Study, Thinking and Using the Mind

"Study to show thyself approved."

It is increasingly popular amongst today’s spiritual seekers to attempt to demonise the very fact and act of thought and thinking.

“Destroy your thoughts…go beyond mind…give up thinking…live in the realm of no-mind, not-thought and not-thinking,” they urge us, apparently unaware that we are minds and thinkers in evolution, for “mind is a term perfectly synonymous with Soul.” (H.P. Blavatsky, “Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge” p. 29)

The following compilation – from H.P. Blavatsky, William Q. Judge, Robert Crosbie, and B.P. Wadia – may help to shed light on this issue. It indicates very clearly the Theosophical perspective on the importance and necessity of the mind, thinking, mental effort, and study, particularly in regard to the deep and serious study of the Esoteric Philosophy of the Ancient Wisdom.

This does not mean a neglect or denial of the aspect and forces of the “heart” quality. There should be an even and perfect balance between “head” and “heart.” Yet just as the “heart” is neglected by some aspirants and students, to their own detriment, so the “head” is neglected by many others. The Masters say that intuition and intellect ought to be developed and cultivated side by side and at the same rate as one another.

Theosophists ought to be neither cold-hearted intellectuals nor warm-hearted anti-intellectuals.

As to the equally pervasive idea in some quarters that “eventually we have to give up all our knowledge and let go of everything we’ve learnt and known,” this is true but not in the way that it is generally understood or, rather, misunderstood.

Bhavani Shankar, a chela or disciple of the Master K.H., speaks about it thus in “The Doctrine of the Bhagavad Gita”:

“. . . all the rich treasure of knowledge and experience gathered by him with pain and patience through innumerable lives, and of which his Karana-sharira was built, is now gladly sacrificed by him to Adhiyajna, and thus is increased the fund of cosmic intelligence working for the uplifting of the race.”

This is what happens, he explains, at an advanced stage of initiation. Rather than an abandonment of knowledge and understanding, resulting in the individual being left bereft of both, it is rather a selfless donation of all his knowledge, understanding, and experience, for the upliftment and benefit of the whole of humanity.

The initiate does not lose his knowledge by this act; he merely shares it with the whole and ceases to view it in any way as his own. But it is apparent that he could never be able to do such a thing had he not first “gathered . . . with pain and patience through innumerable lives” that “rich treasure of knowledge and experience.” So this is a treasure we ought to be acquiring, not disparaging and denigrating.

True spiritual study, true spiritual practice, and true spiritual service – made true by altruistic and utterly unselfish motive – are not separate from one another but are the three naturally interconnected and smoothly flowing facets of the spiritual life, the life divine.


“See in study [of “The Secret Doctrine”] a means of exercising and developing the mind never touched by other studies.”

“Theosophy,” she said, “is for those who can think, or for those who can drive themselves to think, not mental sluggards.”

– Words attributed to H.P. Blavatsky, “The “Secret Doctrine” and Its Study” (aka The Bowen Notes)

“. . . the mind alone – the sole link and medium between the man of earth and the Higher Self.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “Occultism versus The Occult Arts”

“That it [i.e. the book] should succeed in making Theosophy intelligible without mental effort on the part of the reader, would be too much to expect; . . . To the mentally lazy or obtuse, Theosophy must remain a riddle; for in the world mental as in the world spiritual each man must progress by his own efforts. The writer cannot do the reader’s thinking for him, nor would the latter be any the better off if such vicarious thought were possible.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, Preface to “The Key to Theosophy”

“There is but one real man, enduring through the cycle of life and immortal in essence, if not in form, and this is Manas, the Mind-man or embodied Consciousness.”

“ENQ. But what is it that reincarnates, in your belief?

“THEO. The Spiritual thinking Ego, the permanent principle in man, or that which is the seat of Manas. It is not Atma, or even Atma-Buddhi, regarded as the dual Monad, which is the individual, or divine man, but Manas; for Atman is the Universal ALL, and becomes the HIGHER-SELF of man only in conjunction with Buddhi, its vehicle, which links IT to the individuality (or divine man).”

“I have just explained that the re-incarnating Principle, or that which we call the divine man, is indestructible throughout the life cycle: indestructible as a thinking Entity, and even as an ethereal form.”

“In its every essence it is THOUGHT, and is, therefore, called in its plurality Manasa putra, “the Sons of the (Universal) mind.” This individualised “Thought” is what we Theosophists call the real human EGO, the thinking Entity imprisoned in a case of flesh and bones. This is surely a Spiritual Entity, not Matter, and such Entities are the incarnating EGOS that inform the bundle of animal matter called mankind, and whose names are Manasa or “Minds.” But once imprisoned, or incarnate, their essence becomes dual: that is to say, the rays of the eternal divine Mind, considered as individual entities, assume a two-fold attribute which is (a) their essential inherent characteristic, heaven-aspiring mind (higher Manas), and (b) the human quality of thinking, or animal cogitation, rationalised owing to the superiority of the human brain, the Kama-tending or lower Manas.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 100, 121, 177, 184

“. . . the mind or the Ego . . . mind is still the soul. It is perfectly synonymous with soul. . . . If you believe in mind, mind is the soul or the Ego.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine Dialogues” p. 43-44

“. . . the power of thinking [and] the spiritual faculty of perceiving abstract truths; which power and faculty are the first requisites of a philosophical mind.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “Philosophers and Philosophicules”

“Each human being has his Manodhatu or plane of thought proportionate with the degree of his intellect and his mental faculties, beyond which he can go only by studying and developing his higher spiritual faculties in one of the higher spheres of thought.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 205 (Entry for “Manodhatu”)

“Furthermore, there is this also to be added: the number of those who left can hardly be compared with the number of those who found everything they had hoped for in Theosophy. Its doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one’s reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and the real, as opposed to the false and the unreal.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “Is Theosophy a Religion?”

“. . . intellectual abstraction, which is true Theosophy, or the whole substance of Neo-Platonism.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “The Theosophical Glossary” p. 256 (Entry for “Plotinus”)

“Be what he may, once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought – Godward – he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with “an inspiration of his own” to solve the universal problems.”

– H.P. Blavatsky, “What are the Theosophists?”

“There is an Asiatic proverb: “You may cut the serpent of wisdom in hundred pieces so long that its heart, which is in its head, remains untouched, the serpent will join its bits and live again.””

– Letter from H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett, 17th March 1886

“Man, made of thought, occupant only of many bodies from time to time, is eternally thinking. His chains are through thought, his release due to nothing else.”

– William Q. Judge, “Notes on the Bhagavad Gita” p. 141

Manas, or the Thinker is the reincarnating being, the immortal who carries the results and values of all the different lives lived on earth or elsewhere. Its nature becomes dual as soon as it is attached to a body. For the human brain is a superior organism and Manas uses it to reason from premises to conclusions. This also differentiates man from animal, for the animal acts from automatic and so-called instinctual impulses, whereas the man can use reason. This is the lower aspect of the Thinker or Manas, and not, as some have supposed, the highest and best gift belonging to man. Its other, and in theosophy higher, aspect is the intuitional, which knows, and does not depend on reason. The lower, and purely intellectual, is nearest to the principle of Desire, and is thus distinguished from its other side which has affinity for the spiritual principles above. If the Thinker, then, becomes wholly intellectual, the entire nature begins to tend downward; for intellect alone is cold, heartless, selfish, because it is not lighted up by the two other principles of Buddhi and Atma.”

“The inner Ego, who reincarnates, taking on body after body, storing up the impressions of life after life, gaining experience and adding it to the divine Ego, suffering and enjoying through an immense period of years, is the fifth principle – Manas . . .”

“An understanding of this doctrine of man being really a thinker and made of thought will make clear all the rest in relation to incarnation and reincarnation. The body of the inner man is made of thought, . . .”

“. . . man the immortal thinker . . .”

– William Q. Judge, “The Ocean of Theosophy” p. 54, 57, 59, 60

“Students sometimes complain that they cannot understand, that the subject is so vast, and so deep and intricate, and not made clear. It is because they do not realize what they have undertaken. Occultism can neither be taught not learned in “a few easy lessons.” . . . Again, people complain at the unfamiliar terms and the strange words imported from foreign languages. Yet if one were to undertake the study of physics, chemistry, music, or medicine, quite as great obstacles have to be overcome. Is it a strange thing, then, that the science that includes all these, and undertakes to give a synthesis of the whole realm of Nature and of life, should have its own nomenclature? . . . In the study of the Secret Doctrine it is not a matter of likes or dislikes, of belief or unbelief, but solely a matter of intelligence and understanding. He who acknowledges his ignorance and yet is unwilling to lay aside his likes and dislikes, and even his creeds and dogmas, for the time, in order to see what is presented in its own light and purely on its merits, has neither need nor use for the Secret Doctrine.”

– William Q. Judge, “The Synthesis of Occult Science”

“Any close observer can detect the want of attention displayed in metaphysical studies in contrast with the particular care given to matters of business and practical affairs of life. All those who are studying Theosophy ought to make themselves aware of this national defect, and therefore give the strictest attention to what they read upon metaphysics and devote less attention to the amount of such reading than to thinking upon what is read.”

– William Q. Judge, “The Earth Chain of Globes”

“But what is study? It is not the mere reading of books, but rather long, earnest, careful thought upon that which we have taken up. If a student accepts reincarnation and karma as true doctrines, the work is but begun. Many theosophists accept doctrines of that name, but are not able to say what it is they have accepted. They do not pause to find out what reincarnates, or how, when, or why karma has its effects, and often do not know what the word means. Some at first think that when they die they will reincarnate, without reflecting that it is the lower personal I they mean, which cannot be born again in a body. Other think that karma is – well, karma, with no clear idea of classes of karma, or whether or not it is punishment or reward or both. Hence a careful learning from one or two books of the statement of the doctrines, and then a more careful study of them, are absolutely necessary.”

“Another branch of study is that pursued by natural devotees, those who desire to enter into the work itself for the good of humanity. Those should study all branches of theosophical literature all the harder, in order to be able to clearly explain it to others, for a weak reasoner or an apparently credulous believer has not much weight with others.

“Western theosophists need patience, determination, discrimination, and memory, if they ever intend to seize and hold the attention of the world for the doctrines they disseminate.”

– William Q. Judge, “Of Studying Theosophy”

“In these matters there is no child’s play nor the usual English and American method of mere book-learning, – we must absorb and work into the practice and the theory laid down, for they are not written merely for the intellect, but for the whole spiritual nature. There must be within the man something which he already knows, that leaps up and out when he scans the books of wisdom; a thing already existing, which only takes an added life or confirmation from books. True Theosophy has all that is practical, but many forget this; there is no greater system of practice than that required by it.”

– William Q. Judge, “Answers to Questioners”

“Some Theosophists do not study; this makes them weak.”

“I can readily imagine the troubles found in getting people to really study; as a rule, the necessity is not perceived, and this, I think, on account of the present methods of education wherein the soul and mind are considered as mere recorders. Is it not strange that plain statements are not grasped, that the superficial meanings of words are taken to be the applications of them? All of which is chargeable to our modern educational methods. Most men think that when they have heard a statement made, they know it.”

“The U.L.T. will go along all right as long as there is some one individual who knows the right lines and will keep them. If the Lodge centers spread by being taken up by people not trained at all in the right line of thought and study, they could very easily go wide of the intention and lead others wrong. Therefore, while there is no constraint, there will be a point from which right direction can be obtained, and advice given as to methods and kind of study. This has to be provided for, even if it is not the ideal condition. The latter, of course, could only exist with ideal minds, and we are not dealing with such.”

“The object of Theosophical study and work is not individual development, but that each and all should become true helpers of Humanity.”

UnityStudyWork – are the trinity of this plane. Universality, Wisdom, and Service are the higher trinity. You are the One who is preparing the way for the latter, by means of the former.”

– Robert Crosbie, “The Friendly Philosopher” p. 119, 134-135, 90, 370-371, 96

“Books are not the final source of Self-Knowledge. That is in the Self. But how to get at that final source? Philosophy, even esoteric, is got from the books, as a starting point. The very essence of work at the Shravaka stage in this cycle depends on books, and the Textbook of the century – The Secret Doctrine.”

“Study should not remain an external thing. In fact, if it so remains, then it is not real study. Application, leading to assimilation, is the true learning by heart. Promulgation is the test-tube in which our application-assimilation has to be evaluated. The practice of ethics without a study of metaphysics is not practicable. Why did H.P.B. write on Cosmogenesis and Anthropogenesis? Why did the Masters take the time and the trouble to give the teachings not only about the seven principles but also about Rounds, Races, etc.? The Voice came the very last. How can anyone seek the Inner Ruler within without a proper and very careful study of (1) the seven principles; (2) their interrelationship; (3) their macrocosmic source; and (4) the Divine Ethics underlying this teaching? Study-application-promulgation are the three sides of an equilateral triangle.”

“The study of books is highly important. We are apt to become speculative without a proper check-up by consulting the texts. Thinking and assimilation imply application. Of course we should preach what we are able to practise; but do not overlook that promulgation draws our attention to our lack of application. Because we advise and preach, it soon strikes us what we ourselves need to apply. Also, promulgation reveals gaps in our knowledge and it does not take long for us to infer that unless more application is made more knowledge cannot come.”

– B.P. Wadia, “Extracts from Unpublished Letters”

“It [i.e. the ULT] welcomes to its association all those who are in accord with its declared purposes and who desire to fit themselves, by study and otherwise, to be the better able to help and teach others.”

– From The United Lodge of Theosophists Declaration

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