other hand, I could simply let myself fall and be lost in the bottomless cavern of black death. But choose I must. I did not want to die, yet in looking up it seemed that that was all that could possibly result, no matter what I did.

A few more seconds passed while I waited, letting time help me if it would. Suddenly something within me said: You can try.

It may be death. But better to die fighting than succumb without any effort. Even if you fail and fall headlong to certain death, at least you’ll have done your best. So try I did, and for a while I made slow but steady headway with the assistance of niches that my desperate hands fought to grip. After what seemed an eternity of struggle hope rose in my heart as I visioned the top and saw that with but one more effort I could hoist myself over. But as suddenly the scene shifted, and instead of the near release I had just glimpsed, I saw that the yellow sandstone had changed to hard black rock, clean-cut and glistening in its cruel outline, looming far above, and this time absolutely bereft of any helpful niche. To my horror, the blackness below took shape and alluring figures seemed beckoning me to come to them. Up and down, down and up, I looked, fascinated, yet with the clammy hand of fear freezing my heart, my blood congealed, and for a moment sheer terror gripped me — but no, I would not give myself to Death without a struggle. I would fight.

With all the strength of my soul I determined to make one more effort, and if I didn’t succeed, all right, I didn’t care. So calling upon every resource of spirit, soul, and body, I made one titanic effort— and lo! invisible arms seemed to lift my tired body, and I felt supported by a strength superior to any I had previously known. I was free, lying peacefully in the sand, and I felt the beauty and the subtil freedom of self-respect. I knew in my heart that no one could ever defeat me except myself. From whence this help had come to me I did not then know; it was not until later when I had come in contact with the Theosophical philosophy as given to the world by H. P. Blavatsky, that I realized that back and behind and inspirer of all our life, was this strong companion, this Inner God within each human being, and that if the human part of us would rely upon this elder brother, despair and the torment of loneliness need never completely sub merge one. “Man is composite,” said the Buddha to his disciples in his dying message. “Be lamps unto yourselves, and work out your own liberation.”

The Theosophical Forum March 1938


Aesop, the wise and witty Greek writer who lived more than two thousand years ago, told in one of his pointed little stories, of an alleged quarrel between the various members or parts of the body, as to which ranked first in importance, each in turn boasting ridiculously of its superiority over the others. The story, of course, was intended to carry a lesson to some of the great men of the day, who were even then, in their personal pride and vain-glory, engaging among themselves, in the dissensions which ultimately destroyed the unity of Greece, and brought down her splendid civilisation to the dust. Yet the story has a much wider application than the temporary one for which it was written, for it illustrates the truth taught in Theosophy, that neither man nor any other being in all Creation can live to itself alone, but that all existent things are bound together by underlying laws of unity and harmony, which cannot be broken except under penalty of disorder, suffering and unhappiness.

To understand this fact, we turn to the Theosophical explanation of the structure of life, which shows that the entire Universal economy is built or arranged as an organic unity, each part being not only an essential adjunct to every other part, but also an essential component of the whole. This law runs throughout all existence whether on the lowly scale of the atomic, physical structure of things, or on the higher phases of nature which we call consciousness and intelligence. Even in the structure and workings of the living human body, as Aesop so aptly discerned, this principle shows itself with striking clearness. Every tiny atom in the fabric of the body has its part to play in the well-being of the organ which contains it. Every organ likewise has its particular essential part to play in promoting the harmonious functioning of the body as a whole. Thus every lower part, by the very nature of things, serves all that is greater than itself. The greater reciprocates by being the link which holds each lower part in harmonious association with its neighbours. Health is nothing more nor less than the efficient operation of this fundamental law of spontaneous, mutual interchange throughout the body. Disease exists only when the law is broken.The purpose of Theosophy, we repeat, is to point out the existence of certain basic principles or laws which run through the whole fabric of life. If this is so, then we should be able to discover the above described principle repeated in other aspects of our lives. Surely we cannot fail to do so.

Consider for instance the example chosen by Aesop. Do you not see, as clearly as Aesop saw, that the laws of organic unity apply as literally in the life of a nation, as in the physical constitution of its individual citizens? In terms of the nation, you and I are the “atoms.” Our hometown or county, in which we accept the burdens of civic duty is the “organ” which we serve. The towns and counties, in their united aspect, make up the “body politic” of the nation. Reciprocally, the national organisation returns benefit to the towns and counties by instituting and controlling educational, legal, and other general services whose application is wider than that of any particular town or county. The civic authorities, in turn reciprocate to the citizens in terms of local services, and the preservation of peace, law and order within their own areas. Thus the organisation of a nation is good or bad according to how well or ill it expresses these basic principles of mutual service. Peace, freedom, happiness, progress (the “health” of a nation) exist where all parties high and low, shoulder ungrudgingly the full burdens of their respective positions. On the other hand, poverty, strife, crime and discontent are the disease of the body social, arising where mutual service and obligation have been ignored, and personal greed, vainglory, and self-interest allowed to hold sway. It was the beginnings of such undisciplined individualism that Aesop sought to stamp out in the civilisation of his own time. He failed, and the glory of Greece died out in internal turmoil. Are not our nations today (and likewise that wider “nation” which is all humanity) suffering from exactly the same sort of trouble arising inevitably from unbridled self-seeking among all classes of the community?

The constitution of the family group expresses the same law of organic unity. So does the natural organisational system of a factory or a Theosophical Lodge, and a ship’s crew, or a school. And in each case the penalties arising from undisciplined selfishness are the same, namely, chaos, deprivation, inefficiency, unhappiness. Remember also, that no organic unity of which we are “part” (and we are all part of many such in our complex lives) needs to claim all our lives, all our service, for itself — only such part as reasonably belongs within its particular scope. Thus undoubtedly a large part of our lives must be devoted — and should be devoted, gladly and willingly — to the wide variety of duties proper to our age and stations. Yet an important part and particularly the part within ourselves, should remain free for the development of our own individuality. It is, if you like, our wider duty to the whole Universal Organism, that we should maintain a free mind, free thoughts, and a courageous experimental attitude toward the deeper things of life. To such a man, life may be full of duties, but he can never be a slave, for he has that which is beyond the reach of tyranny — a free soul.

The Theosophical Forum, June 1938


The mistake is being made by a great many persons, among them being Theosophists, of applying several of the doctrines current in Theosophical literature, to only one or two phases of a question or to only one thing at a time, limiting rules which have universal application to a few cases, when in fact all those doctrines which have been current in the East for so long a time should be universally applied. For instance, take the law of Karma. Some people say, “yes we believe in that,” but they only apply it to human beings. They consider it only in its relation to their own acts or to the acts of all men. Sometimes they fail to see that it has its effect not only on themselves and their fellows, but as well on the greatest Mahatmas. Those great Beings are not exempt from it; in fact they are, so to say, more bound by it than we are. Although they are said to be above Karma, this is only to be taken to mean that, having escaped from the wheel of Samsara (which means the wheel of life and death, or rebirths), and in that sense are above Karma, at the same time we will find them often unable to act in a given case. Why? If they have transcended Karma, how can it be possible that in any instance they may not break the law, or perform certain acts which to us seem to be proper at just that juncture? Why can they not, say in the case of a chela who has worked for them and for the cause, for years with the most exalted unselfishness, interfere and save him from suddenly falling or being overwhelmed by horrible misfortune; or interfere to help or to direct a movement? It is because they have become part of the great law of Karma itself. It would be impossible for them to lift a finger.

Again, we know that at a certain period of progress, far above this sublunary world, the adept reaches a point when he may, if he so chooses, formulate a wish that he might be one of the Devas, one of that bright host of beings of whose pleasure, glory and power we can have no idea. The mere formulation of the wish is enough. At that moment he becomes one of the Devas. He then for a period of time in its extent incalculable, enjoys that condition — then what? Then he has to begin again low down in the scale, in a mode and for a purpose which it would be useless to detail here, because it could not be understood, and also because I am not able to put it in any language with which I am conversant. In this, then, is not this particular adept who thus fell, subject to the law of Karma?

There is in the Hindoo books a pretty story which illustrates this. A certain man heard that every day a most beautiful woman rose up out of the sea, and combed her hair. He resolved that he would go to see her. He went, and she rose up as usual. He sprang into the sea behind her, and with her went down to her abode. There he lived with her for a vast length of time. One day she said she had to go away and stated that he must not touch a picture which was on the wall, and then departed. In a few days, fired by curiosity, he went to look at the picture; saw that it was an enameled one of a most ravishingly beautiful person, and he put out his hand to touch it. At that moment the foot of the figure suddenly enlarged, flew out from the frame, and sent him back to the scenes of earth, where he met with only sorrow and trouble.The law of Karma must be applied to everything. Nothing is exempt from it. It rules the vital molecule from plant up to Brahma himself. Apply it then to the vegetable, animal and human kingdom alike.

Another law is that of Reincarnation. This is not to be confined only to the souls and bodies of men. Why not use it for every branch of nature to which it may be applicable? Not only are we, men and women, reincarnated, but also every molecule of which our bodies are composed. In what way, then, can we connect this rule with all of our thoughts? Does it apply there? It seems to me that it does, and with as much force as anywhere. Each thought is of definite length. It does not last for over what we may call an instant, but the time of its duration is in fact much shorter. It springs into life and then it dies; but it is at once reborn in the form of another thought. And thus the process goes on from moment to moment, from hour to hour, from day to day. And each one of these reincarnated thoughts lives its life, some good, some bad, some so terrible in their nature that if we could see them we would shrink back in affright. Further than that, a number of these thoughts form themselves into a certain idea, and it dies to be reincarnated in its time. Thus on rolls this vast flood. Will it overwhelm us? It may; it often does. Let us then make our thoughts pure. Our thoughts are the matrix, the mine, the fountain, the source of all that we are and of all that we may be.

Reprinted from The Occult World, Rochester, N.Y. May 1886

DUTY — Hannah Berman

“Stern daughter of the voice of God,” is Wordsworth’s definition of Duty.

It would be hard to find a word which is more misused, more misrepresented and made more of an opportunist than the word “duty.” In the dictionary of conduct its definition is legion. It can be made to fit so many different gaps and lapses and promises unfulfilled. Actually it is almost impossible to define it sufficiently clearly and satisfactorily to fit all cases. Duty itself is related to the spiritual part of man’s make-up and is so wrapped around with impulses and so dissected by mind and intellect that its definition becomes an individual matter and varies accordingly. Of course, on broad lines — very broad lines, it can be defined. Shelley calls it:

The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.

But that definition, though utterly beautiful, is not plain enough for the plain man. A study of Theosophy gives not one but many clues to the real meaning of the word. Here one finds that duty is very closely related to the doctrine of Karman, the law of cause and effect. The whole realm of nature is so ordered that nothing happens by “accident.” Everything fits into a pattern like pieces into a jig-saw puzzle and follows a natural sequence. The smallest piece has its own place and can make or mar the perfection of the finished pattern. So in the pattern of Nature and the Universe.

“Thou canst not stir a flower without the troubling of a star.”

We must inevitably reap what we sow unless we make some definite individual effort to deflect the stream of events. “We make today our chances for tomorrow.” We are our own destiny! Where, then, amidst all this comes “duty?”

First, Theosophy answers, lies duty to humanity; then like concentric circles, come duty to race, to country, to family, and lastly to self.

The difficulty lies in reconciling all these apparently different duties and making them fit into each other. Very often duties seem to be conflicting and then it is a test for the individual to work out the problem for himself.

Theosophy is full of wisdom and guidance to those who seek these ideals and will always point out the way when other standards fail.

The test of any ideas or ideals in the realm of good or not good is their universality. If this thought is really understood it is a great help on the way towards working out the definition of duty. From Light on the Path comes a seemingly paradoxical statement:

Desire only that which is within you.
Desire only that which is beyond you.

seemingly contradictory, but not really so. Men must always strive for that which seems out of reach, but which is within them and always beyond them because there is no end to the striving. “The ideal must always exceed the real or what’s a heaven for?” Duty must never be allowed to become a rigid unlovely thing; because the moment it does so, it loses the bloom of its inspiration. Then what looks like duty is actually a hard, unrelenting, obstinate and always unwilling service. Real loving service done in a spirit of brotherhood is real duty and it is always a beautiful ideal to follow. Sometimes it falls to one’s lot to carry out a duty which is repellent and which appears to contradict all one’s ideas and ideals. In this case one has to dig deep and look searchingly “within” and “beyond” and view the matter impersonally before one can decide where duty lies. One might have to perform loathsome tasks; but looking beyond the farthest horizon through black clouds of doubt and horror one can see the gleam of sunshine ahead and know that the only thing to do is the duty that lies nearest. The quintessence of the meaning of duty lies in the concluding words of the poet:

Give unto me, made lowly wise
The spirit of self sacrifice.

or in the words of The Voice of the Silence:

To live to benefit mankind is the first step.
To practise the six glorious virtues is the second.

The Theosophical Forum – March 1944


This is a Question and Answer reprinted from The Theosophical Forum, December, 1895. The date of the publication of this statement is of no particular significance, but the answer by W. Q. Judge, second Leader of the Theosophical Society, is something that all generations of Theosophists should study and, in the light of its generous and far sighted expression, measure to what extent they themselves approach this standard. — Eds.

Question — The fundamental question, “What is the criterion of Theosophy?” calls for an answer. Has Theosophy the power of growth, progress and advancement in line with all new expositions of truth? In the minds of many the writings of H. P. B. are regarded as the infallible oracles of Theosophy. But in time criticism is sure to do its work. Consequently it is necessary soon to give out a definition of it much broader, simpler, and more unequivocal than any heretofore offered.

W. Q. Judge — This is in fact a request to formulate and promulgate a dogmatic statement of Theosophy as we understand it. That is, to go completely back on the genius of the Theosophical movement, which is for the destruction of dogmatism. The strength of Theosophy lies in the fact that it is not to be defined. It is the wisdom of the gods, or of nature. This means that evolution, slowly progressing, will bring out new truths and new aspects of old truths, thus absolutely preventing any dogmas or “unequivocal definitions.” Were we to make and declare a definition of Theosophy it would be only the words of those who participated in drawing it up, and not acceptable to all. And were it possible that all would accept, then would be sounded the doom of the movement. Hence the reply to the question, “What is the criterion of Theosophy?” is that it is found in each man’s perception of the Truth: therefore there is no single criterion.

If any persons regard H. P. B.’s writings as the infallible oracles of Theosophy, they go directly against her own words and the works themselves; they must be people who do not indulge in original thinking and cannot make much impression on the times.

As for the Theosophical Society, the moment it makes a hard and fast definition of Theosophy it will mark the first hour of its decay.

Inasmuch as Theosophy is the whole body of truth about man and nature, either known now or hereafter to be discovered, it has the “power of growth, progress and advancement,” since every new truth makes it clearer. But among the truths will not be reckoned at any time the definitions, dogmas, creeds or beliefs laid down by man.

The Theosophical Forum, August 1944

The Star Thrower

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. “Surely you realise that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”


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