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What Is Theosophy?
H.P. Blavatsky addressed the question, What Is Theosophy, in a seminal article written in 1888, as well as in her other articles on Theosophy and her Theosophy books. She pointed out that the "Wisdom Religion" – also known in the ancient Sanskrit texts as the "Sanatana Dharma" – is as old as thinking man:
"THIS question has been so often asked, and misconception so widely prevails, that the editors of a journal devoted to an exposition of the world's Theosophy would be remiss were its first number issued without coming to a full understanding with their readers.
But our heading involves two further queries: What is the Theosophical Society; and what are the Theosophists? To each an answer will be given.
According to lexicographers, the term theosophia is composed of two Greek words – theos, "god," and sophos, "wise." So far, correct. But the explanations that follow are far from giving a clear idea of Theosophy. Webster defines it most originally as "a supposed intercourse with God and superior spirits, and consequent attainment of superhuman knowledge, by physical processes, as by the theurgic operations of some ancient Platonists, or by the chemical processes of the German fire-philosophers."
This, to say the least, is a poor and flippant explanation. To attribute such ideas to men like AmmoniusSaccas, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, Proclus – shows either intentional misrepresentation, or Mr. Webster's ignorance of the philosophy and motives of the greatest geniuses of the later Alexandrian School. To impute to those whom their contemporaries as well as posterity styled "theodidaktoi," god-taught – a purpose to develop their psychological, spiritual perceptions by "physical processes," is to describe them as materialists. As to the concluding fling at the fire-philosophers, it rebounds from them to fall home among our most eminent modern men of science; those, in whose mouths the Rev. James Martineau places the following boast: "matter is all we want; give us atoms alone, and we will explain the universe."
Vaughan offers a far better, more philosophical definition. "A Theosophist," he says – "is one who gives you a theory of God or the works of God, which has not revelation, but an inspiration of his own for its basis." In this view every great thinker and philosopher, especially every founder of a new religion, school of philosophy, or sect, is necessarily a Theosophist. Hence, Theosophy and Theosophists have existed ever since the first glimmering of nascent thought made man seek instinctively for the means of expressing his own independent opinions.
There were Theosophists before the Christian era, notwithstanding that the Christian writers ascribe the development of the Eclectic theosophical system to the early part of the third century of their Era. Diogenes Laertius traces Theosophy to an epoch antedating the dynasty of the Ptolemies; and names as its founder an Egyptian Hierophant called Pot-Amun, the name being Coptic and signifying a priest consecrated to Amun, the god of Wisdom. But history shows it revived by AmmoniusSaccas, the founder of the Neo-Platonic School. He and his disciples called themselves "Philalethians" – lovers of the truth; while others termed them the "Analogists," on account of their method of interpreting all sacred legends, symbolical myths and mysteries, by a rule of analogy or correspondence, so that events which had occurred in the external world were regarded as expressing operations and experiences of the human soul.
It was the aim and purpose of Ammonius to reconcile all sects, peoples and nations under one common faith – a belief in one Supreme Eternal, Unknown, and Unnamed Power, governing the Universe by immutable and eternal laws. His object was to prove a primitive system of Theosophy, which at the beginning was essentially alike in all countries; to induce all men to lay aside their strifes and quarrels, and unite in purpose and thought as the children of one common mother; to purify the ancient religions, by degrees corrupted and obscured, from all dross of human element, by uniting and expounding them upon pure philosophical principles.
Hence, the Buddhistic, Vedantic and Magian, or Zoroastrian, systems were taught in the Eclectic Theosophical School along with all the philosophies of Greece. Hence also, the preeminently Buddhistic and Indian feature among the ancient Theosophists and Alexandria, of due reverence for parents and aged persons; a fraternal affection for the whole human race; and a compassionate feeling for even the dumb animals. While seeking to establish a system of moral discipline which enforced upon people the duty to live according to the laws of their respective countries; to exalt their minds by the research and contemplation of the one Absolute Truth; his chief object in order, as he believed, to achieve all others, was to extract from the various religious teachings, as from a many-chorded instrument, one full and harmonious melody, which would find response in every truth-loving heart."
Enquirers can find more articles on Theosophy and Theosophy Online books by H.P. Blavatsky, as well as the unique Lead Articles by Sri Raghavan Iyer that originally appeared in HERMES Magazine at the Theosophy Trust website.
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