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What is Theosophy?

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The New Age movement's desire to attain meaning through the rediscovery of our Spiritual essence is often thought to have arisen from 1960's hippy culture. However, many New Age principles were already established by the 19th century doctrine of Theosophy, a system of religious philosophy and metaphysics founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Essentially, Theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the "Spiritual Hierarchy" to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth. Together with Henry Steel Olcott, William Quan Judge, and others, Blavatsky founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.

C W Leadbeater's 1912 classic A Textbook of Theosophy is now available to read as a free online ebook. Leadbeater, a prominent member of the Theosophical Society in its early days and a student of Blavatsky discusses issues including what Theosophy is, the evolution of life, what happens after physical death, reincarnation, and the purpose of life.

Basic Theosophical beliefs

Consciousness is universal and individual

According to Theosophy, nature does not operate by chance. Every event, past or present, happens because of laws which are part of a universal paradigm. Theosophists hold that everything, living or not, is put together from basic building blocks evolving towards consciousness.

Immortal higher self

Theosophists believe that all human beings in their "Higher Selves" are immortal, but their lower personalities are often unconscious of their eternal Spiritual Nature and that their physical, emotional, and lower mental components will decompose and perish.

Reincarnation is universal

Theosophy teaches that what is known as human is actually a Spiritual Nature classically called the Monad (Higher Self). This Monad has prompted wakefulness (self analyzing reflection) called the human state through myriad lives passing through the mineral, plant and animal stages during the evolution of life on earth. However Theosophy differs from the common belief that regression is possible. Human beings cannot incarnate as animals or plants again having attained awareness of Self, or really awareness of themselves as distinct from the lower kingdoms for whom such awareness does not exist, for form follows functional mind. Conversely, people are considered only the epitome of spiritual/physical life on Earth and not the end stage of evolution, which continues for further stages.

This natural progression includes those types of beings that were men and women like ourselves, but have since become more than egocentric personalities. The Ancient Wisdom Religion considers that in reaching such levels of selfless spiritual development, a man or woman naturally partakes in a Hierarchy of Being, where concern is the welfare and highest good of all beings. Therefore, in this sense, where religions would have men worship such Angelic types as the son of the Father (God), Theosophy teaches that all people are such beings in various stages of attainment, through the changing of their focus of life from the outer ego to the welfare of all others.

Of course this must take as many lives to occur as it took to become enmeshed in so called material life. Men and women that have accomplished this are known throughout history as the benefactors and teachers of humanity, and have taught that all people may become what they have become. They teach that it is the duty of human beings to follow this Path of self-emancipation from the bondage of selfishness and become their own saviors, vicarious atonement essentially being impossible and outside the natural order. For although the thoughts and actions of another may be emulated, no being can be saved from foolishness through another's actions. Therefore Theosophy teaches that the immortal ethical life must be lived, and to this end teaches a Heart Doctrine of ethical thought and action as the practice by which the changes spoken of may be made.


Theosophy professes the method for people to free themselves from unconsciously causing karma, which has become the cause of suffering of humanity during life, through an emulation of dharma-duty to all that lives. Theosophy teaches, as do many ethical/religious doctrines, that what ye sow, so shall ye reap. The point being that a sense or law of rigid justice rules nature, whereby Causes sown (in terms of conscious and unconscious actions) all have their mathematically connected consequences. Evil and good are the result of human determination, and of themselves are illusions caused by the mind being absorbed in spirit/matter in a cycle of becoming. There is a natural involution of spirit into matter followed by an evolution of matter back into spirit. The purpose of the Universe is for spirit to manifest itself self-consciously. This is done in small unassuming ways where individuals make a decided work out of doing their duty in the daily round, and learning to treat all others as their equal. In this way the Karma of our past, which preoccupies much of our endeavor, is resolved, the resolvent and solvent being the application of what the Buddhists call Good Heart through Mindfulness.


Theosophy teaches that all life exists in an essential "Radical Unity" and in which all individual beings, regardless of the kingdom in which they exist (human, animal, vegetable or mineral), are involved in an inextricably interconnected single life. The advancement of any one aspect of this synergistically bound Unity affects all for the good. Of course, therefore, the opposite must be true. Human beings, being the only self conscious types in this continuum, are the product of countless awakenings into this state through lives of involvement with this "Radical Unity" and are therefore growing positively, when the awareness of this has become obvious.


Theosophists believe that religion, philosophy, science, the arts, commerce, and philanthropy, among other "virtues," lead people ever closer to "the Absolute."

Planets, solar systems, galaxies, and the cosmos itself are seen as conscious beings, fulfilling their own evolutionary paths.

The spiritual units of consciousness in the universe are the Monads, which may manifest as angels, human beings or in various other forms. Essentially, according to Leibniz in his Monadology, and adopted by Blavatsky because of the usefulness of the idea regarding a perspective upon what is called the Higher Self or Spiritual Nature of man, the idea of Monad stands for an essential unitary nature or point which is the basis for all compound natures. A Spiritual Atom, if you will. The point is that all beings, regardless of stature or complexity, are informed by the Monad, as it/they perfectly reflect(s) all of nature, but only from their vantage point. So-called empty Space is "dotted" with them to the exclusion of emptiness.

Theosophists also believe that human civilization, like all other parts of the universe, develops through cycles of seven stages. Thus in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second age, they are known as Hyperboreans; in the third as Lemurians; and in the fourth, Atlanteans. Since Atlantis was the nadir of the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity's psychic gifts. The term psychic here really means the realization of the permeability of consciousness as it had not been known earlier in evolution, although sensed by some more sensitive individuals of our culture.

In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky says that Semitic peoples were an offshoot of the initial Aryan Race which through a natural process of differentiation, had branched off from the Parent Aryan Race, along with its core beliefs, and became the basis for the Semitic peoples, as they are known in the Mid-east and from which ultimately sprung the Judeo-Christian perspective upon the Wisdom Religion of the Aryans." According to her, the Semitic were an early off-shoot or Sub-Race of this 5th Race of people, who are the participants within the earlier races, and will be the participants of the latter races to be, as the evolution of our Spiritual awareness naturally proceeds and the less flexible forms of preceding people (through a Darwinian perspective) are less and less adaptable to the Soul's needs. However, this evolutionary drive, must be consciously assisted by its participants. For there can be no increase in awareness for those who practice an addiction to a stultifying materialism. This is one of the major emphases in Theosophy and is discussed in what is known as the Third Fundamental in The Secret Doctrine. Self-imposed and Self-divised effort is said to bring about the changes needed for us to effectively grow in Spiritual awareness, and only this is said to be able to enrich our culture with genuine ethical civilization.

The Septenary

It might be important and quite useful to see that the most material of the vestures of the Soul are interpenetrated by the particles of the more subtle vesture. For example-The "Sthula-Sarira" or most material body, is, as science is aware, mostly space at its so-called atomic level (as all matter is known to be), and these interstitial spaces are inhabited by the those subtler particles of the Astral Body or Linga sarira, and so on for the other more energy like envelopes of the Soul. The important thing about this interpenetration of each sheath, is that we see the inner person as a fluid and unbroken continuity, although varying in density/flexibility and energy and therefore more and more susceptible to the behest of the Real Person - the Soul/Higher Self since they are less and less encumbered in material boundary. Perhaps the image of a suspension or colloid in chemistry is an apt perspective. And since matter is merely the material opposite of consciousness (ultimately the Highest aspect of us being pure consciousness), this interpenetration of sheaths allows for consciousness to interpenetrate Man's nature and explains how we are sensitive to what we think is external stimulate, through the five senses. Theosophy, as well as many other esoteric groups and occult societies, claims in their esoteric cosmology that the universe is ordered by the number seven. The reincarnating consciousness of the monad utilizes spirit/matter forms in seven bodies:

The first body is called sthula-sarira (Sanskrit, from sthula meaning coarse, gross, not refined, heavy, bulky, fat in the sense of bigness, conditioned and differentiated matter + sarira to moulder, waste away). A gross body, impermanent because of its wholly compounded character. The physical body is usually considered as the lowest substance-principle. The physical form is the result of the harmonious co-working on the physical plane of forces and faculties streaming through their astral vehicle or linga-sarira, the pattern or model of the physical body.

The second body is called Linga-Sarira, (Sanskrit, from linga meaning characteristic mark, model, pattern + sarira, from the verbal root sri to moulder, waste away). A pattern or model that is impermanent; the model-body or astral body, only slightly more ethereal than the physical body. It is the astral model around which the physical body is built, and from which the physical body flows or develops as growth proceeds.

The third body is prana (Sanskrit, from pra before + the verbal root an to breathe, to live). In theosophy, the breath of life. This life or prana works on, in, and around us, pulsating unceasingly during the term of physical existence. Prana is "the radiating force or Energy of Atma -- as the Universal Life and the One Self -- its lower or rather (in its effects) more physical, because manifesting, aspect. Prana or Life permeates the whole being of the objective Universe; and is called a 'principle' only because it is an indispensable factor and the deus ex machina of the living man."

The fourth principle is kama (Sanskrit, from the verbal root kam meaning to desire). Desire; the desire principle is the driving, impelling force. Born from the interaction of atman, buddhi, and manas, kama per se is a colorless force, good or bad according to the way the mind and soul use it. It is the seat of the living electrical impulses, desires, and aspirations, considered in their energetic aspect.

The fifth principle is manas (Sanskrit, from the verbal root man meaning to think). The seat of mentation and egoic consciousness; in humanity Manas is the human person, the reincarnating ego, immortal in essence, enduring in its higher aspects through the entire manvantara. When embodied, manas is dual, gravitating toward buddhi in its higher aspects and in its lower aspects toward kama. The first is intuitive mind, the second the animal, ratiocinative consciousness, the lower mentality and passions of the personality.

The sixth principle or vehicle is Buddhi (Sanskrit, from the verbal root budh to awaken, enlighten, know). The vehicle of pure, universal spirit, hence an inseparable garment or vehicle of atman, which is, in its essence, of the highest plane of akasa or alaya. In man buddhi is the spiritual soul, the faculty of discriminating, the channel through which streams divine inspiration from the atman to the ego, and therefore that faculty which enables us to discern between good and evil: spiritual conscience. The qualities of the buddhic principle when awakened are higher judgment, instant understanding, discrimination, intuition, love that has no bounds, and consequent universal forgiveness.

The seventh is called Atman (Sanskrit). Self; pure consciousness, that cosmic self which is the same in every dweller on this globe and on every one of the planetary or stellar bodies in space. It is the feeling and knowledge of "I am," pure cognition, the abstract idea of self. It does not differ at all throughout the cosmos except in degree of self-recognition. It may also be considered as the First Logos in the human microcosm. During incarnation the lowest aspects of atman take on attributes, because it is linked with buddhi, as the buddhi is linked with manas, as the manas is linked with kama, etc.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Theosopy".


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