What is Practical Theosophy? This question is the title of the twelfth chapter of “The Key to Theosophy” written by H. P. Blavatsky. Some people, upon hearing or reading the term “Practical Theosophy,” may perhaps jump to the conclusion that it refers to a system of practical spiritual or meditative exercises in order to unfold our latent higher powers or attain to higher levels of spiritual consciousness.
Actually they would be RIGHT – but not in the way they had suspected.
For although Theosophy does not discountenance the importance of safe and sensible meditation and aspiring to higher levels of inner unfoldment in our quest to attain Yoga (Union) with our Higher Self, which is the ONE Infinite Divine Life, it teaches that altruism, selfless service to humanity, living solely to help and benefit others, and the pursuit of the Bodhisattva Ideal, are all just as important for our spiritual evolution and development as these, and at the same time immeasurably more important for humanity at large. In actuality, altruism and service are part and parcel of the Raja Yoga of Theosophy, as can be seen here.
Madame Blavatsky once wrote: “ALTRUISM . . . This is the keynote of Theosophy and the cure for all ills; this it is which the real Founders of the Theosophical Society promote as its first object – UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD.”
The “real Founders” of the Theosophical Movement were the Masters of Wisdom, those members of a Great Brotherhood of Eastern Initiates who stood behind both HPB and the Movement which she founded under their direction and inspiration. The first declared object of the Theosophical Movement was, and is, the actualisation of Universal Brotherhood which, according to Theosophy, is actually eternally “a fact in Nature,” because there truly is no separation in the Universe but only the Divine Allness itself.
At another time she stated that, “True Theosophical work [is] the endeavour to help others” and was pleased to eventually be able to write regarding the Theosophical Society that “There are signs visible, though only gradually coming into sight, that its members are at last awakening from their apathy and setting to work in earnest to practise the first principle of true Theosophy – UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD. Gradually they are becoming alive to the duty of helping others.”
“The Ethics of Theosophy are more important than any divulgement of psychic laws and facts,” she informed the American Theosophists, adding that “The latter relate wholly to the material and evanescent part of the septenary man, but the Ethics sink into and take hold of the real man – the reincarnating Ego. We are outwardly creatures of but a day; within we are eternal. Learn, then, well the doctrines of Karma and Reincarnation, and teach, practise, promulgate that system of life and thought which alone can save the coming races. Do not work merely for the Theosophical Society, but through it for Humanity.”
It often surprises people who have had no direct involvement with the Theosophical Movement to learn and discover the tremendous and constant emphasis on altruism, selflessness, service, ethics, morals, and purity of life, which permeates all Theosophical teachings. It would be no exaggeration to say that the philosophy and system of ethics propounded by H. P. Blavatsky and in the teachings of Theosophy in general is just as grand, crystal clear, inspiring, challenging, noble, uncompromising, and emphatic, as that presented by Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, or any of the other great Saviours and Teachers, if not even more so.
Of course, there is really only one true system of ethics – that of absolutely unselfish service and unhesitating self-sacrifice for the sake of our fellow man – and so in this sense her message is no different from that of her mighty predecessors in ages past.
The remainder of this article is a compilation of quotations taken from Chapter 12 of “The Key to Theosophy,” in which HPB answers the question and resolves the issue of what is actually meant by “Practical Theosophy.”
May this article be a lasting source of inspiration for all who read it and may we endeavour to keep always in mind these words of the great Teacher of Theosophy:
“On the day when Theosophy will have accomplished its most holy and most important mission – namely to unite firmly a body of men of all nations in brotherly love and bent on a pure altruistic work, not on a labour with selfish motives – on that day only will Theosophy become higher than any nominal brotherhood of man.”
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“Our philosophy teaches us that the object of doing our duties to all men and to ourselves the last, is not the attainment of personal happiness, but of the happiness of others; the fulfilment of right for the sake of right, not for what it may bring us. Happiness, or rather contentment, may indeed follow the performance of duty, but is not and must not be the motive for it.”
“Duty is that which is due to Humanity, to our fellow-men, neighbours, family, and especially that which we owe to all those who are poorer and more helpless than we are ourselves. This is a debt which, if left unpaid during life, leaves us spiritually insolvent and moral bankrupts in our next incarnation. Theosophy is the quintessence of duty.”
“Those who practise their duty towards all, and for duty’s own sake, are few; and fewer still are those who perform that duty, remaining content with the satisfaction of their own secret consciousness.”
“Modern ethics are beautiful to read about and hear discussed; but what are words unless converted into actions?”
“If you ask me how we understand Theosophical duty practically and in view of Karma, I may answer you that our duty is to drink without a murmur to the last drop, whatever contents the cup of life may have in store for us, to pluck the roses of life only for the fragrance they may shed on others, and to be ourselves content but with the thorns, if that fragrance cannot be enjoyed without depriving some one else of it.”
“No Theosophist has the right to this name, unless he is thoroughly imbued with the correctness of Carlyle’s truism: “The end of man is an action and not a thought, though it were the noblest” – and unless he sets and models his daily life upon this truth. The profession of a truth is not yet the enactment of it; and the more beautiful and grand it sounds, the more loudly virtue or duty is talked about instead of being acted upon, the more forcibly it will always remind one of the Dead Sea fruit.”
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ENQUIRER: “What do you consider as due to humanity at large?”
HPB: “Full recognition of equal rights and privileges for all, and without distinction of race, colour, social position, or birth.”
ENQUIRER: “When would you consider such due not given?”
HPB: “When there is the slightest invasion of another’s right – be that other a man or a nation; when there is any failure to show him the same justice, kindness, consideration or mercy which we desire for ourselves. The whole present system of politics is built on the oblivion of such rights, and the most fierce assertion of national selfishness.”
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“Let me briefly remind you what these principles are – universal Unity and Causation; Human Solidarity; the Law of Karma; Re-incarnation. These are the four links of the golden chain which should bind humanity into one family, one universal Brotherhood.”
“In sociology, as in all branches of true science, the law of universal causation holds good. But this causation necessarily implies, as its logical outcome, that human solidarity on which Theosophy so strongly insists. If the action of one reacts on the lives of all, and this is the true scientific idea, then it is only by all men becoming brothers and all women sisters, and by all practising in their daily lives true brotherhood and true sisterhood, that the real human solidarity, which lies at the root of the elevation of the race, can ever be attained. It is this action and interaction, this true brotherhood and sisterhood, in which each shall live for all and all for each, which is one of the fundamental Theosophical principles that every Theosophist should be bound, not only to teach, but to carry out in his or her individual life.”
“Every Theosophist, therefore, is bound to do his utmost to help on, by all the means in his power, every wise and well-considered social effort which has for its object the amelioration of the condition of the poor. Such efforts should be made with a view to their ultimate social emancipation, or the development of the sense of duty in those who now so often neglect it in nearly every relation of life.”
“And this can be attained only by inculcating those higher and nobler conceptions of public and private duties which lie at the root of all spiritual and material improvement. In every conceivable case he himself must be a centre of spiritual action, and from him and his own daily individual life must radiate those higher spiritual forces which alone can regenerate his fellow-men.”
“It is this very law of Karma which gives strength to all that I have said. The individual cannot separate himself from the race, nor the race from the individual. The law of Karma applies equally to all, although all are not equally developed. In helping on the development of others, the Theosophist believes that he is not only helping them to fulfil their Karma, but that he is also, in the strictest sense, fulfilling his own. It is the development of humanity, of which both he and they are integral parts, that he has always in view, and he knows that any failure on his part to respond to the highest within him retards not only himself but all, in their progressive march. By his actions, he can make it either more difficult or more easy for humanity to attain the next higher plane of being.”
“Every mean and selfish action sends us backward and not forward, while every noble thought and every unselfish deed are stepping-stones to the higher and more glorious planes of being.”
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ENQUIRER: “Is equal justice to all and love to every creature the highest standard of Theosophy?”
HPB: “No; there is an even far higher one.”
ENQUIRER: “What can it be?”
HPB: “The giving to others more than to oneself – self-sacrifice. Such was the standard and abounding measure which marked so pre-eminently the greatest Teachers and Masters of Humanity – e.g., Gautama Buddha in History, and Jesus of Nazareth as in the Gospels. This trait alone was enough to secure to them the perpetual reverence and gratitude of the generations of men that come after them.”
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“Act individually and not collectively [in cases of giving charity to the needy]; follow the Northern Buddhist precepts: “Never put food into the mouth of the hungry by the hand of another”; “Never let the shadow of thy neighbour (a third person) come between thyself and the object of thy bounty”; “Never give to the Sun time to dry a tear before thou hast wiped it.” Again “Never give money to the needy, or food to the priest, who begs at thy door, through thy servants, lest thy money should diminish gratitude, and thy food turn to gall.”
“The Theosophical ideas of charity mean personal exertion for others; personal mercy and kindness; personal interest in the welfare of those who suffer; personal sympathy, forethought and assistance in their troubles or needs. We Theosophists do not believe in giving money (N.B., if we had it) through other people’s hands or organizations. We believe in giving to the money a thousandfold greater power and effectiveness by our personal contact and sympathy with those who need it.”
“No man who has not got it in him will ever become a Theosophist; but he may remain a member of our Society all the same. We have no rules by which we could force any man to become a practical Theosophist, if he does not desire to be one.”
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ENQUIRER: “And what may be the duty of a Theosophist to himself?”
HPB: “To control and conquer, through the Higher, the lower self. To purify himself inwardly and morally; to fear no one, and nought, save the tribunal of his own conscience. Never to do a thing by halves; i.e., if he thinks it the right thing to do, let him do it openly and boldly, and if wrong, never touch it at all. It is the duty of a Theosophist to lighten his burden by thinking of the wise aphorism of Epictetus, who says: “Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflection the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power, and consequently should not be any part of your concern.”
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“There is no happiness for one who is ever thinking of Self and forgetting all other Selves. The Universe groans under the weight of such action (Karma), and none other than self-sacrificial Karma relieves it. How many of you have helped humanity to carry its smallest burden, that you should all regard yourselves as Theosophists. Oh, men of the West, who would play at being the Saviours of mankind before they even spare the life of a mosquito whose sting threatens them!, would you be partakers of Divine Wisdom or true Theosophists? Then do as the gods when incarnated do. Feel yourselves the vehicles of the whole humanity, mankind as part of yourselves, and act accordingly.” – Letter from a Master, quoted by H. P. Blavatsky, “Five Messages to the American Theosophists” p. 19-20