N Sri Ram — The Changing Face of Theosophy
Magazine Article: Theosophy in Australia—June 2005
The title of this talk is highlighted time and time again in Brother Sri Ram’s writings — especially in On the Watch Tower, A Theosophist looks at the World and The Way of Wisdom. So I hope you will allow me to quote from his works from time to time, for to paraphrase his words would be to lose their meaning or the meaning he wished to convey.
First of all we might ask: What is Theosophy? Where is it defined in our Objects? Any definition would limit it. We can perhaps say that it is Divine Wisdom, Perennial Wisdom Truth. So immediately, I quote from Bro. Sri Ram who said:
‘Some time ago I came across a book called Theosophy of the Upanishads written some decades before the Theosophical Society came into existence, which shows that Theosophy is a certain wisdom, not just a name by which a group of people are divided from the rest of humanity … The same ‘Theosophy’ was chosen, I believe, in order to identify it with a wisdom which existed in the past not only at one particular time, but at different periods and to indicate its profoundly philosophical and transcendent character. That which is spiritual is ageless, it is only the forms that can be dated. When we use the word Theosophy, we refer to a Universal Wisdom which has been studied in all ages, exists in the present and operates in nature all the time …’
(On the Watch-Tower, p.430)
So, as he said, it has been presented to the world over the centuries time and time again — in the Ancient Mysteries, in the various different religions. Then again in 1875 it was presented by Madame Blavatsky to halt the tide of materialism. H.P.B. chose the name ‘Theosophy’ as ‘not falling exclusively within these now somewhat limited definitions of Truths to which so far the seal of popular approval has been given’.
Theosophy’s Changing Face
However, the ‘face’ has changed each time. Some particular aspect has been highlighted and yet the same truths, the same fundamental laws, the same principles have been given to humanity. When Brother Sri Ram became President in 1953, it was a very different world from HPB’s. It was after the 2nd World War — the war that was to end all wars! There was more scientific knowledge, a different attitude to the Universe, a different relationship among people and therefore different problems. It was also the time of the Baby Boomers and then the Flower People, followed by a plethora of New Age Movements, the TS being the original one!
With the rapid development of technology, that materialism as seen at the end of the 19th century was intensified and although we were closer together than ever before — in one aspect, that is, physically — we were more divided than ever before in spiritual and ethical values and so there was increased separateness, antagonism and conflict — (and this still applies). People then, and today, from every corner of the globe can meet and contact each other almost immediately and so come face to face with all the differences. More on that later.
In one sense the world has shrunk with the swiftness of communication and travel. On the other hand, the world has expanded — there is more materialism, more stimulation of the senses, more excess in every direction.
Most people’s minds are dominated by desires and as there is more leisure it is often used for more stimulation. Pleasure seeking is heightened, competition is greater. With freedom has come anarchy and conflict. There is less orthodoxy but also less faith in any ideals. HPB in her time described the world ‘as a time of mental increase and spiritual decrease’. That was over a hundred years ago — and it applies even more so today.
A Wisdom Which is Fresh
In 1995, while speaking at a Summer School in Germany, Brother Sri Ram said,
‘The world needs a wisdom which it does not possess, it cannot continue in the same old pattern which does not conduce to our welfare or happiness. The whole world and not only any one people needs fresh thinking on the basis of fundamentals and it is these fundamentals upon which Theosophy sheds its benign light.’
(Theosophy in Australia, April, 1955)
He might well have said that in 2005. Perhaps that fresh thinking and presentation on the basis of fundamentals is one of the facets of the changing face of Theosophy.
After HPB, we had many great leaders who interpreted the fundamental teachings of Theosophy. These became the accepted beliefs, so to speak, although Dr. Besant warned us way back in 1930 that there was a danger of such a body of ours becoming crystallised in its thought and modes of functioning. ‘That’ she said ‘is a danger we can avoid only if Theosophy is to us a vital and continuous experience’. (A Theosophist looks at the World, p.46)
Brother Sri Ram collaborates that when he says:
‘Our Theosophy must grow along with ourselves, the truth we seek is a truth to be found within ourselves, such words as Brotherhood, Truth, Happiness are terms which we have to understand from a new, wider and deeper angle.’
(A Theosophist Looks at the World, p.47)
We need fresh thinking based on fundamentals. That fundamental principle which is crying out to be presented to the world is Brotherhood — central to the first object of our Society. We need to give to that word its true and deeper meaning (which is not related to whether it is gender sensitive!) — that deeper meaning propounded by HPB, that is, the truth of the Reality from which everything has sprung.
That Oneness, that expression of unity which pervades all life at every level, embraces all the kingdom of nature, not just human beings. A recognition of this Oneness, I suggest, is essential to bringing any harmony into our world.
The Individual Value of Theosophy
However, again, as Brother Sri Ram wisely tells us,
‘Unless we show that Theosophy [and its fundamental Principle] has a value for the individual, that individual is not likely to respond to its message. It must not be a mere theory to be studied like books under the guidance of learned professors but must be a message which, however profound, is yet simple enough to be grasped by the average individual and put to direct uses in the details of his life’.
(A Theosophist Looks at the World, p.52)
Further, ‘Our motto might well be: Wisdom in Action — not only the study of the Wisdom in books but also the translation of that Wisdom into life.’ Perhaps this is one of the ‘changing faces’ of Theosophy that we need to present to the world — that the guidelines which are given to us in the Wisdom Teaching over and over again, one example being At the Feet of the Master. This is very simply put (perhaps too simply for the intellectual!) and can be translated into our daily life whether it be in the workplace, the home or The Theosophical Society.
But first we need to accept and understand the concept of Oneness — not just intellectually. We are aware that most of us are in a state of isolation because we put walls around ourselves — psychological, material, economic, political, national. We are insecure because we feel separated by our differences and so we feel safe within these walls. Then we try to establish a brotherly relationship with others while still keeping the barriers there.
But let us realise that Brotherhood implies simultaneous affirmation, both of unity and diversity. This, I believe, is an important aspect to be grasped. Differences have their place. They are inevitable and necessary, but they need to be understood. We have built up our own separate unique individualities through countless ages. We have needed to do this and we still do.
For each fragment of life that is specialised, unique, has its own note to strike and is necessary for the whole tapestry of life. These differences, and the oneness, together make up the whole and this needs to be recognised. That very unity underlying all the diversity makes us sharers in one another’s destiny, for we all share the same one consciousness.
As Einstein put it:
‘A human being is part of the whole called by us the Universe. A part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thought and feelings as something separate form the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons around us.’
We can recall the words of HPB: ‘No man can rise superior to his individual feelings without lifting, be it ever so little, the whole body of humanity of which he is an integral part.’ In the same way no one can sin nor suffer the effects of sin, alone. In reality there is no such thing as ‘separateness’.
We may well ask: What is it in our make up that keeps us at a distance, keeps us from seeing the reality of the One Life? One reason may be thought, which is a separative principle. We think we are separate! We see that we are separate! We make images of all the people we meet — and ourselves — according to our concept of them. We rarely see the real person. ‘In our ignorance we create around ourselves a mental world of shadows where we see dividing lines which really do not exist.’
We are all familiar with the well-known saying, ‘The mind is the slayer of the real’. That mind being, in its broadest sense, that which includes the emotions as well as the faculty of spiritual intuition, is dual in character. It is like a sphere which on one side is exposed to the light of the Spirit — and is subjective — while on the other it is covered with the darkness of its own shadow.
It is the activity of that dual mind — the mind which on the one hand is open to the Spirit and on the other is influenced and dominated by our passions and desires — that is the battle ground for humanity today. That is glaringly evident. So addressing the issue of separateness, in every aspect, is perhaps the number one priority in our presentation of the Wisdom Teachings today.
Presenting the Teachings of Karma and Reincarnation Today
Another fundamental principle that perhaps needs to be re-presented is the doctrine of karma plus, of course, that of reincarnation. As HPB said, ‘It exists from and in eternity, truly for it is eternity itself.’
As we know, the word ‘karma’ is bandied about today and probably most people who use it lightly do not realise its significance. I should like to quote form W.Q. Judge from ‘The Synthesis of Occult Science’. He says:
‘Even members of the Theosophical Society have often wondered why H.P. Blavatsky and others well-known in the Society lay so much stress on doctrines like Karma and Reincarnation. It is not alone because these doctrines are easily apprehended and beneficent to individuals, not only because they furnish as they necessarily do, a solid foundation for ethics, or all human conduct but because they are the very key-notes of the higher evolution of man. Without Karma and Reincarnation, evolution is but a fragment: a process whose beginnings are unknown and whose outcome cannot be discerned: a glimpse of what might be: a hope of what should be. But in the light of Karma and Reincarnation evolution becomes the logic of what MUST be. The links in the chain of being are all filled in and the circles of reason and of life are complete. Karma gives the eternal law of action and Reincarnation furnishes the boundless field for its display. Thousands of persons can understand these two principle, apply them as a basis of conduct and weave them into the fabric of their lives, who may not be able to grasp the complete synthesis of that endless evolution of which these doctrines form so important a part’.
I pick out that one statement: ‘Thousands of persons can understand these two principles, apply them as a basis of conduct and weave them into the fabric of their lives’. If we can help people to weave those two fundamental laws into the fabric of their lives, as well as weaving it into our own, wouldn’t we have helped the whole evolution of humanity?
In conclusion let me give you H.P.B’s words from her Collected Writings (Vol X1)
‘It is a fundamental doctrine of Theosophy that the separateness which we feel between ourselves and the world of living beings around us is an illusion not a reality. In very deed and truth, all men are one, not in a feeling of sentimental gush and hysterical enthusiasm, but in earnest.
As all Eastern Philosophy teaches, there is but One Self in all the infinite Universe and what we men call "self" is but the illusory reflection of the One Self in the heaving waters of the Earth. True occultism is the destruction of the false idea of self, and therefore, true spiritual perfection and knowledge are nothing else but the complete identification of our finite selves with the Great All’.
Blavatsky, H.P., Collected Writings, Vol. XI, Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, 1973.
Sri Ram, N., ‘A Theosophist Looks at the World’, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1950.
Sri Ram, N., ‘On the Watch-Tower’, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1966.
Sri Ram, N., ‘The Way of Wisdom’, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, 1993.
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This version is slightly expanded from the orginal article.