People quite often refer to H. P. Blavatsky, founder of the modern Theosophical Movement in 1875, as being the “Mother” or “Grandmother” of the New Age Movement. They perhaps do not realise that many of the teachings and practices which characterise the New Age Movement are the very antithesis of everything HPB taught and stood for. Still more peculiar is the fact that some writers and researchers have called her the “Grandmother of the New Thought Movement.”
This latter title surely belongs by right far more to Mary Baker Eddy or Emma Curtis Hopkins than to Madame Blavatsky!
The New Thought Movement is today most prominently represented by two groups or schools of thought, namely Unity – or to use its full name, the Unity School of Practical Christianity – and Science of Mind, which is also known as Religious Science. In this article, we present the main beliefs and views of both these systems, which are quite similar to one another, in their own words, and then provide a response to these statements based on the teachings of Theosophy. This helps us to see both similarities and differences, which are always useful to discover.
According to Sylvia Cranston’s book “HPB: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky,” Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, who founded Unity, were previously Theosophists. There is nothing to suggest or indicate that Ernest Holmes, founder of Science of Mind, had any personal connection or involvement with Theosophy or the Theosophical Movement.
A Theosophist would not only view the claim of “New Thought” to be based on “Ancient Wisdom” as unfounded and misleading but would also consider it to contain many distortions and misapplications of Eastern spiritual philosophy, alongside certain metaphysical practices which range from the detrimental to the dangerous.
As will be shown, there are indeed a few points of agreement between Theosophy and New Thought but far more in the way of serious disagreement.
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On an official Unity website we find the “5 Basic Unity Principles” expressed as follows.
1. There is only one Presence and one Power active as the universe and as my life, God the Good.
Theosophy: Although we generally prefer not to use the word “God” due to various reasons – one of which is that this term will always suggest something anthropomorphic and personal to many people, even if that isn’t the original intention – we would agree with this, albeit not exactly agreeing with the term “God the Good.” As said in the article The Impersonal Divine:
“The concept and term of non-duality is very popular nowadays but seems to be seriously misunderstood, by many people here in the West at least. People say, “I believe in non-duality and that God is all there is” and at the same time add “God is good, loving, and merciful.” To such people we may reasonably ask, “So in that case you don’t really believe that God is beyond all duality at all? You are investing God with finite qualities which only have any existence and possibility when contrasted with their dualistic opposites. Goodness is a finite quality, the opposite of evil, and cannot exist without the existence of evil, for if evil did not exist, good could not exist, since without the existence of its natural opposite, good would not be good but would be something else entirely. The same is true for love, mercy, and all the rest. To endow the Infinite with any qualities is to automatically de-infinitise the Infinite in your conceptions. This is why Theosophy, just like the original non-duality (Advaita) teachings of Hinduism, says that all the “pairs of opposites” – called the “dvandvas” in Sanskrit – relate to the manifested universe alone and that the Absolute completely transcends all such things – love, goodness, mercy, grace, and desire included – since otherwise It would not be the Absolute at all.”
2. Our essence is of God; therefore, we are inherently good. This God essence, called the Christ, was fully expressed in Jesus.
Theosophy: We can accept the first sentence but considering that there is even more reliable historical evidence for the actual existence of Krishna than for Jesus and that no-one can state with any accuracy whatsoever what Jesus did and taught or even if the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels definitely existed at all, how can such a claim be made on his behalf?
H. P. Blavatsky, in her first book “Isis Unveiled” and elsewhere, has demonstrated that all the noble and inspirational sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were first uttered and explained – and in much greater clarity and depth – by Buddha (whose historical existence and accomplishments cannot be questioned or denied by anyone) and other great Indian and Eastern Sages. Jesus, she emphasises and proves, never taught anything new or original. This is by no means a criticism of him, since we know “there is nothing new under the sun,” but begs the question of why Unity is so keen to emphasise and promote Jesus all the time.
Most Unity adherents will acknowledge that Jesus was not actually superior to Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu, etc., so why not prove their belief in unity and universality by clearly stating in this second principle that the divine essence was expressed by all these and more?
It is true that in Gnosticism and esoteric Christian terms, the divine essence is “called the Christ” or “Christos” but why mention this only and not the fact that the same concept is the Atman (Higher Self), the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha Nature), and the Krishna Consciousness, of more ancient religions? Most Unity adherents will agree with this and yet still cling solely to Christian terms and concepts in their officially expressed beliefs.
3. We are co-creators with God, creating reality through thoughts held in mind.
Theosophy: In Theosophy, the term “co-workers with Nature” is used, with “Nature” being used in its true philosophical sense as a synonym for the living Universe. Not only our thoughts but also our words and deeds have the effect of shaping our future experience. We are aware that Unity says this also, even if not specifically stated in this third principle, but we differ quite seriously as to how this is so, since the Unity teachings do not accept (at least not in anything resembling clear terms) the Law of Karma and its inextricably linked principle of Reincarnation. It is through Karma and Reincarnation that we come face to face with the “reality” we have created for ourselves.
And whilst Unity actively promotes the practice of deliberately using the concentrated power of thought, visualisation, and so forth, to create the reality we personally desire for ourselves, Theosophy unhesitatingly describes this as selfishness and black magic and warns people against it. The article The Whitewashing of Black Magic explains:
“For most of us, the term “black magic” immediately conjures up images of witches or devil worship or people using spells or rituals of various kinds in order to try to harm or control others. It’s true that this type of thing is indeed black magic but there are many other things which are black magic which we may not have realised are of such a nature. In fact, tens of thousands of otherwise good decent people around the world today are black magicians without even realising it. Many popular spiritual teachings and practices today are almost entirely of the nature of black magic. . . . This is the true definition of what black magic actually is: the definite use and application of spiritual force with a selfish or material aim. White magic, on the other hand, is simply the definite use and application of spiritual force solely for the blessing and benefit of OTHERS.
“This definition and understanding of black magic is not unique to Theosophy. It is how black magic has always been defined and viewed throughout the ages. Whenever any spiritual aspirant was found to be attempting to use spiritual or mental power to attract wealth, possessions, or material and personal fulfillment, he was expelled in disgrace from the temple, the monastery, the ashram, or the spiritual community. It has always been understood that true progress in the spiritual life and the path of inner development and unfoldment of the soul are dependent upon selflessness, altruism, humility, and living solely to be of benefit to mankind, not to mention the noblest ethics and personal purity of life and conduct. . . . For centuries such teachings and practices as the “Law of Attraction” and “desire manifestation” were carried on secretly under cover of shame and darkness. Eventually, humanity having reached to the very zenith of selfishness and obsession with material gain, they began to gain public acceptance and popularity, beginning in the 19th century and spreading worldwide with great rapidity and enthusiasm as the 20th century progressed.”
To desire or seek to obtain something for one’s own personal benefit or gratification is selfishness. For the Theosophist, the only desire that is valid or worth having is to fit oneself more and more with each passing day to be of the utmost possible help and service to humanity.
4. Through prayer and meditation, we align our heart-mind with God. Denials and affirmations are tools we use.
Theosophy: “Theosophists . . . do not believe in the efficacy of prayer. One cannot believe in both prayer and Karma, since the two cancel each other out. If we believe that things can be altered and that destiny can be changed by our prayers, then we obviously do not believe in Karmic Law as “the Ultimate Law of the Universe” (H. P. Blavatsky’s phrase) since a Law is a Law and cannot be evaded or overpowered. If it could be, then it is not a Law after all and is not even worthy of being believed in.” (Questions about Karma)
Prayer is “fruitless and useless” according to “The Key to Theosophy,” not only because of this but also due to the fact of the impossibility of someone actually being able to “communicate” with the Divine, seeing as the Divine is an Absolute, Infinite, Omnipresent, Impersonal PRINCIPLE. As said by Buddha, “Pray not! The Silence can neither hear nor speak.” The Upanishads remind the spiritual aspirant that Brahman (the Absolute) is “beyond the reach of words and works.” It is explained, therefore, in “The Key to Theosophy” that when Theosophists want someone to be helped or a change to be made in the world, “we act instead of talking.”
Prayer, in the usual sense of the word, is not only a waste and misdirection of time and energy but also kills self-reliance in man and makes him even more self-centred (thus increasing his own suffering in life) than he is already. We are aware, however, that Unity does not usually promote or endorse this type of petitionary prayer, but wanted to make the Theosophical view clear. We agree regarding the importance and value of meditation. We could also agree that certain types of affirmation – such as reminding oneself of one’s true divine nature and the Oneness of all beings or repeating certain phrases and truths to help elevate the mind to a purer and higher state of consciousness – can be beneficial. We disagree strongly, however, regarding “denials.” To quote from the article The Existence of Evil, which deals in part with this subject:
“Theosophy too holds firmly to the notion of non-duality and universal oneness but it has enough common sense as to make the necessary distinction between absolute existence and manifested existence. . . . It’s obvious that hate and evil are definite objective realities, along with many other unpleasant and awful things, and the fact is that they will always objectively exist to some extent as long as the objective universe, the manifested universe, exists. The New Thought people may try to fervently deny the existence of such things, through their “affirmations and denials,” but it is futile to do so.
“Theosophy teaches that:
“Evil and all its aspects are the automatic natural byproduct and result of the existence of MATTER.
“Evil is really “imperfection” because perfection belongs only to pure Spirit. The manifested universe is pervaded by duality; the duality of spirit and matter, subjective and objective, etc. The universe cannot become manifest or remain manifest without the existence, interplay, and contrast of these two opposite poles. “Manifestation” itself implies and involves duality and naturally this gives rise to all the “dvandvas” or “pairs of opposites” such as those things which we call good and evil, love and hate, joy and sorrow, male and female, young and old, health and sickness, life and apparent death, and so on ad infinitum.
“But this duality applies solely to the manifested universe and there is no ULTIMATE duality.
“Why? Because the manifested universe is not the Ultimate Reality. The One Absolute Ultimate Reality is neither manifested nor manifestable and IT alone is eternal, while the universe, as we said, is only a temporary and impermanent phenomenon and thus little more than an illusion, a passing appearance. But it is always the case that where there is matter there is “evil” or “imperfection.” A slightly crude but memorable way of putting it would be, “Spirit = Good, Matter = Evil, Good = Spirit, Evil = Matter.” This is not saying that matter itself is inherently evil or devilish – since ultimately it comes from the same Source as spirit – but that the manifested existence of matter inevitably gives rise to imperfection.”
While any truly honest New Thought person will admit that their use of denials generally has no effect whatsoever, the fact is that the only effect it can ever have is a mere psychological one. To seek to deny, escape from, or even destroy, the relativity and duality which are so inherent in all manifestation is neither philosophical, advisable, or mature.
5. Through thoughts, words and actions, we live the Truth we know.
Theosophy: We agree entirely.
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In Science of Mind, also known as Religious Science, the following twelve points were summarised by its founder Ernest Holmes as “What We Believe.”
1. We believe in God, the living Spirit Almighty; one, indestructible, absolute, and self-existent Cause. This One manifests Itself in and through all creation, but is not absorbed by Its creation. The manifest universe is the body of God; it is the logical and necessary outcome of the infinite self-knowingness of God.
Theosophy: Apart from tending to avoid the “God” word and maintaining that there can be no such thing as creation but only emanation and evolution from and within the One Infinite Divine Life, we agree with this perfectly.
2. We believe in the individualization of the Spirit in Us, and that all people are individualizations of the One Spirit.
Theosophy: Although we might word it a bit differently for the sake of accuracy, we can agree with this, adding that Spirit is individualised within us as our soul but that Spirit – the highermost part our being – is always One and Universal. There are many souls but only one spirit.
3. We believe in the eternality, the immortality, and the continuity of the individual soul, forever and ever expanding.
Theosophy: So do we.
4. We believe that heaven is within us, and that we experience it to the degree that we become conscious of it.
Theosophy: Since New Thought is always customarily vague about the nature of the afterlife and what happens when we die – with some adherents even teaching that this life on Earth is all there is – it isn’t easy to deduce the original intended meaning behind this fourth point. If by “heaven” is meant peace, bliss, joy, spirituality, etc., then we can agree entirely. The extensive Theosophical teaching regarding the process of death and the period between death and rebirth can be found outlined and explained in several articles on this site, particularly Death and The Afterlife and When We Die.
5. We believe the ultimate goal of life to be a complete freedom from all discord of every nature, and that this goal is sure to be attained by all.
Theosophy: We believe the ultimate goal of life – or rather the ultimate goal of our whole cycle of lives – to be the re-becoming in consciousness of That which we truly, really, and eternally are. That is pure eternal Spirit, the One Universal Self of all. “This goal is sure to be attained by all” who will put forth what Theosophy calls “self-induced and self-devised efforts.” Complete freedom from every kind of discord is simply a secondary effect and is not the whole aim and goal itself.
6. We believe in the unity of all life, and that the highest God and the innermost God is one God. We believe that God is personal to all who feel this indwelling presence.
Theosophy: Those who truly feel this indwelling presence may experience it in a personal sort of way but realise that Its real nature is sublimely impersonal because of Its universality and infinite oneness. The unity and divinity of all life is also a central teaching of Theosophy.
7. We believe in the direct revelation of truth through our intuitive and spiritual nature, and that anyone may become a revealer of truth who lives in close contact with the indwelling God.
Theosophy: This is perfectly true and wonderfully expressed.
8. We believe that the Universal Spirit, which is God, operates through a Universal Mind, which is the Law of God; and that we are surrounded by this Creative Mind which receives the direct impress of our thought and acts upon it.
Theosophy: We say that that which “receives the direct impress of our thought and acts upon it” is not the Universal Mind itself but what we call the astral light . . . the psychic atmosphere which closely surrounds and even to a certain degree interpenetrates the dense physical plane. The astral light is something of a much lower and more material nature than the Universal Mind but it could be said that it owes its existence and nature to the Universal Mind.
9. We believe in the healing of the sick through the power of this Mind.
Theosophy: We believe that whatever is, is Karma, i.e. the result of man’s self-created destiny, the effects and reactions of the causes and actions he has previously set in motion, whether in this or a preceding incarnation. And our Karmic debts must be – and always will be – paid off, it being impossible to override or eliminate them through the use of mental power. In most instances when apparent healing occurs through such methods as promoted in Science of Mind and New Thought in general, along with Christian Science, it is the case that the sickness has merely been forced back temporarily into an unmanifest state, from which it will inevitably have to re-emerge sooner or later in order for that particular aspect of our Karma to be balanced.
Theosophy strongly advises against these types of metaphysical or mental healing practices, yet at the same time readily admits that much of mankind’s maladies are psychologically induced as a result of misguided, neurotic, and uncontrolled thought, and can be alleviated to a large extent by raising our general everyday consciousness to a higher and purer level. But this is something quite different from the specific theory and practice of New Thought healing.
10. We believe in the control of conditions through the power of this Mind.
Theosophy: All conditions are the result of Karma. We have the power to control what our future conditions will be like by changing our present thoughts and actions but while we can always change things within ourselves, we can only alter external conditions to the extent that our Karma will permit. In other words, we can’t always have things the way we want, when we want. What we sow, we must reap, and what we reap, we have sown. Again, if mind power is deliberately applied metaphysically with any type of selfish intent or with any personal material aims, it is black magic.
11. We believe in the eternal Goodness, the eternal Loving-kindness, and the eternal Givingness of Life to all.
Theosophy: Although we say that the quality of goodness cannot exactly be predicated of the Absolute, as mentioned earlier, we can still go along with this statement well enough.
12. We believe in our own soul, our own spirit, and our own destiny; for we understand that the life of all is God.
Theosophy: We believe in our own individual soul, the One Spirit which is the same for all and which is our Higher Self, and our own destiny; for we understand that the life of all is the One Divine Life, the expression and manifestation of that Supreme Pure Divine Consciousness which is everything and in everything.
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So we can see that the main points on which Theosophy and New Thought agree are as follows:
1. An impersonal and universal Divine Principle as Deity.
2. The Oneness and Divineness of all life, including the inner divinity of every human being.
3. The Universe is produced and governed by Law.
4. We are each creating our own destiny through our thoughts, words, and actions, and are thus very responsible beings even if we don’t realise it.
5. The great importance of spiritual and mental freedom and independence.
6. A respect and appreciation for the elements of Truth expressed in all the world’s religions.
Karma and Reincarnation have always been difficult concepts for New Thought. It is estimated that approximately 50% of New Thought adherents affirm some type of belief in them but it is usually of a vague and incomplete nature, since they are not clearly or specifically taught in the New Thought philosophy. Many New Thought people turn to New Age ideas for answers and explanations regarding matters on which their own philosophy is vague or silent.
It is said that Charles Fillmore denied the existence of Karma but stated that reincarnation “sometimes happens,” believing himself to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul!
Theosophy also differs radically from New Thought in regard to the subject of desire, the fulfillment of desires, and the use of what the New Thought teachings call the “Law of Mind.” This sort of prosperity-oriented ideology is distinctly American and has its roots and origins more in the early 20th century concept of the “American Dream” than in any type of religion, genuine philosophy, or spiritual tradition.
Science of Mind, being less overtly Christian in character and more open to Eastern ideas than Unity, still usually speaks of Jesus as “The Wayshower.” As for New Thought people attempting to find esoteric meanings in the Bible, we can only remind them that it is rarely profitable to search for something where it never existed, and the majority of the contents of the Bible were not written with any esoteric or symbolic meaning or intent behind them and those that were have become subject to many textual alterations over the course of time. Many of the New Thought interpretations of Bible passages are so far-fetched as to be ridiculous, particularly those dreamed up by Charles Fillmore, and show a profound lack of familiarity with the universal language of mystical symbolism.
Since many of the concepts of the Divine, of Man, and of Oneness, that are to be found in New Thought, are in their character and expression far more Eastern and Hindu than Western and Christian, we wonder why its adherents continue to insist with such tenacity on the centrality and “tremendous value” of the Bible, rather than laying it aside in favour of such scriptures as the Upanishads, which represent far more closely and clearly the beliefs and ideas which they hold in their hearts. It may be comfortable to cling on to elements of the religion in which one was brought up and with which one is most familiar but it is not profitable or beneficial in the long run.
The lack of distinct emphasis in New Thought on personal purity, self-discipline, ethics, altruism, and a commitment to the service of humanity, is also of some concern.
For a brief and simple summary of the main teachings of Theosophy, please see the article titled 12 Things Theosophy Teaches. Also of possible interest are Theosophy: The Ancient Wisdom, Unity of The World’s Religions, An Invitation to The Secret Doctrine, and Praise for H. P. Blavatsky and Theosophy. There are also over 300 articles listed on the Articles page which deal with every aspect of Theosophy and the Theosophical Movement. Theosophy proves itself to be the esoteric Teaching which underlies all the world’s religions, the perfect and naturally occurring unity and synthesis of religion, philosophy, and science. A vast, logical, and self-consistent system, it truly contains the answer to every question and the solution to every problem and this is no exaggeration or conceited claim.
New Thought, on the other hand, can only be described as a well-intentioned admixture of truth and distortion, of beneficent practices and harmful practices, a somewhat clumsy relic of a time when everything was changing in the religious, spiritual, and social thought of the American people.
2 thoughts on “A Comparison between New Thought and Theosophy”
Elsewhere when you talk about Karma, it is said:” Referring to Karma in “The Secret Doctrine Commentaries” HPB remarks that “It does not act. It is our actions that act, and that awaken all kinds of influences. Look here, if you say that Karma acts and you say it has intelligence, immediately you suggest the idea of a personal god. It is not so, because Karma does not see and Karma does not watch, and does not repent as the Lord God repented. Karma is a universal law, immutable and changeless.”
When Unity and Science of Mind talk about prayer they are referrin to connect with the essence of the Absolue One. And not as a way to convince the Absolute One to do something. This you express as ” It is our actions that act, and that awaken all kinds of influences.”
Thank you for your comment. We are aware that the New Thought teachings on prayer are not about trying “to convince the Absolute One to do something.”
However, they do focus on trying to manifest and attract personal benefits – physical, financial, social, and otherwise – through their prayer and meditation practices. And this, as the article explains, is black magic in the view of Theosophy and also in the view of all genuine Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy.
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