Is Theosophy a Progressive System of Religion?

~ An Article by Robert Crosbie from Theosophy Magazine ~

Photo taken at the United Lodge of Theosophists in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, one of numerous ULT lodges around the world.

The following article was written nearly a century ago by Robert Crosbie, founder of the United Lodge of Theosophists, and is considered by many to be one of his most important articles. It is just as relevant today as it was then.

The main theme of the article is the matter of whether or not Theosophy is something which can be altered, added to, or expanded upon by its students. Many people believe that it is.

Yet, as we said in the article titled How to successfully study the Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky – “Genuine Theosophy, as taught by HPB and the Masters, is the Esoteric Philosophy of the Mystic East. It is a complete and perfectly defined system, not open to change, alteration, or redefinition. It is perfect and complete as it is and answers every question and solves every problem. The Master K.H. states that it is “the sole custodian of Truth” and the Master M. calls it “the only true philosophy on earth.” In response to the theory propounded by some that differing and contradictory teachings on one and the same subject can still both be considered as Theosophy, the Master K.H. wrote “Truth is One and cannot admit of diametrically opposite views.” HPB states very significantly and with special emphasis in “The Key to Theosophy” that “we have no two beliefs or hypotheses on the same subject”.”

For this reason, the United Lodge of Theosophists has always followed the policy of studying only the works of H.P. Blavatsky and William Quan Judge, since these present a complete, vast, and self-consistent system and one which tallies with and represents exactly the actual teachings of the Masters of the Wisdom, as the Masters’ own letters clearly and abundantly show.

At the time this article was written, much in the way of misinformation and misrepresentation of what Theosophy is was being spread by Annie Besant, C.W. Leadbeater, and the Theosophical Society headquartered at Adyar, India, which they ruled over. The story of Besant and Leadbeater has been dealt with in other articles on this site and doesn’t need repeating here. Suffice it to say that a whole load of things were being presented and promoted by them as “Theosophy” which were in fact not Theosophy at all. They had purposely pushed the original teachings of Theosophy well into the background and replaced them with their own system, which was derived almost exclusively from Leadbeater’s self-proclaimed clairvoyant discoveries.

Besant apparently believed that this information was superior to that presented by Blavatsky and that it was worthy of being called “Theosophy” and of being viewed by the masses as a progressed and more developed version of that which is found in “The Secret Doctrine” and the other works of HPB, whereas in fact anyone who has compared the two will readily see that such an idea is simply preposterous.

Theosophical Society members had little opportunity to compare the two, however, since Besant had happily allowed HPB’s books – “The Secret Doctrine” and “Isis Unveiled” included – to go out of print and was instead busily engaged in publishing books by herself and Leadbeater. Indeed, Theosophy had been redefined by the Adyar Society as being more or less equivalent to Leadbeaterosophy.

And the teachings of HPB might still be out of print and largely unavailable today were it not for Robert Crosbie and the United Lodge of Theosophists, who took it upon themselves at great personal expense to revive the publication of the exact, unaltered, unabridged writings of H.P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge and to make them available at the most affordable, lowest possible prices. In this respect and others it can be truly said that Robert Crosbie rescued Theosophy.

The ULT has always placed high emphasis on faithfulness to both the Message and the Messengers of Theosophy, meaning in this case HPB and WQJ. There is nothing at all in either their voluminous writings or in the statements of the Masters themselves to even remotely hint or faintly suggest that it was intended for the teachings of Theosophy to be altered, added to, or expanded upon by others after the passing of the original Teachers. On the contrary, it is clearly shown that such a thing would be an impossibility.

Yet for merely being faithful to the Message and the Messengers and for standing up boldly for genuine Theosophy and for pointing out to sincere and truth-seeking enquirers the multitude of very important differences between Theosophy as HPB and the Masters taught it and the cheap imitations of Theosophy as taught by others, Mr Crosbie and the ULT were accused by some of being dogmatic, sectarian, fundamentalist, and fault finding. Even today, such charges are sometimes levelled against ULT people, usually by the modern day followers of Leadbeater, Besant, and Bailey, although these are often completely unaware of many important and undeniable facts which they have a right to know regarding the true origins and nature of the teachings which they follow and study.

Here at this site, it gives us no pleasure at all to write articles from time to time about such people and about what HPB herself called “Pseudo-Theosophy,” yet we have little choice, if we would be true to our own conscience and to the Cause of genuine Theosophy. Keeping genuine Theosophy alive in the world has been the mission and aim of the United Lodge of Theosophists for 105 years now and thankfully its efforts around the world have not been in vain.

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This question is raised in a communication made to the Editors of THEOSOPHY, signed “A Student”. We care nothing for the identity of our correspondent, but we have respect for an honest expression of opinion, and are glad to make answer. Not that we desire to change” A Student’s” opinion, but that she (or he) and others of like conceptions, may gain something of an insight into the causes and reasons for the methods pursued by this magazine.

We quote from the communication the following:

“Providing we remember that Theosophy is not a dogmatical presentment of the Wisdom-Religion – a system delivered for once to the Saints – but a progressive system of Religion”.

There is some confusion in this statement, for if there is such a knowledge as the Wisdom-Religion, it is the result of the observation and experience of the Masters of Wisdom, and as such stands for itself; it can neither be enlarged nor improved upon by its students. Furthermore, what was named “Theosophy” by Mme. Blavatsky is that same Wisdom-Religion so far as the latter has been promulgated by the Teacher. In regard to the latter statement H. P. B. herself has written:

“The Secret Doctrine (or Wisdom-Religion) is not a series of vague theories or treatises, but is all that can be given out in this century. It will be centuries before much more is given.”

A similar statement by William Q. Judge is as follows:

“It (Theosophy) is not a belief or dogma formulated or invented by man, but is a knowledge of the laws which govern the evolution of the physical, astral, psychical and intellectual constituents of nature and of man.”

In the face of such statements and similar ones made by Those who brought Theosophy to us, the assumption that it is a system of progressive religion can only proceed from ignorance of the facts and a false conception which can only lead to confusion on the part of any “student”. Theosophy is not a religion, but Religion itself in the truest sense; even the use of the term “religion” without any qualification is misleading, for Theosophy is not “a belief” as religions are generally, but rather Religious Science; Scientific-Religion, and an all-inclusive Philosophy.

As to “a dogmatical presentment”, Theosophy has never been put forth as a dogma, but as a relation of facts which have been gathered through observation and experience, which anyone can accept or reject without condemnation or praise. One might as well call the only exact science we use, viz., Mathematics, dogmatic or a dogma because it is presented as an assemblage of facts which the student can study, apply and prove for himself. Theosophy stands in exactly the same position: a presentation of Knowledge gained through aeons of time; it is not to be confounded with the speculations of any of its students, who at best are subject to their personal prejudices, predilections and weaknesses. It should also be clearly understood that every theosophical writer or leader – except Those who brought Theosophy to the world [“Those who brought Theosophy to the world” refers to H.P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge] – are students of more or less proficiency in the Science, and are therefore liable to misconceptions and erroneous applications, and that the only possibility of discerning such errors lies in a comparison with the Science as originally Presented.

In the same communication we are taken to task in the following words, “you are doing no good by ‘barking against the bad’ as Emerson would say, about what is going on in the Theosophical world. I believe you over-emphasize the evil that is being done, while minimizing the good”.

It is admitted that evil is being done. Can it be wrong to point out where and how such evil comes about? How else can any sincere student who desires only to warn against pitfalls, help his fellow-men?

As to the “good” in any presentation, it stands for itself, and is the only reason why error or evil has any possibility of acceptance; it is the mixture of Truth and Error that confuses and misleads the ignorant and the unwary; remove the error and its sequence evil, and the Truth stands out all the more clearly; there is no “minimizing the good” in such a course.

It is an unfortunate fact that there are more misconceptions and misapplications of Theosophy among its would-be students, than there is of real understanding. Most of this is due to the self-acclaimed leaders of societies who are very prominent in the public eye, and who proclaim and issue their own ideas, interpretations, and speculations as Theosophy pure and simple; one would expect from such exponents the false and misleading idea that “Theosophy is a progressive system of religion”, for such a statement beclouds the facts, and serves to draw attention to their own lucubrations as “progressed” Theosophy, and to themselves as having progressed farther and as knowing more than the original Teachers.

[The above paragraph refers primarily to the Adyar Theosophical Society, which was at the time under the leadership and influence of Annie Besant and C.W. Leadbeater.]

No one would have a word to say if these exponents chose some other name under which to promulgate their ideas, but to present the latter as Theosophy, – the Message delivered to the world by Masters – is to our mind the greatest imaginable crime against humanity. Every presentation of Truth given to the world in the past has been vitiated in a similar way, being filtered through the minds of the original disciples to the disciples of the latter, and so on for generations, until but little was left of the spirit of the Message, and that little obscured by systems of materialistic concepts under the name of religion. Under the conditions of past periods, this could not be helped, because there existed no way by which the “written word” could be so duplicated as to place it within the reach of every human being who desired it. The present period, however, made it possible for every enquirer to obtain or study Masters’ Message as it was written by one qualified to do so. This was done in order that there should be no need of intermediaries between those who would know and the knowledge itself. But, sad to say, many who drew their inspiration and ideas from the delivered Message, and had the great Karmic opportunity of presenting and promulgating that Message pure and undefiled to the world-at-large, turned the eyes of men to their own personalities as “successors” and “teachers” and have not only misled thousands of adherents, but have made the name of Theosophy stand for everything that is undesirable in the minds of humanity at large. H. P. B. and W. Q. J. knew well the probability and the danger of such a sequence, but They could only warn. H. P. B.’s last message to Theosophists in Convention assembled contained the following words: “Never is there greater danger than when vanity, ambition and a desire to lead, dresses itself up in the peacock feathers of altruism”.

What is at the root of the schisms that have disrupted the Theosophical Society that H. P. B. left? Personalities every time.

What is the opposite and the corrective of Personality? Nothing less than Impersonality which seeks nothing for itself and everything for the Cause of Theosophy pure and simple. There is no worldly fame, glory or profit in such a course, yet it, and it alone, removes every obstacle that might intervene between the Message of Theosophy and those who desire to study and apply it on its own merits. For that reason, and that reason alone, is the magazine “THEOSOPHY” and “The United Lodge of Theosophists” conducted anonymously; The mind of the race is still obsessed by the idea that it is important and essential to know who the active agents are, whereas the important thing is the merit of the thing done. The injunction by the Man of Nazareth, “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth” is as binding as any other injunction of His, but do Christian peoples follow it, or regard it as of any importance? Do theosophical exponents exhibit a regard for the above injunction, or for the more explicit one that they well know, “And the power that the disciple shall seek is that he shall appear as nothing in the eyes of men”? Let them answer. If they excuse themselves it will be on the ground that men will not listen unless the personality of the speaker is under intimate inspection; but have they tried it? Truth is not dependent upon the one who utters it, but upon its own self-evident nature, and whether spoken by the wicked man or one who is esteemed as righteous, it is neither debased by the one nor enhanced by the other.

If Theosophists or Christians recognize that the world has gone mad on personalities, can it be made sane by glossing over that madness or pleading expediency? They know it cannot; but they are the creatures of their generation and have not the courage to do that which puts personality out of court in their own cases, and sets the example of a truer, less selfish line of effort. Yet if the change is to be brought about, someone must make the beginning; it is the first step that begins the count, and if the goal is a right and true one, the results can be left to time and Karma. We rest on that.

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“Confusion, splits and failures in the Movement can all be traced to this very important teaching of what Theosophy is. … There is a tendency on the part of many who are sincere in their attachment to the Cause of Theosophy to overlook the implications of the correct view of Theosophy, namely, that it is a definite system of thought, a philosophy whose principles are clearly defined and a science whose findings are precise. Their desire to be broadminded and tolerant leads them to define Theosophy as something so all-inclusive as to become obscure, something so general as to become vague. … Those who have learnt their “theosophy” at any source other than that of H.P.B. need a serious warning: between her teachings and those that commonly pass as Theosophy there is an unbridgeable gulf; the difference between the two is as between day and night.”
– B.P. Wadia, Studies in The Secret Doctrine –

Blavatsky Theosophy Group UK