“BACK WITH BLAVATSKY. . .”
by Alvin Boyd Kuhn.
* Note: Electronically typed and edited by Juan Schoch for educational research purposes. I would like to state that it is my hope that the “associates of the estate” of Alvin Boyd Kuhn will in some way contact me so as to make available to the world the much needed missing works of this great man. May we learn to live in harmony and peace not only with each other but with nature and may humanity grow thereby. I would like to thank Cat Pancero for the finding and Lynette Watters for the acquirement of the following articles: Recapturing the Founder’s Vision & Back with Blavatsky . . . Science Group Journal (S.G.J.) 1960 v4 Oct_Nov p4 and 1961 v5 September p4, respectively. firstname.lastname@example.org
In the May 1961 number of the S.G.J. (P.15) Dr. H. S. Murdoch was generous enough to conclude his article on The Need for a Major Review of Theosophical Teachings with reference to a suggestion I had put forth in an article published in the Oct-Nov 1960 issue of the magazine. (P.4). His allusion to this item and the general content of his fine contribution set my mind running on a line of reflection that I feel is vital to the life of Theosophy today. It is a theme that I have often been impelled to bring to the attention of the Society at large. Perhaps this is the favorable moment and the strategic situation in which to present it.
The suggestion of mine which be commended to the serious consideration of the Society was that the once widely current and still pertinent slogan, “Back to Blavatsky”, be amended to the form, “Back with Blavatsky to Plato and the Sages”. Since this may have struck many, along with Dr. Murdoch, as an arrow pointing in a direction likely to lead to more stable grounds on which to build up our modern effort and offering the prospect of a possible enhancement of the power of Theosophy at this critical juncture of human affairs, I am moved to undertake a survey of the current position of our cherished Society and the potential embodied in the reconstructed slogan if its suggested policy program should seriously be considered and put into effect. As Dr. Murdoch’s article speaks of the need for a broad and comprehensive review of theosophical teachings, my present contribution might be regarded as one member’s forthright attempt to outline at least the form and, to a fair extent, the content of such a review. It might indicate the wide field over which a general review should aim to extend, if it should be undertaken by groups collectively and ultimately by the Society as a whole, or, if any have the hardihood, by individual members.
Dr. Murdoch has himself pointed one of his admirable suggestions in the direction in which my revised slogan would lead investigation, when he says that a capable review should by no means confine itself to a search for discrepancies between clairvoyant searching and reporting and the factual revelations of modern physical science (particularly as to “occult chemistry”) but should extend over the broad terrain of the great ancient wisdom and the esoteric philosophy of the past. This in fact is a hint at pretty much what I wish to center reflection upon in this contribution. If H.P.B. disclaimed the intent to launch a new message, but only aimed to revive the precious heritage of past hierarchical wisdom vouchsaged to early humanity by the demigods, surely it must be a never-ceasing obligation of her Society to expand to the utmost the light and influence of her own gigantic republication of that mighty corpus of truth and knowledge, and then to press on in the effort to extend further the enterprise of unearthing, clarifying and publishing additional material from that ancient treasure trove. As one scans general theosophical history in its modern phase, it has ever seemed to me that H.P.B. announced her purpose to rekindle the great ancient light, spent herself in a herculean effort to provide the oil for its brilliant glow – and that the T.S. has done almost nothing more in that prime task ever since. Her accomplishment in the enterprise was indeed so stupendous that the idea seems to have grown to full stature that she had achieved the whole task by herself, and
that nothing more need be done to supplement her performance. The effect was to create the bland obsession that she had plucked up the whole of Theosophy and handed it full-blown to the modern world. No one will deny that she did a magnificent job of it. But she herself was loud and insistent that she had not at all recreated the secret and sacred science exhaustively. Rich as was the legacy she bequeathed to us, she meant it to be only the hors d’oeuvres to a real banquet that was to be served up from the ancient table of the gods.
In over a half-century of participation in the life and work of the Society, it has more and more conclusively seemed to me that the prime purpose of the movement was centered and expressed in the language of that Second Object: Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science. (And I shall ever insist that at least two additional words should have been included with the three, viz., Mythology and Philology). Much of the Secret Doctrine touched upon “comparative” science, and much present theosophical effort goes into correlating theosophical principles with modern scientific development. But as regards comparative religion and philosophy, little real work has been done in the area of religion – and that most ineffectually – and next to nothing in the realm of philosophy. Lodges have exploited talks on the various religions, with the result of some knowledge of the systems of the four or five main world faiths. But when have they ever systematically conducted courses in philosophy? Philosophy is vaguely supposed to have been covered sufficiently when reincarnation and karma have been conjointly expounded. It is a good ground and a fair beginning. But the failure to study general philosophy in its academic forms and broad scope has left the membership open to the danger of much uncritical acceptance of occult theories that are found, under sharper scrutiny, to be incapable of bearing the brunt of more deeply critical rationalism. As Dr. Murdoch says, there has been a tendency in the Society, for instance, to take the pronouncements of reputed clairvoyant investigations too readily as veridical authority, to take theorizations too literally. It is a universal penchant of the human mind, manifest in systematism everywhere, to make objective facts, data or history, dance in tune with a theory. When one has a pretty theory it is so easy to see it reflected or actualized in the objective world. Under the cloak of rationalization we tend always to subjectivize history and living phenomena. Given the attractive theory of root-races and sub-races, we swing seven minor historical groups in line and declare them to have been the seven in this or that root-race. It makes good reading, but do we really know? Or how do we know?
Here might be mentioned specifically our doctrine of karma, and the way we are prone to interpret it. Because it is credible as the general law, it is all too easy and tempting for one to explain any particular good or evil event as directly the outcome of antecedent causes which may lie open to view and suggest themselves as the answer. Surely it is legitimate to assume that present situations eventuated from past action or default. But when one presumes to describe with exactitude just how a present state or event developed out of precisely specific past conduct, one is risking a possible mistake and venting a possible injustice. We are often so sure that we can tell a brother exactly why he is happy or suffering now.
Another instance of the foible comes to mind in regard to the principle of the alternate destruction of continents successively by fire and water. Because it would so nicely “prove” the theory, we jump to the truth of the assertion that therefore Lemuria was destroyed by fire and Atlantis by water. Were they? Who knows? No one seems to pause long enough to reflect that if a continent were sunk beneath the oceans, it could hardly be otherwise than that both fire and water would have to play their combined parts. For there is water above surface and fire beneath, and a crack-up could hardly come without the equal participation of the two. In a long study one becomes impressed with the fact that a good deal of theosophical theory has been lightly accepted a bit too gullibly.
It happens that fire was the universal symbol of spirit and water of matter, and one can hardly avoid the conclusion that, as these two forces do alternate in the run of cycles of evolutionary progress, individuals and the world being more spiritual at one arc and more material at another – the reciprocal interchange of spiritual and bodily influences, so well depicted in ancient Egyptian lore by the alternate victory of Horus and Sut over each other – the principle simply announced this endless alternation of the two ends of the living polarity, and that life’s methodology in this general respect has been made to refer to such a thing in the outer world as the sinking of continents. Under the symbols of fire and water the divine and the human expressions do so alternate. The Christian religion has rendered itself well-nigh ridiculous and abhorrent to the minds of deep thinkers by a ghastly run of ostensible historical “elucidations” of Biblical allegories. How drastically our doughty H.P.B. riddled with caustic sarcasm this unconscionable “flapdoodle”! There has been too much of a similar phenomenon in Theosophy. A real study of philosophy, along with comparative religion and science, as our Second Object envisages, would have safeguarded the Society at many points in its precarious career.
This, though important, is minor. The large consideration at stake is the fact that the T.S. has, to a large extent, sidestepped its primary mission, which was, as expressed in the minutes of one of the meetings that led up to the founding on Nov. 17, 1875, in the language of the secretary, Col. Olcott, “to disseminate the ancient knowledge”. The inspired founders saw the possibility of actually opening the door to the sweeping influx of genuine brotherhood if they could launch a movement of highly aspiring humanitarians that would end the scoffing, snarling, hating and murderously persecuting religious sects and systems by the revelation that they had all originated out of the one universal ancient wisdom cultus. Perhaps in the consciousness of that founding group there had glowed the realization that no progress toward brotherhood could be made at all until that roadblock of religious and sectarian segregationism could be removed. For it is obvious to any student of religious history that it is religion itself, the influence which would naturally be presumed, by its central teaching of love at the spiritual level, to be the most unitive principle in human life that has, on the contrary, proved to be actually the most separative and divisive psychic force in the world. It has seemed to me well-nigh conclusive that that Second Object was envisioned by the founders as the one direct road that could lead to brotherhood.
In a former contribution to the S.G.J. I intimated that we have
never handled the enterprise of comparative religion study by the proper
methodology. Some well-intentioned effort has been made in this direction by
presenting programs in which a look was had at one of the main world religions
in an overall survey, necessarily sketchy, then at another and so down the
list. This gives some light, of course. But a far more “scientific” way to
compare fruitfully the different systems would be to take, one by one, the
fundamental principles of the arcane science, the chief doctrines and the great
symbols, and ascertain to what extent each could be found in the several
religions. The method is found splendidly exemplified in a book that any
student interested in pursuing the technique should consult, a fine work by
Lord Raglan, a British scholar, entitled The Hero: A Study
in Myth, Ritual and Symbol (Oxford
All this brings us now to the point of profound consideration which I must think is crucial for the life of our Society. Yet it is one that I have never seen advanced in any theosophical presentations. It would at last, I firmly believe, put theosophists in proper mental alignment with the movement to which they have given their life’s sincerest cultural and aspirational effort and allegiance. And it would tend to give us a proper orientation of the place, role and importance of the modern Mahatma-Blavatsky-inspired movement in the larger perspective of the spiritual hierarchy’s total historical effort to help, so to say, humanity to attain its true divinization.
This demands a shift of values in one’s mental life that may, at first glance, appear to depreciate, by comparison, the high importance that modern theosophists have been habituated to assign to the Society’s role in the modern period. That is to say, that since the Masters have launched the modern version of Theosophy through their accredited Messenger H.P.B., the feeling has been universal in theosophic circles that this movement originated the cult of Theosophy, and was in fact and in essence the theosophical movement in world history. It has been felt that this enterprise gave the world Theosophy, and that, but for it, there would have been no Theosophy in the world.
This persuasion, fairly natural in the case, has however never done justice to Theosophy itself, and has been a partial, limited and in fact warped and inadequate view of Theosophy as it must more correctly be viewed. It would contravene and negative the perspective which H.P.B. herself distinctly pictured in the very premises of her effort. She expressly disavowed launching Theosophy as a new, unique and novel body of truth. She forthrightly stated that she strove to revive and republish the ageless wisdom of the sage past, the divine message of the demigods to early mankind. The system she reintroduced was that of an ancient wisdom, the esoteric science of old. We might look at the
great science through her eyes, but it was to the past that she directed us to look. We were told to go back with her to the ancient seers and sages. The ancient scriptures were to be our text-books and Bibles. We took her version and – stopped there.
I am ready now to conclude with the thought that inspired this contribution in the first place. When we find ourselves confronted with the questions and perplexities of the present, I have felt that the issue comes to all of us in the form of a mental recognition that all theosophists must see as confronting them with its positive challenge to their intelligence – and it may be put in something like the following reflection: would I be as profoundly interested in and devoted to the movement to revive Theosophy in the world as I am now, if it had chanced that the Mahatma-Blavatsky resuscitation effort had never been made in our modern world at all? Otherwise stated, would I be as vitally consecrated to study, absorb, cultivate and promulgate the ancient wisdom, if I had come to know something of it through general channels of study, or from other sources than specifically through the modern revival? Even now, having had the push and the sanction of uplift that I have derived from the Blavatsky renewal, would I continue to be fervently committed to promote Theosophy as I now may be, if by some magic the whole modern effort were obliterated from my knowledge?
I know this is much like asking if a Roman Catholic could be as devoted to the promotion of his faith as he now is, if the Catholic Church had, or had had no existence. Or asking if a Methodist would still hold loyally to his commitment to his denomination if that church had had no existence. In this abstract sense, it is a question that carries a real challenge to us: would we be as genuinely devoted to the truths of the occult wisdom, the esoteric philosophy and the spiritual science of soul-evolution, if all connection with the modern theosophical movement were severed? If we can say sincerely that we would still be so committed in that case, we may consider ourselves worthy of the theosophic name. Could we maintain our enthusiasm for Theosophy in complete independence of its foundations in Blavatskian reformulation?
To too many perhaps Theosophy has come to be thought of as having had its full, complete, or at any rate its fullest and highest, exposition and presentment in the modern effort of the hierarchy and their Messenger. Therefore all final authority as to basic questions has been looked for and in part presumptively established on the basis of the prime literature that accompanied and launched the modern renaissance. But H.P.B. admonished us against this posture of belief. It would perhaps sound almost heretical to most present members if I were to suggest that in the quest for answers to questions about the great and fundamental truths of occultism, I might preferably turn back to Plato, Plotinus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Orpheus, Hermes or others of the great sages, rather than to find them in Blavatsky’s work alone.
For what it may be worth I conclude with the citation of my own personal experience in this particular reference. It may by no means be conclusive as to what it has meant to me. It may not have been an equitable test of relative values. But I can definitely testify that this has been my experience. I had for the period of my first twenty years in Theosophy been
limited in my reading to the usual run of books found to predominate in a T.S. Lodge library. This included a heavy run of the Besant-Leadbeater and other conventional literature, deferring the reading of Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine and the Mahatma Letters until about my twentieth year in the Society. I confess that this reading was desultory and haphazard. The late contact with the Blavatsky literature did greatly deepen my insight into the larger picture. But it was then that I turned back to Hindu philosophy in the large, to the great Hellenic systems of Platonism and, still better, Neoplatonism, and finally, crowning it all, to studies in the ancient Egyptian religion, most profitably through that monumental work of Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World. And I have to state that the deeper understanding, clearer illumination and more dynamic inspiration that then swept into my mind so far surpassed anything I had experienced in all former reading that I had to say to myself that I only then felt that I had a real knowledge of what Theosophy is. On the basis of this experience I would feel warranted in making the assertion that Theosophy is larger and much more than what we have had in its modern representation. The ancient wisdom is a precious heirloom that is not outmoded and obsolete because it is ancient. It is the ageless wisdom, and the rediscovery and republication of its treasures is the immense task our Society has pledged itself to undertake.