RECAPTURING THE FOUNDERS’ VISION
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 response to the suggestion of your editor for an article of a general nature, I have thought it pertinent to discuss in the briefest possible outline some points which have always seemed to me to be basic for comprehension of the true mission of the Theosophical Society and for the proper motivation and direction of our effort in the modern world. It is ever a challenging question whether we are presenting our great message in the form and manner most propitious for favorable reception, particularly by the Western World.
Having labored for many years in a special area of the Theosophical vineyard, I naturally feel inclined, if not qualified, to speak of things from my particular angle of view. This field is that of the correlation of Theosophic philosophy with the dominant religious influence in the West, which is Christianity. Oddly enough one can say that Theosophy, republishing occult wisdom to the modern world predominantly in the dress of Hindu religionism, has almost entirely neglected to demonstrate the closeness of its relation to Christianity. To the Christian Occident it could definitely appear as if Theosophy, in bidding for acceptance in the West, asked the Christian world to give up its Christianity and adopt a form of Oriental Paganism. It is a question whether this default of policy in formulating a closer relation to Christianity does not bespeak a failure of tactical judgment or practical wisdom, on the part of the Theosophical headship. Surely if we are aiming to propagandize Theosophy in the area dominated by the Christian system, it would be a point of strategic advantage to present our message in the light of its profound esoteric community of significance with Christianity. If Theosophy is offered in forms that mark it as directly negative or hostile to Christianity, it can look for little in the way of a friendly reception from the Christian side. If, conversely, it can disclose that in essence it stands in essential harmony with the Christian system, its claims to a favorable acceptance will be measurably strengthened.
It behooves us at all times to look at our three declared objects, as one looks back to a starting point to keep progress in right direction. Always it has been a sort of cardinal formula for us to say to the world that Theosophy is virtually a synthesis of all vital knowledge, religion, philosophy and science. In a somewhat loose way the three objects as stated might be said to cover these three departments of human knowledge, the first object suggesting religion, the second philosophy and the third science. Religion of course embraces far more than brotherhood; philosophy is a vast basic interest which Theosophy in any technical sense hardly touches at all, and the psychic powers latent in man would hardly be claimed as a genuine branch of modern science, although “the unexplored laws of nature” have come to
be almost the new manual of physical science.
If it may seem as if I use this opportunity to air some particular ideas of my own, I think they can be shown to be well grounded in both fact and logic. At any rate many years of pretty intensive study and reflection have tended strongly to confirm my feeling that fundamental purposes back of the formation of our Society, in the minds of the founding group in New York in 1875, if not in the thought of the two Masters, was embodied and expressed, all too succinctly, in that second object, expressly mentioning comparative religion, philosophy and science. Also I am strongly of the opinion, for which I have already given evidence in several thousand pages of book print, that this second object should by all means have included “mythology”, and might well also have added “philology and symbolism”. All three of these suggested additives will be found on deeper study to lead intelligence to infinite depths of the primal Theosophic truth. At any rate they should be understood as being fully subsumed under the term “comparative religion”. There is no question but that mythology covers the same veiled expression of truth as does comparative religion. And the mine of occult truth buried deep in the arcane significance of words is something that, I am afraid, few Theosophists know very little about, as it is a very recondite study and requires knowledge of languages. And symbolism is the ultimate mode of truth’s profoundest and most unerring representation.
There is ground for the statement that the prime and all-comprehensive objective in the minds of the founding group was that expressed in the second object under the one term, comparative religion. H.P.B.’s revelations had opened out to those people a fairly staggering vision of the possibility of effectuating a veritable rebirth of the arcane wisdom and divine knowledge for modernity, and saw it as achievable by instituting an enterprise of research and reinterpretation in the field of the ancient Scriptures of the world. This is to be directly inferred from the sentence in the minutes of the meeting at which the Society was launched, penned by Colonel Olcott as secretary. As he worded it, the purpose of the organization was “to disseminate the ancient knowledge”. Blavatsky had by then made it clear that in the vast mine of hidden treasure in the tomes of antiquity, the occult keys to which she was able to provide, lay the almost magic potential of the greatest reenlightenment of humanity known to history. It is only as we regain some of the vast perspective of this vision that we envisage truly the scope, depth and significance of the Theosophic movement and realize the full import even for ourselves of our membership in it.
Yet, speaking by and large, this second object has received far less emphasis than the other two, has been in fact almost completely ignored and disregarded. Many members must no doubt wonder how the philosophy part got into it at all. It seems invidious to say this
bluntly. Yet since H.P.B. gave us “Isis” and The Secret Doctrine the effort of the Society at research and scholarship has been almost nil. How many Lodges have done investigation in the field of comparative religion? One has to wonder if ever a single Lodge has conducted classes in philosophy! Much effort has been expended to correlate occult science with modern physical science and with good results. But comparative religion and philosophy have almost totally languished in limbo. If the study of philosophy is a declared object of the Society, why do not Lodges ever think of studying it! One can agree that reincarnation, karma and evolution, spiritual as well as physical, constitute at least a sound nucleus of philosophical truth, and much philosophy is involved in Theosophic study generally. Yet no one can gainsay that a good study of academic philosophy by all T.S. members would be a vast help in sanifying and stabilizing Theosophic ideology all around. It would certainly have militated to save the movement from certain of the rabid extravaganzas that have flared out in Theosophic history.
Some of the latter have seemed to many to carry the movement so far out of line with original motivations that a cult of “Neo-Theosophy” was decried and the cry of “Back to Blavatsky” was heard. But natural and laudable as was this concern to preserve the movement in its integrity, it has seemed to this observer that it did not reflect the clear, true and balanced mission and objectives of the Society. Some twenty years ago when this agitation was in ferment we had ventured to suggest another slogan that seemed to us to express far more accurately the true mission and message of the Society. Perhaps it has reality enough to make its suggestion again at this time desirable. Not “back to Blavatsky” – to stop there – but “back with Blavatsky to Plato and the Sages”. She has vigorously and repeatedly stated that she was only reviving the arcane wisdom of the primeval revelation, not in any sense launching a new system of religion and philosophy. In her great works she took us back there, asking us to browse further in those lush pastures of precious knowledge. We have not done so.
It is in one sense a strange anomaly that one finds in most Lodge libraries books almost all written by modern authors, but rarely finds copies of Plotinus, Proclus, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Plato, Aristotle and works of learned scholars who treat of the ancient systems of the occult philosophy. Perhaps it could be true that the philosophy mentioned in the second object was not, in the minds of the founders, the philosophy pursued in the universities, which can be dull and uninspiring to boredom. But far other is the “divine philosophy” of the ancient sages who had purveyed the message of the gods to early mankind, handed down apparently from Atlantis to very ancient Egypt and spreading thence to Palestine, to Greece, Syria, Babylon, Persia, India and China. Much, much more should be said on this.
The vision that entranced the minds of the founders in 1875 was
that of a Society of people of better than average intelligence who would band together to prosecute a wide research into the vast body of esoteric-occult literature the world over and publish the findings as fast as produced. Blavatsky led the way with her colossal contribution in “Isis” and The Secret Doctrine. G.R.S. Mead did splendid work in Gnosticism, Hellenism and early Christianity. J.M. Pryse showed the astonishing influence of astrology and its symbolism upon the Christian Scriptures. A few others followed in several lines, but with that effort the prime inspiration that launched the Society languished and faded out. The finest work in our own field was accomplished by scholars outside the Society, most notably and magnificently by Gerald Massey, Godfrey Higgins, Thomas Taylor, Thomas Inman, Manly P. Hall and others. There are scores of works in Latin, done by Medieval occultists, which have not yet even been translated. The Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth century produced a dozen writers of great stature in the field of occult philosophy.
It has to be said, too, that the minor effort put forth in the Society to study comparative religion has followed a method that can yield at best only partial benefit. Lodges have invited representatives of the five or six leading religious systems to present their faiths. It is of course not all wasted effort, but it is ultimately non-productive of real enlightenment. The adoption of another method or approach could make comparative religion study so fruitful and illuminating that we would in a few years have the whole academic world at our feet, begging for still more light. Instead of studying one system as a whole and then taking up another and another, the procedure should be to outline first a chart or synopsis in detail of the basic principles, ideograms, allegorical forms in which the ancient methodology presented the arcane wisdom and then to trace the occurrence and presence of these forms in each of the religions. This method would show the presence of Theosophic truth in all religions right across the board. This would simply be the natural way to summarize the results of comparative study.
To illustrate how the procedure would work for enlightenment, let us take a particular case. It will reveal the presence of a great occult principle in most unexpected and startling fashion right in the heart of Christian doctrinism, right in the Bible. Research has brought to light the repeated incidence of an item of occult truth in the Bible and mythology which has been missed by the theologians for twenty centuries, and, as it seems, missed by Theosophists likewise. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Judges there is a long and bizarre story which ends with the cutting into twelve pieces of the body of a concubine of an Ephraimite. Standing detached, this story leaves only mystification. But it at once becomes amazingly significant if seen as but another instance of one of the cardinal principles of occult truth. For it matches in outline a feature of occult representation which is discerned in the case of nearly all the ancient
god-figures, such as Osiris, Adonis, Atis, Tammuz, Prajápati. Their bodies were cut into pieces, scattered or buried over the land, later to be disinterred, reassembled and restored whole and living. Nobody, it seems, in two millennia has caught the hidden intimation of this odd feature, that it is a graph of the Eucharist! That is, nobody has caught the idea that it is to be correlated, associated, compared with the action of Jesus, who took a loaf, brake it into twelve pieces, giving one to each of his disciples and saying it represented his (spiritual) body, which must be eaten if one is to inherit the eternal life. Lost completely out of the Christian theological structure was the ancient occult doctrine of the necessary dismemberment of the bodies of the various deities, so that all mortals might, so to say, have their little bite of divinity, and their later rememberment, or resurrection. Just as the oak tree distributes the seeds of oakness and plants them in matter, so the Greek theosophy said that “the gods distribute divinity” among mortals, dismembering their own bodies to provide the pieces. So, then, when Jesus, with loaf as symbol, had dismembered his body and had enjoined his disciples that they must repeat the rite “in remembrance of” him, he was but using the form of a Mystery cult dramatism. And one can say now that had that Greek word which was translated as “remembrance” been more properly translated “rememberment”, the whole religious history of the Western world might have been different!
This astonishing revelation of the presence of the occult philosophy deeply hidden in the context of the Scriptures is but one of hundreds, and their disclosure could change the whole face of religion, so to say, in a short time. The deeper study of comparative religion (and comparative mythology, and particularly comparative philology) is so fascinating that it would intrigue the academic world into an interest in Theosophy. What “learned” theological scholar has ever caught any connection between the Judges story of the concubine’s dismembered body and the “remembrance” of Jesus’ body? This item alone could shake the exoteric Christian system to its foundation. The religious and academic world is veritably starving for the ripe fruit of understanding and illumination which we can shake down from the tree of occult knowledge which our Society was formed to “disseminate” to the modern world. Through the channel of our second objective we could make Theosophy the beacon light of a new revelation.
The founders also caught the vision of a shorter and better-paved road to brotherhood in this valley of esoteric truth. Comparative religion would alone demonstrate the primal unity of religions, breaking down the barriers of religious sectarianism and making religion a unifying instead of what it has tragically been, the greatest separative force in world history.
Is it not obvious that we need to capture again the vision of the founders?