By Robert Ellwood
- To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color;
- To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science;
- To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.
The Study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science
The second object is really related to the first. If you can't get along with your brother, find out what he likes to study, what he's really interested in. It may be anything from auto mechanics to Mongolian dialects or accounting. It may be something you had never thought before that you might be interested in, and even now you are really interested in it for the sake of the brother more than of the topic itself. But if you really want to, you can find almost anything interesting, and in the process can find an interesting real human being in the shape of the brother or sister who is interested in that topic.
Think of comparative religion as such a possible interest that might have extraordinary application to the forging of brotherhood on a world scale. Consider the difficult relations of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, or of Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, or of Theosophy to all of them. I am convinced that if any of those partisans studied the religion of the other deeply enough, they would get beyond resentments over power and land, or the gross stereotypes that so often cloud religious discourse, to find in the other's faith something very interesting, whether or not they agreed with it intellectually, and would come to a new level of respect for the other religion.
In their fullness, as presented by the best thinkers, all religions have areas of depth and beauty that help one to see into profound depths of soul in those to whom they are important. This is part---a large part---of what is contributed by the Theosophical idea that each of the religions is an expression of the Ancient Wisdom in the vocabulary of a particular time and place and culture.
I have sometimes been distressed at the negative stereotypes of Protestants and Catholics, more than of Hindus and Buddhists, that some Theosophists seem to hold even today. I often do not recognize these stereotypes in the priests, nuns, ministers, and lay people I have known and worked with over many years of activity in the American religious world. I do not deny that one can find Protestants and Catholics who are dogmatic and conservative---stubborn might be a better word---but I do not find that mentality to be the whole picture at all.
Probably some of the negative images of Protestants and Catholics, including Jesuits, held by Theosophists stem ultimately from the writings in the last century of Helena Blavatsky. But we need to remember that she was writing for Victorians who had their own issues and mindset. Whatever necessary role those strictures may have had in the nineteenth century, we must recall that twentieth-century religion is different, after the ecumenical movement and the immense changes in Roman Catholicism after Vatican II and in the wake of liberal theologians from Scheiermacher to Tillich. We need to develop empathy for religion in our own time and our own society, with its various characters and styles.
In other cases, negative stereotypes derive from unfortunate personal encounters with destructive examples of a religion. Early experiences with bad religion often resemble the difficult family situations discussed in connection with brotherhood. If one is truly going to turn the bitterness to something positive, a process as arduous as resolving sibling anger may be required. But it is important for the sake of one's own spiritual growth in love and understanding to work the difficulty through by endeavoring, whether or not one agree with the religion, to find good contemporary exemplars of it and to seek the virtue of empathetic love toward those to whom it is important. Few religions are all bad for everyone whose lives they touch.
Then let us think about the study of comparative philosophy and science. Is there such a thing as comparative science? Comparative religion and philosophy, yes---it is clear that philosophy and religion are not the same in India and Greece, Japan and Chicago. But science? There are those who would say that science, both its methods and its findings, must be the same everywhere, for it can find only one kind of truth through repeatable experiments conducted anywhere in the world.
Not being a scientist, I cannot speak to this very much. But although I am sure that the speed of light and the double helix are the same in every human culture, science may still have its cultural differences. For science is in fact a culture as well as methods and findings, that is, a language and a set of attitudes. Although the culture of scientists in India and Indiana certainly is more similar than the culture of religious professionals in the two places, say of Brahmins and Methodist ministers, scientists cannot be wholly extracted from their surroundings. For them, culture may not be so much a determinant of the results and methodologies used, as of the questions asked. Scientists may use the same methods everywhere to attack a problem, but how do they decide which problem to attack in the first place?
This cultural context of science is suggested in a remarkable passage in The Secret Doctrine (1: 326â€“7):
For every thinker there will be a "thus far shalt thou go and no farther," mapped out by his intellectual capacity, as clearly and as unmistakably as there is for the progress of any nation or race in its cycle by the law of Karma. Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even freethinkers, are but the outcome and the natural products of their respective environments and periods. The ideals of both are only the necessary results of their temperaments, and the outcome of that phase of intellectual progress to which a nation, in its collectivity, has attained. Hence, as already remarked, the highest flights of modern (Western) metaphysics have fallen far short of the truth. Much of current agnostic speculation on the existence of the "First Cause" is little better than veiled materialism---the terminology alone being different.
Have you ever wondered why some possible scientific problems seem to attract considerable attention, not to mention funding, in some countries, while others are virtually ignored? Why is it that scientists in India appear to take psychical research much more seriously than most do here, and are especially good at astrophysics? Why is most of the world's medical research done, and extravagantly funded, in the US, whereas the fundamental research in nuclear physics was done mostly in western Europe?
Why, for that matter, did modern science and technology arise in renaissance Europe and not, say, in China or the Islamic world, though they seemed also to have been on the brink of that breakthrough at the same time? I suspect that in all these issues culture, and ultimately religious, attitudes were at play. Science rightly prides itself on its universality, and certainly compared to the often dismal record of religion and politics in regard to race and nationalism, science has much of which to be proud. Yet in subtle ways science too can be culturally conditioned, especially in the questions asked, the problems selected for research.
Yet cultures can often be better understood by the questions they ask than by the answers they give. Here we need to let our empathetic imagination range freely. What questions about the universe would a bright, scientific-minded Hindu of today, or of two thousand years ago, most likely ask? An Australian aboriginal? A medieval European? A student in a modern American university?
In thoughts like these, the way to comprehend what the second object may mean by comparative science can best be grasped. Here is where the Theosophical understanding of the ancient wisdom as embedded in the world's different sciences, as well as in philosophies and religions, can be useful. For it is through the questions people ask that they will break through to wisdom on a deeper level.
Theosophy can help by pushing science to be question-oriented on deeper and deeper levels. For the Ancient Wisdom too is ultimately about asking the right questions, not just getting the right answers. Religion, Helena Blavatsky said in Isis Unveiled, is ultimately the realization of God and immortal soul. All the evidence, both exoteric and esoteric, is that our ultimate ancestors knew that what those realities meant can be only experienced, not put into formulaic words. Answers too are important, but every answer opens a new question, and the process goes on and on. It is common questions, not divisive answers, that bring humankind together into universal brotherhood. By being deep-question oriented about science, as well as about philosophy and religion, Theosophy can start to become a nucleus of human brotherhood.
To Investigate Unexplained Laws and the Powers Latent in Humanity
After the earlier discussion, not much remains to be said about this object. The latent powers are, in short, those connected to the tides of involution and evolution. Often they are thought to have to do with psychic abilities---clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, and the like---and so they may in part. Those abilities were especially prominent, we are told, in the Lemurian and Atlantian root races, when they were developed by wizards working on the dark side of the force to the point of black magic. These powers have wisely been put into relative abeyance for most people in this fifth root race, where our calling is above all to realize the full potential of matter---hence the emphasis on science and technology. In the sixth root race, no doubt the psychic will be rediscovered on a higher level and used in the service of wisdom and compassion rather than of power. It is well for a few people to explore those abilities in this present root race to keep the knowledge of them alive and to lay the groundwork for that next evolutionary step, provided that those who do so also know how to protect themselves from the dark entities and ideas that always seem drawn to psychic forces, for evil seems to comprehend how easily psychic forces can be bent to undesirable use.
For most of us, however, the most important latent powers are those of our ordinary mind and spirit raised to a higher degree---intelligence turning to wisdom and feeling to charity and compassion. This is what will most help evolution, for it is only this kind of discrimination that will give us the wisdom to see what is holding us back, namely our karmic chains of unfinished business, and what will cut us free of those chains, namely love for all beings, visible and invisible, sufficient to burn those iron links away into nothingness.
The unexplained and little-known law is the law of love, that an act of pure egoless love is free of karma and can even disentangle karma from the past. The latent power is the power we all have to create through meditation an egoless state of consciousness in which, once the blinders of our attachments have been dropped, we can see everything just as it is and find the inner strength to act on that vision. That is the power of the egoless unfallen monad, which is our deepest and truest nature. Although our present life is its ray, the monad has itself never dropped beneath the clouds. In its light, may we all help to form a nucleus of human brotherhood, to study a right comparative religion, philosophy, and science, and to discover our latent powers.
Robert Ellwood, Professor Emeritus of the University of Southern California, is a well-known Theosophical author and speaker. This article is based on a talk given at the 1998 convention of the Theosophical Society in America.