What is Theosophy?

Theosophy is a Greek term meaning Divine Wisdom, said to be the synthesis of religion, philosophy and science.  During the Dark Ages this wisdom was only taught in secret to dedicated pupils, but during the last century it became available to all seekers after spiritual truth, and its promulgation was intended to act as a counter-balance in our present age of scientific materialism. Theosophy is a Greek term meaning Divine Wisdom, said to be the synthesis of religion, philosophy and science.  During the Dark Ages this wisdom was only taught in secret to dedicated pupils, but during the last century it became available to all seekers after spiritual truth, and its promulgation was intended to act as a counter-balance in our present age of scientific materialism.
Two main teachings are stressed in Theosophy – Reincarnation and Karma.  Reincarnation means the successive births of every individual in a new human body, on this earth, birth and death following each other like waking and sleeping so that a period of activity is followed by a period of rest and assimilation.  Karma, meaning ‘action’, is the law of cause and effect, action and reaction being equal and opposite.
Put into practical terms, these two doctrines, called twins since one cannot be considered without the other, supply a rational and satisfactory explanation of what appears to be gross injustice in our lives.  Obviously we are not born equal, either physically or mentally, and our sense of justice demands a better explanation than laying the blame on the will of God or Fate.
If we realized the real implication of the Biblical injunction that “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” and if we applied this in our thoughts and actions, the quality of life would be immeasurably improved, eventually permeating the whole fabric of society.
A belief in reincarnation, which is accepted by two-thirds of the world’s population, would remove the fear of death, putting it in its proper place as a part of living, a door into a new state of consciousness free of the limitations of the physical body.
During the period between physical lives, the immortal man, the undying individuality, assimilates the experience and lessons of the life just ended, so that when the time comes to enter a new body again, he will be wiser and better able to cope with life’s problems as they arise.
Theosophical students revere all the great teachers and sages of history, as examples of what is possible for every individual.  “I have said, ye are gods and children of the most High.”
The third basic idea in Theosophy is that of the unity of all life and human brotherhood as a fact, not a sentimental opinion.
We are very aware today of the interdependence in the chain of life in the kingdoms below man.  Theosophy always taught this, but in addition includes mankind.  We are all parts of the greater life, sparks of Divinity, united like the fingers of one hand, and we have learned that when one finger is injured the whole hand suffers.
These three basic ideas are the foundation of Theosophy and can be grasped even by a child, although the deeper reaches of the philosophy have given great minds their fullest scope and will satisfy the spiritual longings of those who are gradually turning away from self-centered materialistic living.
( Dorita Gilmour, from The Eclectic Theosophist, Jan 15, 1978 )

Gems from the East

Gems from the East

Days end with sunset, nights with the rising of the sun; the end of pleasure is ever grief, the end of grief ever pleasure.

Two things are impossible in this world of Maya: to enjoy more that Karma hath allotted; to die before one’s hour hath struck.

Seek refuge in thy soul; have there thy Heaven! Scorn them that follow virtue for her gifts!

Patience leads to power, but lust leads to loss.

The soul ripens in tears.

A narrow stomach may be filled to its satisfaction, but a narrow mind will never be satisfied, not even with all the riches of the world.

A learned man without pupils, is a tree which bears no fruit; a devotee without good works, is a dwelling without a door.

When Fate overtakes us, the eye of Wisdom becomes blind.

He who keeps to his business, he who loves his companions, he who does his duty, will never be poor.

He who knows not his own worth, will never appreciate the worth of others.

Whomsoever Riches do not exalt, poverty will not abase, nor calamity cast him down.

All the air resounds with the presence of spirit and spiritual laws.

[from “Gems from the East, A Birthday Book of Precepts and Axioms,” compiled by H. P. Blavatsky, which consists of a quote or axiom for every day of the year.


Why 360 Degrees?


                                  – L. Gordon Plummer

The division of the circle into 360 equal parts called ‘degrees’ is very ancient. The early astronomers and mathematicians who divided it thus, knew well what they were about, and if we embark upon a short excursion into the mystic Land of Numbers we shall soon learn that there are wonderful correspondences between cycles of time and geometrical form. Let us first study the interesting astronomical cycle known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.

Those who have studied astronomy will recall that the points on the Earth’s orbit where it is crossed by the plane of the celestial equator, move slowly westward, making the complete circle in nearly 26,000 years. The number as reckoned by the ancients is 25,920 years. This cycle is known as the Precessional Cycle because the points of intersection above referred to are the points on the Earth’s orbit where the planet is at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and these equinoctial points move very slowly in the clockwise direction, while the Earth travels once around its orbit counter-clockwise every year, in other words, the time of equinox ‘precedes’ that of the year before. Hence the word ‘precession.’

The ecliptic is the great celestial circle in whose plane the Earth moves in its orbit, and as the other planets move in orbits whose planes are nearly identical with that of the Earth, these other planets actually, and the Sun apparently, move in the ecliptic. As we move along this circle or track in one year the Sun appears to pass across 12 great constellations called the Constellations of the Zodiac. The ecliptic is divided into 12 equal areas, which take their names from these 12 constellations, and therefore these divisions are called the Signs of the Zodiac. Imagine now the ecliptic (in which the Earth’s orbit lies ) to be a great wheel revolving slowly in the heavens. The point on the Earth’s orbit – and hence on the ecliptic – where the Earth passes through the vernal, or spring, equinox marks the beginning of the first of the 12 divisions, and they are reckoned counter-clockwise, or eastward. Since, as we have observed, the point of the vernal – and consequently of the autumnal – equinox moves westward, we may consider that it carries the ecliptic along with it. The great circle turns round and round in the heavens, and requires 25,920 years to make one revolution. The Signs of the Zodiac then move with it because they are a part of it. Thus, the Sign of Aries, which begins at the spring equinoctial point and the ecliptic, and which once occupied a position in the sky identical with the constellation Aries, has shifted, and is now entering the constellation Aquarius. That is to say, the Sun is now in the Constellation Aquarius at the time of the spring equinox, whereas it was once in the constellation Aries at the same equinox.

It is obvious that since the first point in the sign of Aries – usually called the ‘first point of Aries’ – takes 25,920 years to pass around the Zodiac, or across the 12 constellations, it will take one-twelfth of that time or 2,160 years to pass through one constellation, assuming for the moment that all the constellations occupy equal portions of the sky. This number, 2,160 years, is extremely important, because it is a basic factor in computing the ages of the Earth, and the Rounds and Races, as also in counting the numbers of degrees in the geometrical solids. Further, the length of the Messianic Cycle, or Cycle of certain Avataras is 2,160 years. A point of great interest is that the cube, which was anciently held to symbolize Man, has for the sum of its plane angles, 2,160′. The cube unfolded into a plane surface becomes a cross. At the commencement of the Avataric Cycle of 2,160 years a candidate for the highest initiation is placed upon a cruciform couch, and while his body remains there, his spirit soars through the inner realms of the spiritual world, reaching at last the ‘Heart of the Sun.’ When he arises from the couch, he does so as a glorified Adept, a Teacher of Men.

But we have digressed somewhat from the purpose in view, that is, to find out just why the circle is divided into 360 degrees. So let us note that the number 2,160 is 10 times the cube of 6. Now the cube of 6 is equal to the sum of the cubes of 3, 4, and 5. Among the important numbers, the numbers 3, 4, and 5 play a leading part in the building of form. The five regular polyhedrons, held so sacred by the ancients, are built upon the 3, 4 and 5. At some future time, we may devote an article to the study of these most interesting figures, so we will make but few allusions to them here.

There are five regular solids in geometry. These are: the icosahedron, having 30 edges, 20 equilateral triangular faces, and 12 vertices; the dodecahedron having also 30 edges, but 12 pentagonal faces, and 20 vertices; the cube with 12 edges, 6 quadrilateral faces, and 8 vertices; the octahedron having also 12 edges, but 8 triangular faces, and 6 vertices; and the tetrahedron, or triangular pyramid, having 6 edges, 4 triangular faces, and 4 vertices. The numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 play a very important part in the building of these figures, both as to the numbers of faces, vertices, or edges in them, and as to the numbers of degrees in their angles. These figures are the working out in geometrical form of the same principles which are behind the manifested universe, which, before manifestation, may be represented by the circle. A circle may be divided into 3 equal arcs, each of these into 4ths, each resulting 12th part into 5ths, and the resulting 60ths, into 6 equal parts each, and the whole will be then divided into 360 equal parts, or degrees. Now the product of 3, 4, 5 and 6, or 360, divided by their sum, or 18, gives us 20, a number suggestive of the icosahedron, the most complex of the geometrical solids. Lines may be drawn, joining interiorly all the points of the icosahedron, and we shall find that within it we have a new figure, the dodecahedron. The dodecahedron, having 30 edges as well as the icosahedron, we have now 60 lines. (Note that 60 is the product of 3,4, and 5.) The dodecahedron was considered to represent the solar system – the 12 faces, symbolic of the 12 Signs of the Zodiac – and the icosahedron, the outer stars.

Suppose, now, that we take a circle, and divide the circumference into 10 equal arcs, suggestive of the 10 planes of consciousness, join each point with every other point . . . . . and we have drawn the icosahedron surrounding the dodecahedron! The point at the center of the circle, where some of the lines cross, becomes in reality 2 points, coinciding and forming the north and south poles of the icosahedron.

Now the circle here represents the Unmanifested, which, however, as soon as manifestation takes place becomes 10 Cosmic planes. These Cosmic planes we have learned to divide into sub-planes, 10 in each, as follows: 3 subjective or formless planes: 4 intermediate planes, upon which the globe-chains which belong to that particular cosmic plane manifest; then 3 lower planes of a substance and energy lower in vibration even than the lowest of the seven globes of the planetary chains occupying the four intermediate planes. Thus the planes can be numbered, 3, 4 and 3. (Incidentally, the number 343 is the cube of 7, the number of manifestation.) These sub-planes are not to be considered as layers in a cake, but are interpenetrating. Suppose, then, we divide in this fashion each of the 10 arcs of our circle: first, into 3 equal parts, each of which will be one-thirtieth of the whole, each of these into 4ths, making 120ths, then each of these into 3rds again, and we have our circle divided once more into 360 equal parts, or degrees.

To sum up, then, we find that the numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6, and also the number 10 considered as the sum of 3, 4 and 3 are of especial interest and importance in connexion with the number of degrees in the circle, because they represent active agents in the constructive side of Nature. The number 12 (the sum of 3, 4 and 5) has a particular function which will require further consideration, but it may here be said that the numbers 11 and 12 represent the zenith and the nadir of any hierarchy of 10 planes, because they represent the higher and lower connecting-points, as it were, between that hierarchy and the ones above and below it. The relations between the numbers are as intricate, apparently, as are the lines of the geometrical figure here illustrated, yet when we have a bird’s-eye view of the whole subject, we can see clearly the part that each number has to play.

And we have but touched the shores of the mystic Land of Numbers. We shall set sail again and find out more about the geometrical solids. Wonderful are the lessons we can learn about Nature and her majestic laws, and sublime is the inspiration that will come to us if we approach her with eager hearts, and a love of Truth, free from personal desires.

Theosophical Path, Jan., 1934


The Earth


. . . . One night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet. Below marched the suburban street lamps. Windows, their curtains drawn, were shut eyes, inwardly watching the lives of dreams. Beyond the seas’s level darkness a lighthouse pulsed. Overhead, obscurity.

I distinguished our own house, our islet in the tumultuous and bitter currents of the world. There, for a decade and a half, we two, so different in quality, had grown in and in to one another, for mutual support and nourishment, in intricate symbiosis. There daily we planned our several undertakings, and recounted the day’s oddities and vexations. There letters piled up to be answered, socks to be darned. There the children were born, those sudden new lives. There, under that roof, our own two lives, recalcitrant sometimes to one another, were all the while thankfully one, one larger, more conscious life than either alone.

All this, surely, was good. Yet there was bitterness. And bitterness not only invaded us from the world; it welled up also within our own magic circle. For horror at our futility, at our own unreality, and not only at the world’s delirium, had driven me out on to the hill.

We were always hurrying from one little urgent task to another, but the upshot was unsubstantial. Had we, perhaps, misconceived our whole existence? Were we, as it were, living from false premises? And in particular, this partnership of ours, this seemingly so well-based fulcrum for activity in the world, was it after all nothing but a little eddy of complacent and ingrown domesticity, ineffectively whirling on the surface of the great flux, having in itself no depth of being, and no significance? Had we perhaps after all deceived ourselves? Behind those rapt windows did we, like so many others, indeed live only a dream? In a sick world even the hale are sick. And we two, spinning our little life mostly by rote, seldom with clear cognizance, seldom with firm intent, were products of a sick world.

Yet this life of ours was not all sheer and barren fantasy. Was it not spun from the actual fibres of reality, which we gathered in with all the comings and goings through our door, all our traffic with the suburb and the city and with remoter cities, and with the ends of the earth? And were we not spinning together an authentic expression of our own nature? Did not our life issue daily as more or less firm threads of active living and mesh itself into the growing web, the intricate, ever-proliferating pattern of mankind?

I considered “us” with quiet interest and a kind of amused awe. How could I describe our relationship even to myself without either disparaging it or insulting it with the tawdry decoration of sentimentality? For this our delicate balance of dependence and independence, this coolly critical, shrewdly ridiculing, but loving mutual contact, was surely a microcosm of true community, was after all in its simple style an actual and living example of that high goal which the world seeks.

The whole world? The whole universe? Overheard, obscurity unveiled a star. One tremulous arrow of light, projected how many thousands of years ago, now stung my nerves with vision, and my heart with fear. For in such a universe as this what significance could there be in our fortuitous, our frail, our evanescent community?

But now irrationally I was seized with a strange worship, not, surely of the star, that mere furnace which mere distance falsely sanctified, but of something other, which the dire contrast of the star and us signified to the heart. Yet what, what could thus be signified? Intellect, peering beyond the star, discovered no Star Maker, but only darkness; no Love, no Power even, but only Nothing. And yet the heart praised.

– Olaf Stapledon [from Starmaker, 1937]

Fundamental Buddhist Beliefs

Buddhist Temple

The following text is of the fourteen items of belief which have been accepted as fundamental principles in both the Southern and Northern sections of Buddhism, by authoritative committees to whom they were submitted by me personally…… [ – H. S. Olcott (1881) ]
I. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom.

II. The universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.

III. The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world-periods, by certain illuminated beings called BUDDHAS, the name BUDDHA meaning “Enlightened”.

IV. The fourth Teacher in the present kalpa was Sakya Muni, or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.

V. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth, the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.

VI. Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.

VII. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.

VIII. The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.

IX. Sakya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, namely:
1. The miseries of existence;
2. The cause productive of misery, which is the desire ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end;
3. The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of oneself from it;
4. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path, viz.: Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance; Right Meditation.

X. Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.

XI. The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagatha (Buddha) himself, is:
To cease from all sin,
To get virtue,
To purify the heart.

XII. The universe is subject to a natural causation known as “Karma”. The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.

XIII. The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, namely: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.

XIV. Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accords with reason.

Drafted as a common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree.

– H. S. Olcott, P.T.S. (from Appendix of “The Buddhist Catechism”)


On Work


Work is something to be greatly desired, something to be praised and lauded by us all – our life-long friend, the giver of all gifts, the creator of everything we shall ever need or desire. And surely, with such thoughts in mind, our love for work will become deep and true. Then we shall gain the power to work even better – with greater capacity and talent – even with genius: for an intense love of work usually gives birth to genius.

Work for a great idea, and you arouse great ideas in your own mind. Great ideas produce great thoughts, and great thoughts produce great men. A man is exactly what he thinks himself to be. Therefore, the man who thinks great thoughts must necessarily become a great man, and the simplest way for anyone to form the habit of thinking great thoughts is to work for great ideas.

The man who shirks does not grow. The man who works poorly will remain small in mind. The man who works in the wrong concept of work will tire and wear out.

When you work simply for yourself, or for your own personal gain, your mind will seldom rise above the limitations of an undeveloped personal life. But when you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitiations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

The majority work to make a living; some work to acquire wealth or fame, while a few work because there is something within them which demands expression. The majority dislike work. Only a few truly love it. Nearly everybody wearies of work and there is only a limited number that gain streangth from work. The average person works because he has to, so that it is the exceptional one who works because he want to. When we dream of Utopia we picture it as a place where there is less work and more pleasure, and the highest heaven is supposed to be a realm where one does nothing. With this idea of work, the multitudes are eternally longing for rest, but this longing is seldom satisfied because their whole conception of work is based on lies and falsehood.

To get something without working for it – that seems to be the acme of delight. But why is the desire to get something for nothing so strong in so many minds? For no other reason that this: we do not understand the true nature of work, and therefore dislike it. When we learn to understand work, however, and learn how to work, we shall go to our work with just as much delight as we go to our pleasure. And when we consider the real purpose of work and discover the work that builds the man [or woman], we will consider it a far greater privilege to work for everything we need or desire, than to go to a free mine and take all the gold we can carry away.

– E. B. Szekely (?)


. . . . Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man would have dreamt would have come his way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

– W. H. Murray


Voluntary Action vs. Compulsion



Militarily things seem pretty much the same today as 73 years ago – only not so much so. The inner laws of Nature, however, are still exactly the same.

Two thousand Allied bombers drop hundreds of tons of flaming death on German cities. The four great powers meet at Dumbarton Oaks to agree on means for maintaining peace in the world. Eight thousand Japanese exterminated on Pelieliu Island. Thousands of tons of food supplies and clothing distributed to the war indigent in Italy, France and Greece.

Those, and similar contrasting newspaper headlines, run through the mind, as wending a somewhat weary way from the great city, the peace and quiet of the wayside is gratefully received. What does it all mean? This destroying with one hand and constructing and helping with the other.

The answer to all problems can be found by a communing with Nature, as long as we do not qualify it by placing that word HUMAN before it. Nature requires a rather close observation at times. So it is that we can note that all growth, whether vegetable or animal, all evolution or change of form, seems to be controlled by two great laws. One is Voluntary Action and the other is Compulsion.

It does not seem to matter much which law is allowed to hold its sway, the results seem to be the same. However, we note that the law of Compulsion is generally accompanied by sufferings, while that of Voluntary Action always seems to be a joyous affair.

Another thing to be noted is that whenever Voluntary Action is spurned, the very effects of such spurning is what produces the manifestations of Compulsion. An entity partakes of too much food, repudiating self-control, voluntarily exercised. Such nausea is produced that COMPULSION causes abstinence, until balance is once more restored. Therefore, the Law of Compulsion is not enforced by exterior forces, but merely produced by the throwing aside of the Divine Law of Voluntary Action.

In Nature, if it be studied with the Seeing Eye, it will be found that the Mineral Kingdom is ruled by the Law of Compulsion alone. In the Vegetable Kingdom, Voluntary Action makes its appearance, but faintly. Many botanical species have appeared and disappeared on account of it, but the Vegetable Kingdom, as a whole, has wonderfully progressed, since the days of the primitive fungi and gigantic tree ferns.

In the Animal Kingdom, Voluntary Action becomes more perceptible, as locomotion, the ability to change position has entered the life picture. Pity the poor plant, over-shadowed by the growing tree: it cannot move over into the sunshine, but has to make the best of it. Partly by Voluntary Action, partly by Compulsion, many a plant has grown into a tree that has overshadowed the tree that almost snuffed it out of existence. Sometimes, it is itself snuffed out of existence. In the Human Kingdom, having locomotion, as well as self-conscious mind, the Law of Voluntary action becomes supreme, the Law of Compulsion only lurks in the shadows of man’s creation, ready with its whip-lash to drive him onward and upward, if he will not move on his own intiative.

Now read again the first paragraph, and see if you can reconcile the conflicting actions, in the light of the Law of Compulsion, acting through the man-made destruction, compelling man to do what he should have done voluntarily.

Moral: Man advances, willy-nilly. With joy in his heart, voluntarily, or under the whip-lash of the Law of Compulsion.
And that’s just simple Theosophy.

– The Wayfarer [Maj. Hubert S. Turner]

– From “Thoughts by the Wayside,” Theosophia, Nov.-Dec., 1944

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