Origins of Theosophy and The Theosophical Society

The history of religions, philosophies and spiritual movements is well documented as far back as the Vedic teachings that originated at least 5000 years ago. Esoteric history traces the thread of spiritual thinking much farther back than the Vedas, to a time when it is said that the gods were present on Earth and impressed on the mind of early humanity the art of spiritual living. The esoteric tradition has it that the nature of the universe is hierarchical in structure – an infinite web of beings acting in co-operation, helping each other along the way in a universal brotherhood. Those who retain for humanity that initial impulse of spiritual knowledge ensure that mankind doesn’t lose touch with its spiritual heritage. This is evident in that the same themes arise in the stream of religions and philosophies that have flourished in every corner of the globe as far back as modern historians have recorded. These perennial spiritual ideas are gaining more credence among students of religion, myth, philosophy, and science, which is increasingly looking towards mysticism to describe theories explaining the nature of man and the universe.

Three Fundamental Propositions

In the Proem of The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky gives Three Fundamental Propositions. Briefly stated:

(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude.

(b) The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically “the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing,” called “the manifesting stars,” and the “sparks of Eternity.”

(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former — through the Cycle of Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term. – 1:14-17

To elaborate, Theosophy restores the belief that we are divine beings and that our true home is the universe, not only this physical planet on which we live. The universe is not only a “boundless plane” physically it is also boundless inwardly, allowing infinite growth of consciousness. All of nature is living and conscious: every atom is at its heart a conscious divinity proceeding on its journey through every kingdom of nature – its physical appearance a dim reflection of its ever-bright inner divinity. Every being around us, including ourselves, alternates between a physical and a spiritual life in a never-ending sequence of action and rest. Each journeying ego must use its own “power source” – its innate divinity – to guide it through the experiences of the physical and spiritual bodies it will inhabit on its journey.

Universal Brotherhood

Universal Brotherhood underpins these perennial ideas, and this is the over-riding message of The Theosophical Society (TS): all of nature shares the same spiritual origin. One of the objectives of the TS is to form a nucleus of men and women irrespective of sex, colour, caste or creed, who will promote the ideal and rationale of brotherhood. Brotherhood may seem like an airy-fairy, impossible ideal, nonetheless it is the theosophic message of the ages, and is so with good reason: it is a fact in nature. Its practical implications – altruism, ethics, peace and understanding among all peoples – is the dynamic message of every religion and spiritual philosophy, and according to Blavatsky and her teachers it is the antidote to man’s suffering.

The Perennial Wisdom

Since the earliest times in human history, individuals have appeared at cyclic intervals to disseminate this knowledge to help mankind during times of suffering and spiritual destitution. This process has been recorded in myths and religions worldwide. In the Greek Mystery Tradition it was known as the Golden Chain of Hermes, and in Sanskrit it is called guruparampara – an uninterrupted succession of spiritual teachers, alluded to by Krishna when he said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita “I produce myself among creatures, O son of Bharata, whenever there is a decline of virtue and an insurrection of vice and injustice in the world; and thus I incarnate from age to age for the preservation of the just, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of righteousness,” Bhagavad-Gita Recension by W. Q. Judge, TUP, p.14.

Other Names for The Wisdom-Religion

Although the message of brotherhood is fundamentally the same, the way the Wisdom-Religion is presented changes through the ages, along with the names it goes by. The ancient Hindus called it gupta-vidya (secret knowledge), the Neoplatonists and Gnostics knew it as gnosis (knowledge), many Buddhists called it aryajnana (exalted knowledge). The name used by H. P. Blavatsky for the modern presentation of the perennial philosophy is Theosophy. Originally used by the Neoplatonists in the early centuries AD, the word translates as theo meaning god, and sophia meaning wisdom – so roughly “divine wisdom”.

Formation of The Theosophical Society

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

In 1875 H. P. Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge, together with like-minded others formed The Theosophical Society whose objectives were “to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe.” The objectives of the Society were later expanded to: 1) To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, colour, or creed; 2) To study ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy; 3) To investigate the powers innate in man. In 1877 H.P. Blavatsky published her first major work Isis Unveiled which was, in her words “the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science” and it demonstrates that the Ancient Wisdom underpins modern science and religion. The next year, Blavatsky and Olcott travelled to India where, in 1882, they established an international headquarters at Adyar. Judge meanwhile remained in America where he lectured on Theosophy and established Branches of the Society. Olcott lectured in many parts of India and Asia, while Blavatsky, as Corresponding Secretary, spent much of her time meeting people, writing letters, articles and books, all promoting the ideals and ideas of Theosophy. HPB moved to London in 1887 where she published her next major work, The Secret Doctrine, in 1888. This was an expansion of Isis Unveiled and outlined the whole scheme of the ancient wisdom from the evolution of the universe to the evolution of Man.

Henry Steele Olcott

Henry Steele Olcott

In May of 1891 H. P. Blavatsky passed away. After her death the parent organisation split into two Societies : One with headquarters in Adyar with Olcott as President, the other with headquarters in America with Judge as Leader. Both Societies have continued up to the present day, and in the mean time other groups have been formed, such as the United Lodge of Theosophists founded by Robert Crosbie.

The TS wasn’t formed for the benefit of its members. Its aims are more far reaching than helping a few individuals understand occult law. William Quan Judge stated that the aim of the Society was “to change the buddhi and manas of the Race” (mind and understanding).

William Quan Judge

William Quan Judge

Partly to address this point and also to state in general terms what was hoped the Society would accomplish if it followed along its original lines, HP Blavatsky wrote in The Key To Theosophy if the TS should…

“live on into and through the twentieth century. It will gradually leaven and permeate the great mass of thinking and intelligent people with its large-minded and noble ideas of Religion, Duty, and Philanthropy. Slowly but surely it will burst asunder the iron fetters of creeds and dogmas, of social and caste prejudices; it will break down racial and national antipathies and barriers, and will open the way to the practical realisation of the Brotherhood of all men. Through its teaching, through the philosophy which it has rendered accessible and intelligible to the modern mind, the West will learn to understand and appreciate the East at its true value. Further, the development of the psychic powers and faculties, the premonitory symptoms of which are already visible in America, will proceed healthily and normally. Mankind will be saved from the terrible dangers, both mentally and bodily, which are inevitable when that unfolding takes place, as it threatens to do, in a hotbed of selfishness and all evil passions. Man’s mental and psychic growth will proceed in harmony with his moral improvement, while his material surroundings will reflect the peace and fraternal goodwill which will reign in his mind, instead of the discord and strife which is everywhere around us apparent today”p.305-6

Writing in 2002, Grace F. Knoche (the Society’s previous Leader) notes that there is a…

“global awakening now taking place, where thousands of men and women of varying interests and backgrounds knowingly or unknowingly, are on the same wavelength: they are fired with the urgency to do all in their power to help turn humanity from senseless self-destruction to thoughtful self-regeneration. They labor for the safeguarding of human dignity and self-worth, for the protection of our planet, and for the building of a new type of civilisation founded on the brotherhood of all life and the joyous collaboration of all peoples and races for the benefit of the whole of humanity”

To Light A Thousand Lamps, Foreword

and she continues…

“Patently, we are in the midst of a critical period where the light energies are in direct contest with the dark forces – not only on the national and international scene, but within our own natures. Unless we begin now, individually and collectively, to rely on our own inner strength, we will have little to draw upon in future crises. This isn’t the time to lean on great leaders; it isn’t the time to wait for a messenger. If we feel that the odds are overwhelmingly against our steadfast efforts to hold aloft the torch of hope, let us recall Mother Teresa. When asked how she could bear up under the enormity of suffering she witnessed daily, without any possibility of her stemming the tide appreciably, she replied: “One and one and one: I look only at the child or the old man or woman I am tending; if I thought of the millions and millions who need my help I could do nothing.”
It seems to me that every human being has within him the power to do what is required: privately and unnoticed to follow the lead of his higher self….In this manner will we strengthen the light-impulses that are gaining in number and momentum, and by so much fortify the compassionate labors of those who work unceasingly for all nations and for the unborn, and who are, even now, readying the way for the dawn of a brighter age”

Ibid., p.169-70

The Theosophical Society continues to make available the teachings of Theosophy as presented by H. P. Blavatsky through literature published at Theosophical University Press, Altadena, California, online Theosophical books, periodicals and articles via its website, correspondence courses, and public meetings and discussion groups around the world.

Further information on Theosophy and The Theosophical Society.