Entering the Garden of Theosophy

By Mary Anderson

Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2007 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Anderson, Mary. "Entering the Garden of Theosophy." Quest  95.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2007):

MaryAnderson

 It is often said that the two pillars of the Theosophical Society are universal brotherhood and freedom of thought. Universal brotherhood implies love towards all. Such brotherly love should—but does not always—exist between brothers and sisters or in a family in general. And freedom of thought should ultimately imply wisdom.

The root of universal brotherhood lies in the origin of humanity, indeed of all kingdoms of nature. All beings, even all things that exist, have one single origin, just as brothers and sisters in a family have the same parents. Love is something that draws us together, that draws us back to the Oneness from which we came and for which we yearn, whether we realize it or not.

When we consider the other pillar of the Theosophical Society, freedom of thought, does there seem to be a contradiction between the two pillars? Certainly, agreement with others, the harmony of minds, may deepen friendship. Great minds are said to think alike. On the other hand, a brilliant intellect may seduce others, including those who are too lazy to think for themselves. We should have an open mind on the one hand, but on the other hand we should not simply swallow impressive ideas but think things out for ourselves, come to our own conclusions.

What prevents our thought from being free? There have been and still are times and places where freedom of thought has been and still is suppressed. I was once asked in all seriousness what the difference is between the Theosophical Society and the Communist Party, since they both believe in brotherhood. In reply, I could only think of a rather strongly-worded saying in German: "If you refuse to be my brother, I'll break your skull!" So freedom of thought may be suppressed from outside. But it may be suppressed through our own fault, if we are too lazy to think or afraid to draw certain conclusions, especially if such conclusions might show us up in a negative light or if they seem in contradiction with the other pillar of the Theosophical Society, brotherhood. Indeed, sometimes brotherhood and freedom of thought may seem to pull in opposite directions, but is it not possible to respect different opinions in others and feel brotherly towards them? Can we be together differently?

It may sometimes be a fine art to keep the two pillars of the Theosophical Society in balance—a living, flexible balance, supporting the keystone which is the Theosophical Society. The two pillars and the keystone together form the gateway leading to the garden of Theosophy, which does not mean that there are not other gateways leading there. Is it not up to us to support the Society by maintaining the fine balance between brotherhood and freedom of thought, so that the Society remains a strong living entity and fulfills its function as a gateway?

If we enter the garden of Theosophy, what do we find? A garden creates a beautiful environment. Gardens have inspired poets with religious feelings:

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot—
The veriest school
Of peace, and yet the fool
Contends that God is not.
Not God! In gardens! When the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign,
Tis very sure God walks in mine.

—Thomas Edward Brown

Many Christian and Buddhist monasteries are famous for their gardens. Even a little plant can inspire us. There is the story of a Scottish shepherd, who loved Nature but was obliged to spend the winter in town, doing manual labor. He had, in the little attic room that he rented, a daisy in a pot which he tended with loving care. For him the daisy represented the countryside and all the plants which he so missed.

A garden may seem an appropriate symbol for Theosophy, the Divine Wisdom. If we enter through the gateway of the Theosophical Society, supported by its two pillars, brotherhood and freedom of thought, this implies that we enter with a loving heart and a free mind, free from dogmatism and superstition—at least we may hope so! But what do we find in that garden? What do we look for and find in any garden? Those living beings called plants: trees, flowers, grass and what is needed for plant life: earth, water, air and, above all, sunlight.

Symbolically, may it not be that we are the plants, growing in the garden of Theosophy? We need earth, water, air, and sunlight, not only physically, but also in the sense that these may be symbols for aspects of our being. In other words, we need physical matter and a physical body with which we act, symbolized by earth; we need the finer matter, sometimes called "astral," symbolized by water, to express our feelings and which we model with our emotions, our desires; and we need the still finer mental matter, symbolized by air, expressing our thoughts and which we model with these thoughts. But what we need above all and what we always have, although not consciously, is the Divine Light of Spirit, symbolized by sunlight. We are then those plants, nurtured by our good actions, our love, our thoughts arising in freedom and our spiritual nature.

A garden needs to be tended. Thus we should tend the plants that we are. We should ensure that our bodies are fed with healthy pure food, produced without harm to any creature, so that they are strong and healthy for useful activity. Our emotions should be nurtured with the pure water of kind and harmonious feelings, expressing compassion and love. We should keep our minds open to pure and healthy air and not let them be either in the doldrums or swept away by the hurricanes of sensation, so that we can think in an orderly, free, and impersonal manner. And we should never forget that in our inmost being we are spirit, we are part of the ONE life of all, we are that life.

Symbols can, however, mean different things and the plants in our garden may also symbolize Theosophy. But what is meant by Theosophy? There is what has been called Primary Theosophy and what has been called Secondary Theosophy. Most of us may think of Theosophy in the first place as a teaching, as a philosophy, as a wonderful metaphysical system which explains so many puzzling things, so many problems in life. But Theosophy as a teaching, however wonderful, helpful, and enlightening has been called merely Secondary Theosophy.

What then is Primary Theosophy? It is Theosophy in action, Theosophy in us, in our lives. And only when we apply theosophical teachings in daily life can we really be said to have understood those teachings, not just with the mind, but with our whole being, so that our life is transformed. Thus we become loving, indeed ultimately totally unselfish, selfless, we become wise and also efficient because, if we are really unselfish, we are free from those selfish desires which ordinarily vitiate our feelings, our thoughts, and even our actions. Then we shall understand theosophical teachings at a deeper level, not just in theory, but also and above all in practice. Thus it has been said: "Live the life and you will come to the Wisdom."

Theosophical teachings are like a seed which is planted. Such a seed may symbolize Secondary Theosophy. And Primary Theosophy, a really theosophical life, is the flower in which the plant reaches the apotheosis of its beauty. Moreover, it is the resultant fruit which will nourish others, and the seed which will be planted and will spread Theosophy, not only as a teaching, but as a way of life. We are that flower, that fruit, that seed. This is Primary Theosophy. The example of a theosophical life is contagious. How many TS members do we meet who tell us that their first or decisive contact with Theosophy was not a book, but a person—not a perfect person, but one whose life had also been transformed by Theosophy?

But let us look at Secondary Theosophy, Theosophy as a teaching, as a philosophy. What are the fundamentals of theosophical teachings? There may be different presentations, but both Madame Blavatsky and Dr. Besant pointed to three fundamental teachings which can transform people's lives: the Unity of all Life, Reincarnation, and Karma. So these may be the seeds planted as Secondary Theosophy.

Let us first take the Unity of all Life. Every plant originates in a tiny seed. That seed comes from another plant, which grew from another seed. The image of a seed is indeed used in the Chandogya Upanishad by a father explaining to his son what his true nature is: The invisible essence within one tiny seed is the origin of a great tree, representing the whole universe, and that tiny seed, that origin—"That art thou." If we go back far enough in thought, we may realize that we are all physically related. It is a staggering thought. Still more staggering is the thought that that Oneness which we share with others is our true nature as well as that of all human beings, indeed of all living creatures—and everything is alive.

Reincarnation is illustrated in the apparent "death" of plants in winter and their "rebirth" in spring, which, if we really consider it, may strike us as a wonder. The concept of reincarnation may banish the fear of death. Indeed, it may show us the necessity of death, again by analogy with plant life: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (St. John 12:24).

The law of Karma is illustrated by St. Paul in the words: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). We find their echo in the words of The Light of Asia:

That which ye sow ye reap. See yonder fields!
The sesamum was sesamum, the corn Was corn. The Silence and the Darkness knew!
So is a man's fate born.
He cometh, reaper of the things he sowed,
Sesamum, corn, so much cast in past birth;
And so much weed and poison-stuff, which mar
Him and the aching earth.
If he shall labour rightly, rooting these,
And planting wholesome seedlings where they grew,
Fruitful and fair and clean the ground shall be,
And rich the harvest due.

And above all—above Secondary Theosophy, the seed planted in the earth, and above Primary Theosophy, the flower, the fruit, and again the seed, that is, what we make of that seed—there shines the sun of Theosophy, the Divine Wisdom.

In a temple garden in the East belong lotus flowers, which again are highly symbolic: symbols of the constitution of a human being and of his or her growth into spirituality, into becoming what one is. The lotus flower has its roots in the earth, in the mud at the bottom of the lotus pond, representing the physical body. Its stem rises up through the water, symbolizing the emotions, it rises higher through the air—a symbol of our minds, our thoughts—and finally the flower of the lotus opens out in the sunshine of spirit. Thus our consciousness, being at first concentrated in the physical body, then at the level of our emotions, then of our thoughts, ultimately finds its destination in the sunshine of spirit.

The trees, also adorning the garden, have their symbolic meaning. We come across the Tree of Life in the Nordic tradition: the ash Yggdrasil, the symbol of the world, the tree of the universe, of time and of life. At the beginning of Discourse XV of the Bhagavadgita we read: "With roots above, branches below, the Asvattha (Banyan tree of worldly life) is said to be indestructible . . . ." This is a description of the world in which we live. The roots of that world are in the spiritual world depicted as above. The second verse continues: "Downwards and upwards spread the branches of it, nourished by the guna-s, the objects of the senses its buds; and the roots grow downwards, the bonds of action in the world of men." This seems to be a description of us human beings, living in the world of the objects we perceive by the senses, being subject to the guna-s: indolence, passion, and harmony, and creating Karma by our actions.

There follows a description of how we escape from that world of illusory sense perceptions, the guna-s and the bonds of karma: "This strongly-rooted Asvattha having been cut down by the unswerving weapon of non-attachment, that path beyond may be sought, treading which there is no return. I go indeed to that Primal Man, whence the ancient energy forth-streamed."

Thus we may see in the life of plants interesting symbols of the teachings of Theosophy, useful illustrations of how Theosophy may become alive in us. But such symbols are not only useful instruments for illustration and understanding. The root of a symbol lies in the principle of analogy, which reveals the same process at work in different circumstances, at different levels. Does not the analogy of a garden also recall to us that the same laws are operative everywhere?

In conclusion, we need only to listen to the world around us to hear that message reflected in the words of I. Hoskins:

As is the Inner, so is the Outer, as is the Great, so is the Small; as it is above, so it is below; there is but ONE LIFE AND LAW; and he that worketh it is ONE. (The Secret Doctrine and its Study, quoted in Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy, 65-6)