Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Theosophical Society?
The Theosophical Society is an organization founded in New York City in 1875. Its purpose was to investigate the nature of the universe and humanity’s place in it, to promote understanding of other cultures, and to form a nucleus of universal brotherhood without distinctions among all human beings. The Society is composed of students belonging to any and all religion or to none. Its members are united by their agreement with the Society’s Three Objects. Today the Society has branches in some seventy countries, with its international headquarters in India.
The three basic ideas of Theosophy are (1) the fundamental unity of all existence, (2) the regularity of universal law, and (3) the progress of consciousness, which develops through the cycles of life to an ever-increasing realization of Unity.
What is Theosophy?
The word theosophy (lowercase) is derived from the Greek theos, “god,” and sophia, “wisdom.” In a general sense, theosophy “signifies a mystical doctrine, or school of thought, which purports to perceive and to describe the mysterious workings of the Divinity, perhaps also believing it possible to become absorbed in its contemplation,” according to the scholar of religions Gershom Scholem. The word in this sense has been applied to such teachings as the Kabbalah, the mystical doctrine of Judaism, and the ideas of the seventeenth-century mystic Jacob Boehme, as well as to other systems.
The term theosophy has also been applied to teachings known as the “wisdom tradition” and the “perennial philosophy.” This is a universal wisdom, and fragments of it can be found in human cultures all over the world and at all times in history. It is the basis of the inner or mystical side of many philosophies and religions. Modern Theosophy (capitalized) is a contemporary statement of that tradition set forth through the Theosophical Society.
What does Theosophy mean in daily life?
The ideas of Theosophy have some specific and practical implications, for example the following:
● Each of us is a different expression of the same life, so whatever happens to one person happens to another. Our well-being is always linked. This leads us to the principle help your neighbor, and thereby help yourself.
● Life and death are cyclic faces of our existence. They follow each other in continuous succession. This is part of a perfect process of spiritual unfoldment. Therefore do not be afraid of death.
● The purpose of being alive is to learn and to gather experience. The purpose of dying is to assimilate the experience and develop. Therefore live with awareness and a learning spirit.
● We develop as human beings, not by forsaking the world, but by cooperating with nature to preserve and perfect it. Respect the environment and be ecologically responsible.
● Disharmony and evil are the result of ignorance and selfishness. Live in harmony and goodness so as to teach others by your life as well as by your words.
What specific doctrines do Theosophists follow?
The Theosophical Society is nondogmatic. It does not promote any specific doctrines. Instead it stresses freedom of thought for each one of its members.
At the same time Theosophy has set forth certain ideas for your consideration. You are not encouraged to accept these ideas or any others on faith or on the word of any authority. You are asked only to examine these ideas and adopt the ones that satisfy your own sense of what is real and important.
● There is a Unity that animates every separate form in the universe, both animate and inanimate.
● Life and consciousness are, to different degrees, present in all matter.
● The universe is multidimensional, with planes of experience beyond the physical.
● Human beings have physical, vital, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions to their being.
● Spirit, intelligence, and physical matter all evolve.
● Individuals have free will and self-responsibility.
● Human beings can consciously participate in their evolution. They can speed it up or slow it down.
● Reincarnation brings the soul into earthly life more than once to unfold the soul’s potentialities.
● The law of karma regulates this process of reincarnation, adjusting causes and effects on the physical, moral, and spiritual planes.
● The power of thought affects oneself and one’s surroundings.
● Since we are all one, altruism and a concern for the welfare of others are a duty. They are also the key to happiness.
● The essentially perfect nature of all humans will eventually manifest as a result of the process of evolution.
How do Theosophists regard churches and religions?
Theosophy holds that all religions are expressions of humanity’s effort to relate to one another, to the universe around us, and to the ultimate ground of Being. Religions differ from one another because they are adapted to particular times, places, cultures, and needs.
Although it is concerned with humanity’s effort to relate to ultimate values. Theosophy is not itself a religion. Nonetheless, religious practice and devotion can be vehicles for self-transformation, So Theosophy recommends, as Annie Besant, one of its early leaders, said, that one should “live one’s religion, not leave it.” Individual Theosophists belong to many the world’s religions—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Buddhist, among others. Some Theosophists have no religious affiliation. The Society itself is based on the belief that human beings, however much they differ, can communicate and cooperate. As such, the Society provides an ideal platform for interfaith dialogue and mutual respect.
What is the message of Theosophy today?
The problems humanity faces—war, overpopulation, exploitation, prejudice, oppression, greed, hate—are the symptoms of a disease. Although we need to treat the symptoms, in order to cure the disease, we need to eliminate its cause.
The cause of the disease is certain false beliefs. One of the most dangerous of these is the idea that we are unconnected, totally autonomous beings who can achieve their own welfare at the expense of the common good. The cure for this is the recognition that we are all one with one another, and, ultimately, with all life in the universe.
Despite the differences that appear to divide humanity, we are remarkably homogeneous. Biologically, we are a single human gene pool, with only minor local variations. Psychologically, we all experience pleasure and pain, hope and fear, and are looking to be happy. Intellectually, we all have the same curiosity about our place in the universe and the same power to discover truth.
In order to really feel this truth, however, we have to grasp a second one: we are not essentially our physical or psychological makeup, but a spiritual Self that is beyond any limitation and separation. As long as we are identified with our bodies and personalities, we will find it difficult to feel that we are united with all others, because the mind, at these lower levels, can only perceive separation. It is only as we increasingly come to realize our spiritual nature that we can experience the oneness of the totality of existence. And as the feeling of unity with all other beings begins to become dominant in our lives, we will realize that we cannot either harm or help another without harming or helping ourselves.
To know this is to be healthy in body, whole in mind, and holy in spirit. That ideal is expressed in the following words, known as the “Universal Invocation,” written by Annie Besant, the second president of the Theosophical Society:
O hidden Life, vibrant in every atom,
O hidden Light, shining in every creature,
O hidden Love, embracing all in oneness,
May all who feel themselves as one with thee
Know they are therefore one with every other.