A Measure of What Theosophy Means to Me

G. R. S. Mead

The Theosophical Review, February 1907

Any attempt by an individual to appreciate justly the general worth of Theosophy must in the nature of things be doomed to failure, for such a general judgment of real value would require a knowledge not only of what Theosophy means in the general scheme of things, but also of what it has wrought in the nature of every individual who has come under its influence.

No adequate evaluation of the true worth of Theosophy can be set forth even by the best endowed individual, for whatever he may say is but his own single praise-giving, an appraisement that can diminish no whit from the praise-giving of others, or in any way appropriate their songs of thankfulness. These have all to be added together to form the grand total; they must all sing together to complete the great symphony of praise, the heartfelt thanks of all awakened souls for the infinite variety of the Divine Wisdom.

Whoever seeks to determine the value of Theosophy, can do so for himself alone, appraising it by his own standard, according to his own idea of what it is, and according to his knowledge of what it has wrought in himself. If a man does not value it himself, he cannot value it for others; if, in the ignorant conceit of prideful patronage, he allows it may be helpful to A. or Z., but declares it is no good for him, he is not talking about Theosophy but about some false notion of it; for Theosophy is precisely that which is the most valuable of all things for all, seeing that it is the Wisdom that unveils the mystery of seeming good and seeming evil, to the utter satisfaction of body, soul and spirit with the state of things as they are.

I shall, therefore, in this writing, attempt no more than to try to let be seen a momentary glimpse of some small measure of what I think the value of Theosophy is to me. I have already let the atmosphere of feeling in which my thought is bathed in contemplating my ideal be seen above. The evaluation of Theosophy for me is pure praise-giving for Theosophy. I have nothing but praise for it; my difficulty is that I cannot praise it enough. I have no evil to say of it, for it is the energising of the Good; no criticism to make, for it transcends my judgment; no depreciation to offer, for it is beyond all praise. I am an unreserved, enthusiastic absolutist on the subject.

Perhaps, good or bad or indifferent reader, whichever you may happen to be—you may, in your wisdom, think I am foolish to be an absolutist about anything. But my Theosophy is absolute, must inevitably be so, for it is that which will make me wise and free, absolutely wise and absolutely free—not wise and free as you or I may understand these words in our present ignorance and slavery, but really wise in ignorance as well as in knowledge and free in bonds as well as in liberation.

For you really do not suppose I am so feeble as to allow any one else to define my Theosophy for me, and impose his notion of things on my universe, play hell with my heaven, and make me weakly suffer the passion of an intellectual and spiritual martyrdom, when my Theosophy teaches me as one of its first lessons to be prepared at any moment to shift my standpoint and be ever readjustable. No; even a babe in my Theosophy is big enough to have a universe of his own without any outside interference, for a universe in Theosophy has no outside. His infant thought-control can wipe out systems in the wink of an eye, the instant they are perceived to be awry from the truth, his baby laughter creates new ones every moment he sings in greater harmony.

Oh—but you will say—you are not playing fairly with us. Theosophy we know is this, that, and the other. We have read all about it in books by Mr. B. and Mrs. A.

It is quite true that Theosophy is this, that and the other—and something else. But it is not true that you have read all about it in books by Mr. B. or Mrs. A., or that you can read all about it in all the books of all the Messieurs and Mesdames A.’s to Z.’s in the literary or illiterate world. At any rate it is not my Theosophy you have read about, if you think you can snuff out my enthusiasm by your criticism of this book or of that, or even of this bible or of that. If you have read of my Theosophy, you have read of something that must inevitably take you out of yourself because of its grandeur and greatness; if you have ever come across it self-consciously (I do not mean if you have simply read sentences and chapters with your eyes and unreflecting brain), you too would sing its praises; you could not help so doing; it is the natural result, and the proof that you have understood.

Whatever takes a man out of his little self and refunds him into his Greater Self even for a moment is the energising of Theosophy in him. This divine impulse may be conveyed by the understanding of written or the comprehension of spoken words, or without the mediation of words at all as we understand them—by means of those winged intelligences who are voiceless for physical ears, but who speak the universal language of the soul.

The value and meaning of this mystery? How can one appraise such wealth of meaning, such inestimable worth, when the Spirit of God, the Divine Breath, begins to inbreathe itself self-consciously in the essence of man’s being? How shall we estimate this good in any terms of human valuation, when every such term is already exhausted in appraising the simple gift of Life, even in its mode of life in death and death in life, which men cling to as the most precious of all their possessions?

Let us bethink ourselves of the ceaseless song that Nature sings in praise of Life, of Life even in its known phases from plant to man, of the joy of Life when it courses through the physical veins, and then let us think of this Life no longer as unknowing and spontaneous, but as impregnated with the Light of true intelligence, and so bringing to birth within the essence of man a marvel, a being of a new nature, man-angel or man-god, of superhuman power and faculty, who of his very nature sings a song infinitely more wise than any man can sing, in realisation of the worth and meaning of the actual, not in praise of some selected good alone according to man’s limited view of what is good and what is evil, but in praise of things as they really are, a natural song that must be sung, once even the possibility of this meaning begins to be realised, and the secrets of the Divine Purpose begin to reveal their hidden presence in all things—good and bad for the dualities of bad and good that we call men.

You say, perhaps: This is not possible. My Theosophy replies: It is inevitable; it is man’s glorious destiny, foreordained of Wisdom. We are not the cruel sport of a heartless tyranny, the victims of a callous cosmic inquisition, the senseless torturer of human souls, but nurslings of the Gods, and children of the Father of the worlds. How then can we sufficiently admire and praise such marvellous Forethought for our good, and wise Provision for our welfare? And the Divine Purpose, Forethought and Provision is Wisdom—that is Theosophy.

You, perhaps, reply again: This is not of science, but of faith—the baseless fabric woven by fond dreams of soaring fancy, and far removed from any actuality of fact and of experience.

My Theosophy rejoins: I am not ashamed of a faith that puts all so-called science to the blush. Faith alone can remove the mountains of our present prejudices that encircle the horizon of our ignorance; theosophic faith is the precursor of gnosis; faith is that which makes us act rightly, and it is by right action alone that this supernal knowledge comes. It comes not by thinking, nor by dreaming, not by fancy, nor even by meditation. Realisation comes by action; actuality is hid in action and is revealed by action. Faith is compelling will; not belief in this or that creed, but the determination of man’s being to terminate the illusion of his present crucifixion on the cross of the opposites, and so arise to a knowledge of the reality of the Great Passion which feels with all that lives and breathes, and to the intuition of the Great Drama in which One Actor acts through all the bodies in the universe. Will is beyond all pairs of opposites; within the pairs all is desire.

Such faith in the overmastering truth of man’s potential divinity is not born of ignorance, but is already of knowledge; ignorance cannot breed faith, it spawns belief; faith is of the will, not of the desire. It is that which makes us act without attachment, and action is the language of our God, the speech that Gods can understand in all its meaning, while men can comprehend only so much of it as perchance dogs of human speech.

Theosophy has thus changed for me the values of many words. Once I cared little for faith, now I esteem it highly; once I cared much for knowledge, now I esteem it lightly. But the faith I cared little for was not faith, it was a false notion of what faith meant—the topsy-turvy notion that the summation of a series of beliefs would result in conviction. But faith is of another order; it is of the will and being, not of the intellect and desire; it is immediate and not dependent on time. So with knowledge; knowledge as humanly conceived is deduced and not immediate; it is an intellectual process, and not the expression of wisdom in action, which is gnosis.

Theosophy once meant many things for me; indeed, it eventually came to mean so many that my intellect saw no possible prospect of ever containing them; their variety was so great that I became lost in the endless diversity of detail. Now Theosophy means one thing only; but this one thing is not one of the many things; it is of another order. It is a will not to know but to be; it is the knowledge that gnosis is realisation. This knowledge is the death of conventional knowledge and the birth of Theosophy.

The more you absorb this Theosophy, the more it absorbs you; you cannot get tired of it; that is impossible, for it is perpetual refreshment, of the nature of ever making new again. It is the secret of the perpetual youth of the gods, the panacea of all ills, the divine elixir, the secret of the philosopher’s stone.

How, then, shall we who have come within its benign influence, who are conscious of its holy presence, appraise so great a mystery? We cannot adequately value it, for even its possibilities are inestimable realities, while in itself it is the pleroma of satisfaction, complete fulfilment. But if we would estimate it by considering what we were before we came to consciousness of its existence, and what we are now in this faith in its being, then we can calculate an infinitesimal fraction of its worth in the terms of our present procession in Fate.

For myself it is now difficult to realise the utter vacuity and meaninglessness of my life before I came to know Theosophy. I ask myself again and again: Is that dim memory of purposeless wandering and drifting on from day to day which I conjure up as the picture of my youthful past before I heard of Theosophy, really my self? It is now less real to me than many a dream; it was indeed dream, not waking consciousness.

In brief, it is to Theosophy I owe everything that makes life liveable. The first magic touch came to me be means of a book; it was Esoteric Buddhism. The rod of Hermes that wakes the soul is the true caduceus on the plane of actuality; the real caduceus is not the symbol of the powers of the Master, but those powers themselves. The powers of the Master are conveyed by countless agencies. In my case a book came into my hands, and the power in the book touched my soul, so that it became attentive to the powers behind the power in the book. I did not realise it then, but now I know that it must have been the call of the true blood of me, the life-essence of many lives, or as though I had heard the voices of the long-forgotten past, voices as it were of parents, as the soul has parents to bring it to birth in a man, bringing the message so beautifully recorded in “The Hymn of the Soul”:

To thee our son who art in Egypt, greeting!
Up and arise from thy sleep,
And list to the words of our letter!

That was upwards of twenty-one years ago; but I remember it quite clearly today as if of yesterday; how eager I was, how roused, how hungry for the words wherever they were to be found. For in those days there were no shelves full of modernised Theosophical books designed for popular consumption; there were only Isis Unveiled and a year or two of numbers of The Theosophist. This thing has come to others in many other ways; but to me it came in this way, and I owe an ungrudging debt of gratitude to the Society that organised itself to be a means of helping to arouse the sleeping memory of the soul to a recollection of its past and of recalling the attention of the soul to its glorious future.

It was not only that what I read of the writings of the members of that Society was full of suggestion, and treated of many things of which I had never heard at school or at college, but which I now recognise I had been longing all my life to hear, but the books put me on the track of a practically inexhaustible literature of all times and climes.

I was densely ignorant of religion though I had gained prizes for “divinity”; I knew nothing of science though I had passed examinations; I was a dunce in philosophy, for of it I had read little save some books of the ordinary scholastic curriculum, such as of Cicero, Aristotle and Plato, and these for the sake of satisfying examiners in philosophy, rather than with any official sanction that they were worth studying in themselves.

What a shocking education you had!—you will perhaps exclaim. Yes, an amazingly bad education, just the education that ninety-nine out of a hundred had who were ground through the mechanical tuition of the schools in my time.

Suddenly, it was as if all things were opened to me, had I only the power of pursuing after them all. On every side paths of fascinating study were revealed, for purpose and meaning were put into the study of all the arts and sciences; there was a reason in things. Among other precious gifts of information, I was made free of the knowledge that the East existed; I had heard of that before as a geographical fact, the only aspect of the subject that seemed to interest the pastors and masters with whom I had been previously acquainted. I now learned that there were literatures of enthralling interest in the East, and that it was worth all a man’s while to study the other great religions of the world. Previously these great world-religions had been severely condemned as not only valueless but positively mischievous by my professed educators, those set in scholastic authority over me.

But why go through the list? Nearly all my Western readers who can look back a quarter of a century must know the familiar tale. There was I being ground out in the relentless machinery of a falsely called educational system. All kinds of wrong notions were being ground into me, and the soul ground out of me, rather than its native qualities brought forth. Even before I heard of Theosophy there was something in me that made me read widely in the classics, believing that there was some reason why we had to study Greek and Latin other than for the sake of philosophy or even for a knowledge of “literature.” But so close in the schools was the boycott of prejudice of all that I have since found of value in those languages, that I never came across a book that gave me what I wanted. I spent many an hour in the University Library; I ransacked many a shelf with the dust of ages upon its books, but the Gods were not favourable. I daresay it was mostly my own fault, and that the books were round me all the time; but I had no one to tell me, no friend to help. I devoured much “literature,” but my soul wanted not books but bibles; all books treating consciously of Theosophy, not simple parroting what others have said of it, are for me of the nature of bibles.

In brief, with the reading of my first book on Theosophy my real education began. I set to work to educate myself; I did not ask anyone to do it for me. At first I was like a child without discrimination. I was hungry; there was food piled high on many tables. I wanted to taste all of it; I was a glutton or an epicure, which you will. I set to work to taste it mentally; I read ravenously, devoured anything I could lay hands on. What an indigestion it was!—Indian philosophy and Buddhism, religions and mythologies of all kinds, magic and the occult arts, cabalism and mysticism and gnosticism, the mysteries and secret societies, spiritism and mesmerism and hypnotism, biblical criticism and heresies of all kinds. I think I got through, skimmed through, over two hundred books in the first year. I was young and inexperienced and was—starving! There were no Introductions to Theosophy, no charts of the unseen world, no catalogues raisonnés of the best books to be studied in those days. You were turned loose in the midst of it, and ate yourself out like a grub.

But even so, think of what it meant. True it was all as yet a chaos for me—but what a chaos! It was living substance to feed on, a chaos only in so far as I had not as yet the power of proper selection and discrimination in the too great profusion of the banquet. But, even so, it was a foretaste of the good things of Home, which made the exiled prodigal realise once for all the utter emptiness of the dead husks of the conventional midden that for so long had been his daily meal.

It was the beginning of an absolutely new life, in which at first one was naturally enough a babe; but it was life not death, waking not dreaming. Gradually the powers of discrimination began to dawn; taste, the innate taste of the soul, developed from tasting the many dishes set before me, and I gradually began to select the purest forms of food, the greatest sayings and inner teachings of the theosophies and gnoses of the great world-faiths.

What was at first in my case an intelligent delight began gradually to take hold of my emotional nature. Of this side of Theosophy it is not becoming to speak in terms of personal experience; at least it has never seemed to me to be so. To wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve appears to me to be rather a sign of superficial emotion than a revelation of the depths of true passion. There is a natural hesitation in displaying to the gaze of the crowd the secrets of the shrine of the heart; whereas the opinions of the head are generally all the better for the rough criticism of the world, for they have to be either broken in pieces or hammered into proper shape by strife and struggle with other opinions; but the tender thoughts of the heart, the loving hopes of the faithful spouse of the spirit, are not for any ears but those of spiritual relatives and friends.

And yet it is precisely in these same tendernesses and loves of the heart that the power of Theosophy is most potently manifested to self-consciousness. This power transfigures the whole nature; the formal mind follows after it, anxious to shape itself into the image of its love. For it is the Power of the Father in the Mother that brings the Son to birth. It is the power of love within the formal mind that organises it from within like to the Cosmos of Great Mind, while the conflict of contrary opinions from without provides the right resistance for the moulding.

Indeed, it is not seemly to display the secret workings of the mystery within—not seemly because no description can do anything but dim the beauty of the reality of the Divine inworking. For that inworking is the energising of Beauty itself, which transforms the unadorned and unordered nature into a copy of itself, the harmonious order and cosmic loveliness of God’s own Son.

This living realisation of the meaning of Theosophy is not derived from books; from books we may intellectually grasp the theory, but for understanding theory must first be put to practice, and rightly acted out. The theory impresses upon us the idea, we then imagine or image forth that idea in our minds, and so imagining, by sympathetic magic we feel the power, and feeling it we act it out, and by acting it out we then and then alone begin to know in terms of truly gnostic knowledge.

But how is it possible to convey emotionally to others what such an apparently bald statement as this may mean to one who has experienced even a moment’s duration of such ecstasis? How can anyone express on the surface of things the depths of meaning that such gnostic ecstasis or theosophic actuality contains? Far as I am from any pretension to the achievement of such exalted ecstasy, I can nevertheless “imagine” so much of it as to make me feel utterly convinced that if I could convey to another in a single flash a knowledge of all the books and articles I have written and of all the lectures I have delivered on Theosophy it would not exhaust even the surface meaning of what it is to me. I know I have not as yet even begun to express what it really means for me; I am as yet inarticulate in the true language of Theosophy, I can as yet only send forth cries and utter interjections. The more I realise its grandeur and its power, its inestimable wisdom and its inevitable satisfaction, the more I am persuaded how utterly it is beyond any human power of expression. And this must naturally be so, for the whole universe has been created for its expression, and for this purpose solely; how then can any wee mortal with his human baby talk say what it may be?

Those of my readers who have flattered me by reading so far, and who flatter themselves that they have matter-of-fact minds, will, perhaps, here interpose: All this is rhapsody and rhetoric; if you possessed any clear notion of the matter you could express it.

But is it really rhapsody and rhetoric; or rather is it not the calculated statement of the fundamental fact on which existence rests? It seems to me to be purely scientific in the best sense of that much misused term. The whole universe expresses Theosophy, sings the praise of Theosophy; for Theosophy is the Wisdom of God, and this is revealed equally well in the foolishness of men as in the wisdom of nature, to the sight of God and to those Blessed Ones who have pure vision. “In Wisdom God created the heavens and the earth,” and all that are therein. The Mother of all things is Wisdom, actually so and not metaphorically. Wisdom is the spouse and complement of God as Creator, the that in which the Deity fulfils Himself.

It is living ideas alone that grow and have power of reproduction; and it is to the treasure-house of such living ideas, the priceless seeds of the Divine Sower, that the holy quest for gnosis and self-realisation conducts us. The mechanical handing on of what others have written or spoken without the power of transmitting the living spirit of the thinker or the seer is trafficking in dead or barren ideas. That is not truly human Theosophy, for there is no conscious wisdom in it; it is the work of elemental transmission solely—an excellent thing in itself, exceedingly useful, but not the work of self-found men. Theosophy must have life as well as light; the one without the other is either chaotic or barren.

All the teachings, all the instructions of Theosophy on countless problems can be summed up in one master living idea, the most potent seed of all in the great granary for planting in the fitly prepared mind of man ?that man is potential God; this seed of true Gnosis, this power of growth in Theosophy or perfectioning in the Wisdom of God, is the true man himself self-realising himself in the soul of his purified nature, which means a nature capable of sensing all opposites in a balanced state that transcends them and thus supplies the ground of pure knowledge, or gnosis of the clarified or justified mind.

And here I break off, having perhaps said little I have not said before, and having fallen far sort of what I desired to write, and yet with the conviction that if I tried again and wrote it otherwise, I should still feel the same about it, even if I succeeded in giving my sentences fairer form and my idea clearer expression.

For Theosophy, then, I repeat, I have nothing but praise. Theosophy must be lived to be known; for living Theosophy one lives wisely, and living wisely, one reaches true happiness, and reaching true happiness, one sings songs of thankfulness to Him who by this Wisdom has made all things.

I do not, however, for one instant suggest that it is because of the passing through these high stages that I praise Theosophy; I praise Theosophy because I cannot help it even from the bare imagination of what it means.

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George Robert Stowe Mead (1863-1933) was the General Secretary of the European Section of the TS and private secretary of H. P. Blavatsky. He wrote many books and articles on Gnosticism and is widely respected as a scholar. This article was originally published in The Theosophical Review, February, 1907.

Picture of G. R. S. Mead
G. R. S. Mead