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Sep 16, 2003 05:15 AM
by W. Dallas TenBroeck

Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Dear Friends:
Recent weeks show that it is valuable to reprint H P B’s original
definition of a “theosophist.”
When the magazine the THEOSOPHIST was first issued in October 1879 in
Bombay, India, a forum was opened in which questions, definitions,
information and discussion might be made public. In 1877 ISIS UNVEILED
had been published.  
Col. Olcott, P T S, and H P Blavatsky, Corresponding Secretary, T S,
two of the founding members of the THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY had been
formally delegated by Resolution as a Committee, to travel to India, and
there to found further Branches of the T S.
These definitions, along with the other primary article: WHAT IS
THEOSOPHY that was published in the same issue help make clear these
vital and basic facts.
Best wishes,


Article by H. P. Blavatsky
ARE they what they claim to be--students of natural law, of ancient and
modern philosophy, and even of exact science? Are they Deists, Atheists,
Socialists, Materialists, or Idealists; or are they but a schism of
modern Spiritualism,--mere visionaries? Are they entitled to any
consideration, as capable of discussing philosophy and promoting real
science; or should they be treated with the compassionate toleration
which one gives to "harmless enthusiasts"? 
The Theosophical Society has been variously charged with a belief in
"miracles," and "miracle-working"; with a secret political object--like
the Carbonari; with being spies of an autocratic Czar; with preaching
socialistic and nihilistic doctrines; and, mirabile dictu, with having a
covert understanding with the French Jesuits, to disrupt modern
Spiritualism for a pecuniary consideration! With equal violence they
have been denounced as dreamers, by the American Positivists; as
fetish-worshippers, by some of the New York press; as revivalists of
"mouldy superstitions," by the Spiritualists; as infidel emissaries of
Satan, by the Christian Church; as the very types of "gobe-mouche," by
Professor W. B. Carpenter, F.R.S.; and, finally, and most absurdly, some
Hindu opponents, with a view to lessening their influence, have flatly
charged them with the employment of demons to perform certain phenomena.
Out of all this pother of opinions, one fact stands conspicuous--the
Society, its members, and their views, are deemed of enough importance
to be discussed and denounced: Men slander only those whom they hate--or
But, if the Society has had its enemies and traducers, it has also had
its friends and advocates. For every word of censure, there has been a
word of praise. Beginning with a party of about a dozen earnest men and
women, a month later its members had so increased as to necessitate the
hiring of a public hall for its meetings; within two years, it had
working branches in European countries. Still later, it found itself in
alliance with the Indian Arya Samaj, headed by the learned Pandit
Dayanand Saraswati Swami, and the Ceylonese Buddhists, under the erudite
H. Sumangala, High Priest of Adam's Peak and President of the Widyodaya
College, Colombo. 
He who would seriously attempt to fathom the psychological sciences,
must come to the sacred land of ancient Aryâvarta. None is older than
she in esoteric wisdom and civilization, however fallen may be her poor
shadow--modern India. Holding this country, as we do, for the fruitful
hot-bed whence proceeded all subsequent philosophical systems, to this
source of all psychology and philosophy a portion of our Society has
come to learn its ancient wisdom and ask for the impartation of its
weird secrets. Philology has made too much progress to require at this
late day a demonstration of this fact of the primogenitive nationality
of Aryâvart. 
The unproved and prejudiced hypothesis of modern Chronology is not
worthy of a moment's thought, and it will vanish in time like so many
other unproved hypotheses. The line of philosophical heredity, from
Kapila through Epicurus to James Mill; from Patanjali through Plotinus
to Jacob Böhme, can be traced like the course of a river through a
One of the objects of the Society's organization was to examine the too
transcendent views of the Spiritualists in regard to the powers of
disembodied spirits; and, having told them what, in our opinion at
least, a portion of their phenomena are not, it will become incumbent
upon us now to show what they are. So apparent is it that it is in the
East, and especially in India, that the key to the alleged
"supernatural" phenomena of the Spiritualists must be sought, that it
has recently been conceded in the Allahabad PIONEER (Aug. 11th, 1879),
an Anglo-Indian daily journal which has not the reputation of saying
what it does not mean. Blaming the men of science who "intent upon
physical discovery, for some generations have been too prone to neglect
super-physical investigation," it mentions "the new wave of doubt" (
spiritualism) which has "latterly disturbed this conviction." To a large
number of persons including many of high culture and intelligence, it
adds, "the supernatural has again asserted itself as a fit subject of
inquiry and research. And there are plausible hypotheses in favour of
the idea that among the 'sages' of the East . . . there may be found in
a higher degree than among the more modernised inhabitants of the West
traces of those personal peculiarities, whatever they may be, which are
required as a condition precedent to the occurrence of supernatural
phenomena." And then, unaware that the cause he pleads is one of the
chief aims and objects of our Society, the editorial writer remarks that
it is "the only direction in which, it seems to us, the efforts of the
Theosophists in India might possibly be useful. The leading members of
the Theosophical Society in India are known to be very advanced students
of occult phenomena, already, and we cannot but hope that their
professions of interest in Oriental philosophy . . . may cover a
reserved intention of carrying out explorations of the kind we
While, as observed, one of our objects, it yet is but one of many; the
most important of which is to revive the work of Ammonius Saccas, and
make various nations remember that they are the children "of one
mother." As to the transcendental side of the ancient Theosophy, it is
also high time that the Theosophical Society should explain. With how
much, then, of this nature-searching, God-seeking science of the ancient
Aryan and Greek mystics, and of the powers of modern spiritual
mediumship, does the Society agree? Our answer is: with it all. But if
asked what it believes in, the reply will be: "As a body--Nothing." 
The Society, as a body, has no creed, as creeds are but the shells
around spiritual knowledge; and Theosophy in its fruition is spiritual
knowledge itself--the very essence of philosophical and theistic
enquiry. Visible representative of Universal Theosophy, it can be no
more sectarian than a Geographical Society, which represents universal
geographical exploration without caring whether the explorers be of one
creed or another. 
The religion of the Society is an algebraical equation, in which so long
as the sign = of equality is not omitted, each member is allowed to
substitute quantities of his own, which better accord with climatic and
other exigencies of his native land, with the idiosyncrasies of his
people, or even with his own. Having no accepted creed, our Society is
very ready to give and take, to learn and teach, by practical
experimentation, as opposed to mere passive and credulous acceptance of
enforced dogma. It is willing to accept every result claimed by any of
the foregoing schools or systems, that can be logically and
experimentally demonstrated. Conversely, it can take nothing on mere
faith, no matter by whom the demand may be made. 
But, when we come to consider ourselves individually, it is quite
another thing. The Society's members represent the most varied
nationalities and races, and were born and educated in the most
dissimilar creeds and social conditions. Some of them believe in one
thing, others in another. Some incline towards the ancient magic, or
secret wisdom that was taught in the sanctuaries, which was the very
opposite of supernaturalism or diabolism; others in modern spiritualism,
or intercourse with the spirits of the dead; still others in mesmerism
or animal magnetism, or only an occult dynamic force in nature. 
A certain number have scarcely yet acquired any definite belief, but are
in a state of attentive expectancy; and there are even those who call
themselves materialists, in a certain sense. Of atheists and bigoted
sectarians of any religion, there are none in the Society; for the very
fact of a man's joining it proves that he is in search of the final
truth as to the ultimate essence of things. If there be such a thing as
a speculative atheist, which philosophers may deny, he would have to
reject both cause and effect, whether in this world of matter, or in
that of spirit. 
There may be members who, like the poet Shelley, have let their
imagination soar from cause to prior cause ad infinitum, as each in its
turn became logically transformed into a result necessitating a prior
cause, until they have thinned the Eternal into a mere mist. But even
they are not atheist in the speculative sense, whether they identify the
material forces of the universe with the functions with which the
theists endow their God, or otherwise; for once that they cannot free
themselves from the conception of the abstract ideal of power, cause,
necessity, and effect, they can be considered as atheists only in
respect to a personal God, and not to the Universal Soul of the
On the other hand the bigoted sectarian, fenced in, as he is, with a
creed upon every paling of which is written the warning "No
Thoroughfare," can neither come out of his enclosure to join the
Theosophical Society, nor, if he could, has it room for one whose very
religion forbids examination. The very root idea of the Society is free
and fearless investigation. 
As a body, the Theosophical Society holds that all original thinkers and
investigators of the hidden side of nature whether materialists--those
who find in matter "the promise and potency of all terrestrial life," or
spiritualists--that is, those who discover in spirit the source of all
energy and of matter as well, were and are, properly, Theosophists. For
to be one, one need not necessarily recognize the existence of any
special God or a deity. One need but worship the spirit of living
nature, and try to identify oneself with it. 
To revere that Presence, the invisible Cause, which is yet ever
manifesting itself in its incessant results; the intangible, omnipotent,
and omnipresent Proteus: indivisible in its Essence, and eluding form,
yet appearing under all and every form; who is here and there, and
everywhere and nowhere; is ALL, and NOTHING; ubiquitous yet one; the
Essence filling, binding, bounding, containing everything, contained in
all. It will, we think, be seen now, that whether classed as Theists,
Pantheists or Atheists, such men are near kinsmen to the rest. Be what
he may, once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of
routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent
thought--Godward--he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker
after the eternal truth with "an inspiration of his own" to solve the
universal problems. 
With every man that is earnestly searching in his own way after a
knowledge of the Divine Principle, of man's relations to it, and
nature's manifestations of it, Theosophy is allied. It is likewise the
ally of honest science, as distinguished from much that passes for
exact, physical science, so long as the latter does not poach on the
domains of psychology and metaphysics. 
And it is also the ally of every honest religion--to wit, a religion
willing to be judged by the same tests as it applies to the others.
Those books, which contain the most self-evident truth, are to it
inspired (not revealed). But all books it regards, on account of the
human element contained in them, as inferior to the Book of Nature; to
read which and comprehend it correctly, the innate powers of the soul
must be highly developed. Ideal laws can be perceived by the intuitive
faculty alone; they are beyond the domain of argument and dialectics,
and no one can understand or rightly appreciate them through the
explanations of another mind, even though this mind be claiming a direct
And, as this Society, which allows the widest sweep in the realms of
the pure ideal, is no less firm in the sphere of facts, its deference to
modern science and its just representatives is sincere. Despite all
their lack of a higher spiritual intuition, the world's debt to the
representatives of modern physical science is immense; hence, the
Society endorses heartily the noble and indignant protest of that gifted
and eloquent preacher, the Rev. O. B. Frothingham, against those who try
to undervalue the services of our great naturalists. "Talk of Science as
being irreligious, atheistic," he exclaimed in a recent lecture,
delivered at New York, "Science is creating a new idea of God. It is due
to Science that we have any conception at all of a living God. If we do
not become atheists one of these days under the maddening effect of
Protestantism, it will be due to Science, because it is disabusing us of
hideous illusions that tease and embarrass us, and putting us in the way
of knowing how to reason about the things we see. . . ." 
And it is also due to the unremitting labors of such Orientalists as Sir
W. Jones, Max Müller, Burnouf, Colebrooke, Haug, St. Hilaire, and so
many others, that the Society, as a body, feels equal respect and
veneration for Vedic, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and other old religions of
the world; and, a like brotherly feeling toward its Hindu, Sinhalese,
Parsi, Jain, Hebrew, and Christian members as individual students of
"self," of nature, and of the divine in nature. 
Born in the United States of America, the Society was constituted on the
model of its Mother Land. The latter, omitting the name of God from its
constitution lest it should afford a pretext one day to make a state
religion, gives absolute equality to all religions in its laws. All
support and each is in turn protected by the State. The Society,
modelled upon this constitution, may fairly be termed a "Republic of
We have now, we think, made clear why our members, as individuals, are
free to stay outside or inside any creed they please, provided they do
not pretend that none but themselves shall enjoy the privilege of
conscience, and try to force their opinions upon the others. In this
respect the Rules of the Society are very strict: It tries to act upon
the wisdom of the old Buddhistic axiom, "Honour thine own faith, and do
not slander that of others"; echoed back in our present century, in the
"Declaration of Principles" of the Brahmo Samaj, which so nobly states
that: "no sect shall be vilified, ridiculed, or hated." In Section VI of
the Revised Rules of the Theosophical Society, recently adopted in
General Council, at Bombay, is this mandate: 
It is not lawful for any officer of the Parent Society
to express, by word or act, any hostility to, or preference for, any one
section (sectarian division, or group within the Society) more than
another. All must be regarded and treated as equally the objects of the
Society's solicitude and exertions. All have an equal right to have the
essential features of their religious belief laid before the tribunal of
an impartial world. 
In their individual capacity, members may, when attacked, occasionally
break this Rule, but, nevertheless, as officers they are restrained, and
the Rule is strictly enforced during the meetings. For, above all human
sects stands Theosophy in its abstract sense; Theosophy which is too
wide for any of them to contain but which easily contains them. 
In conclusion, we may state that, broader and far more universal in its
views than any existing mere scientific Society, it has plus science its
belief in every possibility, and determined will to penetrate into those
unknown spiritual regions which exact science pretends that its votaries
have no business to explore. And, it has one quality more than any
religion in that it makes no difference between Gentile, Jew, or
Christian. It is in this spirit that the Society has been established
upon the footing of a Universal Brotherhood. 
Unconcerned about politics; hostile to the insane dreams of Socialism
and of Communism, which it abhors--as both are but disguised
conspiracies of brutal force and sluggishness against honest labour; the
Society cares but little about the outward human management of the
material world. The whole of its aspirations are directed towards the
occult truths of the visible and invisible worlds. Whether the physical
man be under the rule of an empire or a republic, concerns only the man
of matter. His body may be enslaved; as to his soul, he has the right to
give to his rulers the proud answer of Socrates to his judges. They have
no sway over the inner man. 
Such, then, is the Theosophical Society, and such its principles, its
multifarious aims, and its objects. Need we wonder at the past
misconceptions of the general public, and the easy hold the enemy has
been able to find to lower it in the public estimation. The true student
has ever been a recluse, a man of silence and meditation. With the busy
world his habits and tastes are so little in common that, while he is
studying, his enemies and slanderers have undisturbed opportunities. But
time cures all and lies are but ephemera. Truth alone is eternal. 
About a few of the Fellows of the Society who have made great scientific
discoveries, and some others to whom the psychologist and the biologist
are indebted for the new light thrown upon the darker problems of the
inner man, we will speak later on. 
Our object now was but to prove to the reader that Theosophy is neither
"a new fangled doctrine," a political cabal, nor one of those societies
of enthusiasts which are born today but to die tomorrow. 
That not all of its members can think alike, is proved by the Society
having organized into two great Divisions--the Eastern and the
Western--and the latter being divided into numerous sections, according
to races and religious views. 
One man's thought, infinitely various as are its manifestations, is not
all-embracing. Denied ubiquity, it must necessarily speculate but in one
direction; and once transcending the boundaries of exact human
knowledge, it has to err and wander, for the ramifications of the one
Central and absolute Truth are infinite. Hence, we occasionally find
even the greater philosophers losing themselves in the labyrinths of
speculations, thereby provoking the criticism of posterity. 
But as all work for one and the same object, namely, the disenthralment
of human thought, the elimination of superstitions, and the discovery of
truth, all are equally welcome. The attainment of these objects, all
agree, can best be secured by convincing the reason and warming the
enthusiasm of the generation of fresh young minds, that are just
ripening into maturity, and making ready to take the place of their
prejudiced and conservative fathers. And, as each--the great ones as
well as small--have trodden the royal road to knowledge, we listen to
all, and take both small and great into our fellowship. For no honest
searcher comes back empty-handed, and even he who has enjoyed the least
share of popular favor can lay at least his mite upon the one altar of
THEOSOPHIST, October, 1879 

Italics ours	


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