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THEOSOPHY WORLD ------------------------------------- August, 2007
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And its Practical Application in the Modern World
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"The Direct Road to Wisdom," by G. de Purucker
"Theosophical Don'ts," by W.Q. Judge
"Right Loneliness," by Anonymous
"The Path of the Chela," by James Sterling
"Theosophy, The Balance-Wheel of Human Life," by J.H. Fussell
"The Evolution of Immortality," by Michael Byrom
"Mrs. Besant's Farewell Address to the Secularists,"
by H.S. Olcott
"Art from a Theosophical Standpoint," by R. Machell
"The Keynote of Dostoyevsky's Writings," by Boris de Zirkoff
> I venture to think, that the enlightened minds in France are
> sympathetically drawn, amidst this crisis of the ancient
> religions, towards a philosophy that vaunts no master, which
> encourages the perpetual exercise of good sense, which repudiates
> the supernatural, which counsels tolerance, which solves the most
> complex problems of life, which appeals to the instinct of
> justice, which teaches the purest morality, which is absolutely
> in accord with the teachings of modern science, and which shows
> to man a superb ideal.
> -- H.S. Olcott, OLD DIARY LEAVES, IV, pages 356-57
THE DIRECT ROAD TO WISDOM
by G. de Purucker
[From WIND OF THE SPIRIT, pages 62-64]
Just what is the direct road to wisdom? I think that this is the
most important topic of thought that can be addressed to human
beings today. Is any reader of these lines able, briefly,
clearly, to define just what this direct road to wisdom is, as
contrasted with what I call the indirect road? I wonder and
The indirect road may otherwise be described, perhaps, as the
road leading into our consciousness from outside of ourselves:
the road of instruction, the usual way of the churches and the
lecture-halls; helpful perhaps at times, stimulating it may be to
certain minds at times; but can any human being define this road
or path as the road to WISDOM?
The direct road to wisdom is the road or path of inner light,
understanding, arising from inner striving and experience; and it
has been outlined, at least briefly, by every one of the great
Teachers of the human race. It might otherwise be described in
mystical phrasing as achieved when the man himself becomes at one
-- more or less in fullness -- with the god within himself. This
is the direct road.
What ails the world today? What is the cause of its manifold
inner troubles, of its hesitancies, of its loss of confidence?
The answer lies in the fact that men are largely inwardly empty;
they are, as multitudes and as individuals, relatively empty
vessels: there is no inner fullness and richness from which to
give to others, no inner and filled richness of understanding
through and by which we may receive and solve the problems
confronting ourselves and others, and thus wisely help ourselves
Instead of the unity and understanding of action that would
accrue from such inner richness, there is opposition, strife,
quarreling, and the inevitable consequent wretchedness combined
with galling poverty and keen pain. Hence I say that the inner
spiritual richness arising in an inner unity of life is the
direct path to wisdom, for all that makes life worthwhile and
grand is there.
Just as H.P. Blavatsky pointed out so graphically, most men and
women today are unensouled, or relatively so. This does not mean
that they have no souls, nor does it mean that they are 'lost
souls.' It does mean that the soul within each one of us is not
showing through us and in our lives its transcendent powers.
Keep ever in mind that the Spiritual Soul is within-above us,
attempting always to inspire us and to infill our lives and thus
make them rich and strong and full and beautiful. But most men
are not thus ensouled. "We elbow soulless people at every turn,"
as H.P. Blavatsky pointed out. More than anything else, it is
the duty, the high and lofty labor and privilege, of the
Theosophical Society to help to recall to thinking men and women
the realization and the assurance of the fact that they are and
should be ensouled beings.
How this, if achieved in multitudes of our fellows, would change
the face of the earth! Everything would change. Happiness would
come to replace unhappiness; peace would replace strife,
understanding and mutual consideration would replace the hatred
and contempt that now disgrace us all. For men would be infilled
with the inner light, with the inner power, bringing
understanding and mutual sympathy and kindliness and instinctive
brotherhood; and there would be a universal yearning for peace
The majority of men today -- men and women -- are unensouled; and
hence I say that they are empty vessels instead of filled ones --
filled with inner power and light. Instead of men being guided
by the spirit within us, and by its irresistible mandates, they
follow brain-mind schemes of selfish considerations. It is
always: "Number One, and the devil take the hindmost."
Now the indirect way to wisdom does help no doubt to change these
conditions. To be just, one must say that it is perhaps helpful
to certain weak and stumbling ones. But it is devious and
roundabout. It lies in trying to receive things of spiritual and
intellectual value from without alone, without the attempt to
arouse them in ourselves. We treasure these gifts from without
perhaps; and this is good. Yet they are but feeble staves in the
hands of us pilgrims. The staves are not strong. But once the
inner life, once the emptiness within, is filled with the
richness and holy power of the spiritual REALITY within us, we
have wisdom: we KNOW.
It is said that H.P. Blavatsky once returned from the streets of
a great European capital where she had been taking exercise after
her morning's work. The story runs that she came back with tears
streaming down her face, and that she walked the floor of her
room in a perfect torture of inner agony. The reason of it came
out afterwards: "Oh, they are unensouled, these multitudes. In
their faces are emptiness, prejudice, ignorance, lack of
knowledge, and lack of wisdom. They yearn, they hunt for truth,
and they cry in vain, they attempt to fill the aching void from
outside. They know not those perennial springs of inspiration
within their hearts!"
To do our utmost to fill this emptiness in human hearts, more
than anything else I believe to be our duty -- to teach men the
direct path to wisdom, to teach men to make the inner emptiness a
filled richness, a richness of wisdom and of quick and
understanding sympathy, so that human lives by it may become
grand and strong and true. Then we shall work justice, and
gentle reason will preside in all our doings. Much if not all of
human ignorance will then have fled; the light of wisdom will
guide our steps.
By W.Q. Judge
[From THE PATH, December 1894, pages 276-77.]
The following suggestions arise from experience and are due to
facts in the Theosophical world.
Don't speak or write as if morality and ethics were unknown
before HPB wrote THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE. Some of our devoted
band have been heard to speak in such a way that hearers thought
the speaker meant to convey the idea that only in THE VOICE or
other similar books of ours could be found the high and correct
ethics by which one ought to guide his life. Buddhism,
Christianity, and all the other religions teach the same morals,
and literature is full of it.
Don't say that all the Theosophical doctrines were first given
out by the Mahatmas through their Theosophical chelas.
Attributing everything solely to the Mahatmas is foolish, as it
is easily controverted. And do not be forever saying, "We are
taught this and are told that." The number of doctrines found
mentioned for the first time by the Mahatmas through HPB is few,
extraordinary in conception and scope, and easily recognized.
Don't explain everything by one theory. To wit; do not be so
inadequate as to brush off the whole of Spiritualism with one
word, "all spooks and shells." You will be wrong if you do so,
and the result will be antagonism.
Don't say that science is all wrong and that men of science are
materialists. Huxley has done us good service; he has but lately
admitted consciousness to be a third factor in the universe, not
a part of force and matter; and Spencer has many a good thing in
his works. Besides, if you want HPB on the matter, you can read
her words that the truth is to be found in a union of science
Don't think or say that phenomena are good stepping-stones to
Theosophy. They are not, for those who stand upon them will fall
from them to their hurt.
Don't run down the spirit of true Christianity, nor imagine that
we can get ministers and congregations en masse to change into
Theosophists. The true spirit of Christianity, as meant to be
taught in the beginning, is doubtless Theosophy, but truth is not
aided by running amuck among the faith of a whole people.
Don't say that HPB has been reincarnated unless you know it and
are able to prove it. To say you think so is not proof. She may
or may not be, and either way the work must go on.
Don't talk as if messages from the Masters are all precipitated
on rice paper, the writing incorporated in the paper, and such
child's talk, indulged in only by those who do not know. And
forget not that precipitation proves only that something was
precipitated. It can be done by mediums and by various sorts of
Don't think or say that the only true occultism is found in the
East, or that we must go to the East for it, or that the West has
none of it. Remember that the greatest known Adept was a Western
woman, a Russian, and that the energy of the lodge of Masters was
first expended here in the West in this age. If so, is it not
reasonable to suppose that the West has its occultists even
though hidden? Recollect also that HPB received in her house in
New York before witnesses Western men of occult science who
worked wonders there at times.
Perhaps it is as has been hinted many a time that the true thing
is to be found in a union of the East and the West. The terms
Guru and Chela have been misused so that all too many are looking
to India for help, from which they will get but little until the
West is itself full of wise students of occultism who know the
meaning of being placed by karma in the West. The fact is,
again, that in the East the men are looking to the great Russian
woman for the very spiritual help that first shed its rays upon
the West unmistakably. Again, there is extant a letter from the
Mahatma K.H. to a Western man wherein it said that he should
work in his own land and forget not that Karma so demanded.
Don't teach that vegetarianism is the road to heaven and
spiritual growth. Was riot the great Nazarene right when he
intimated that, the kingdom of heaven being within, it did not
come from eating or drinking? And has not our old friend HPB
written suggestively that cows and elephants are pure
vegetarians? Reflect on the fact that some of the very best
people on earth were meat-eaters, and that wicked or gross
thoughts are more hurtful than the eating of a ton of flesh.
In fact, don't fail to exercise your common sense on all and
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, April 1963, pages 226-28]
Four higher roadways be. Only those feet
May tread them which have done with earthly things,
Right Purity, Right Thought, Right Loneliness,
Right Rapture . . .
-- THE LIGHT OF ASIA
The need for Love and Friendship is at the root of all human
relationships. Man feels the desire to share his own thoughts
and feelings, to communicate with other beings. He cannot live
alone for many reasons. The very nature and constitution of his
being oppose it. He is part and parcel of a grand Cosmic Order.
There is a natural and harmonious relationship between all the
Units of Consciousness making up the Universe, and the One Law is
inherent in the One Universal consciousness.
There is a kind of loneliness that the man of today is
experiencing. Our globe can no longer be thought of as the real
center of the Universe; the position it occupies in the cosmic
plan is insignificant. Even our sun is only one among thousands.
But there are still lingering with us some old concepts while
bold and far-reaching scientific theories have wrought a change
in our thinking and our attitude to life. How is the modern man
adapting himself to the new mental conception of time and space?
Loneliness of the mind is far less bearable than mere physical
solitariness. Men thrive and feel alive whenever they are
sharing ideas, communicating with one another on the mental
plane. But let a man venture to go by himself, beyond the
accepted concepts of his time, and not only will he find himself
in a strange country, but will experience real loneliness. Such
men are often underrated, nearly always misunderstood, and not
rarely slandered and besmirched. They are alone, with nothing to
prop or sustain them, no like minds to their own. They are the
pioneers of the Race, centuries ahead of their time. The real
work of the mind is to break ground again and again, to enlarge
the mental horizon. For it is stated in THE VOICE OF THE
SILENCE: "To live and reap experience, the mind needs breadth and
depth and points to draw it towards the Diamond Soul."
Genuine thinking starts when we become attentive to our own
thoughts. Whenever thought strives to be free, there is a mind
in the making. Genuine thinking is rare; it demands courage and
faith in human nature to dare to think, to dare to challenge the
leading minds of the time.
It is through the performance of their natural duty that men get
a greater awareness of their true relationship to other human
beings and to the whole of the Cosmos. Each one of us without
exception is unique and in that sense we all are solitary beings.
This solitariness is not a matter of choice. It simply means
that we all have a definite work to do, a dharma to fulfill. In
THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE we read, "The selfish devotee lives to
no purpose. The man who does not go through his appointed work
in life -- has lived in vain."
We have to reconcile within ourselves two apparently opposing
truths. We are all interdependent and interrelated and still are
all different and stand alone. These two ideas are in fact
complementary. How could there be any relationship between two
objects or subjects if these two were absolutely identical with
each other? Manifestation is synonymous with differentiation.
Therefore, though we may derive inspiration and help from a study
of the life and work of the Great Ones, we cannot imitate them
blindly. Every man has to evolve his own faculties and powers,
to grow freely through inner stimulus. Then he has to adapt his
growth to his environment. For this, man has to think, and
thinking is a solitary task. He cannot progress and choose
rightly unless he trains himself to discriminate. In the last
analysis, man is the arbiter of his own destiny. It is he who
chooses his own particular line of thought or his own philosophy
It is perhaps in the anguish and throes of that free choice that
man experiences real loneliness. Even parents, teachers, and
friends can do very little. Advice and counsel may be freely
given, and friends and relations may surround one with love and
affection, but each still remains alone to work out his own
problems and to arrive at a decision, for which in all fairness
he alone is entirely responsible. If he surrenders that
birthright and assents passively to the decisions made by others
in order to avoid ill feeling and criticism, he is failing in his
status as a human being.
We all know of lonely people, people who feel lonely in their
hearts and souls. Loneliness of the heart is felt at one time or
another by all human beings. This feeling partakes of the kamic
nature. Self-reliance of the heart has to be cultivated. This
is accomplished by self-control and purification. Right
Loneliness of the heart is very rare; it is Buddhi in actu, real
The subject of Right Loneliness can be approached from many
angles. Paradoxical as it may seem, it could be said that Right
Loneliness goes hand in hand with Right Companionship. A really
solitary man will make friends wherever he goes. Self-reliance
has a radiating and drawing power. The first step in true
friendship is to be true to Self. Real friendship is a real
fraternity of souls; we love the real being, not the outer form.
In the Dhammapada we read:
> If you do not find a prudent companion, upright and
> self-possessed, then walk alone like a king who has renounced his
> kingdom and his conquests. Be like a free elephant in the
> It is better to live alone. There is no companionship with a
> fool. Let a man advance alone, committing no sin, like an
> elephant in the forest.
> -- Verses 329-30
Now let us consider the Noble Eightfold Path. Before we enter
the Path, three primary truths must be learnt. The first is that
life is a tale of woe; the second is that it is possible to know
the cause of man's misery, and this is followed by the third, or
the bringing about of an end to suffering. This Path has an
outer and an inner aspect. The outer man walks the outer path,
the inner man is mindful of the inner path, and the two become
In the last four stages of the Noble Eightfold Path named in the
lines from Sir Edwin Arnold's LIGHT OF ASIA quoted at the
beginning of this article, Right Loneliness is preceded by Right
Purity and Right Thought and is followed by Right Rapture. These
are inner states. Right Loneliness is the last but one stage on
the Path. It is that state in which the mystic tries to reach
out to the infinite. It implies inner equipoise and absolute
detachment from worldly matters. Yet such men and women live in
the world, performing in silence small and mighty duties for the
enlightenment of the human race. They often appear as nothing in
the eye of men.
THE PATH OF THE CHELA
By James Sterling
I walk the path of the Chela,
Just a lonely Christos, practicing
The higher patience on the lonely road,
Of striving for the Higher Self,
Surrounded by the smoke and fire
Of Karma, washing the blood of the heart
Every day for the last twenty years.
In the Silence where the growth
Of the soul begins to assert itself,
Where knowledge is the key to success,
And Buddhi calls to Buddhi,
This is only road I know,
The more the feet of the soul will bleed,
The whiter the Chela shine will.
Spiritual Intuition develops and grows
In devotion to the Great Ones of the Race,
Like attracts to Like, where the metaphysical
Reality of my inner life begins to unfold itself,
And a simple man continues to move
In a spiritual alchemy of changing consciousness,
To reach a higher level, and do the impersonal
Service that is written in the future
Of the Watching Stars.
Is my Destiny written in the Stars?
Now just to travel on that age-old path,
Meditating on the elimination of personality,
To do the service without thought of reward,
Just a lonely Christos,
Waiting and wondering . . .
Just a lonely Christos, entertaining
The ideas of doing my duty,
And reach the higher level of Nirvana,
Blowing out the lower self,
And leaving the world a better place,
Much, much better than it was
Before I found this path to the
Heart of the Universe,
Where spiritual knowledge brings
Enlightenment to my expanding consciousness,
And growth to my mind and soul.
THEOSOPHY, THE BALANCE-WHEEL OF HUMAN LIFE
By J.H. Fussell
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, September 1926, pages 213-18]
Whenever we speak about Theosophy, there surely must come into
our minds the name of H.P. Blavatsky, and coupled with her name,
the names of William Quan Judge and of our present Teacher
Katherine Tingley. I pay tribute to H.P. Blavatsky, whose name,
coupled with those of her successors, William Quan Judge and
Katherine Tingley, will through all future time be connected with
Theosophy and with the restatement of the ancient
Wisdom-Religion, the Secret Doctrine of antiquity, at the close
of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.
There has always existed a path that leads to the Heart of the
Universe; but this path has often become obscured, just as any
path through the forests that is not kept hewn out and clear with
strenuous exertion soon becomes obliterated with the dense growth
that is so rapid in tropical countries. So this path that leads
to the Heart of the Universe had become overgrown, almost lost.
And yet it was still there.
The work of H.P. Blavatsky was to clear again that path so that
men might travel along the road of Wisdom and come to the Heart
of the Universe. And Katherine Tingley's work, which is to the
same end, may be summed up in her own words as follows: "My aim
is to make Theosophy intensely serviceable and intensely
practical." And she says also that if instead of looking upon
Theosophy as a far-away philosophy, as a marvelous theory,
however beautiful, we would take it as the Law of Conduct, as
being practical and apply it to our daily lives, then we would
come to an understanding of it.
Now I know that all will agree that life is very, very complex.
It is becoming increasingly more complex. There seems no
solution unless we turn to Theosophy. There is so much
confusion; all the machinery of modern life is racing at such
tremendous speed; surely there is need of a balance-wheel.
But this complexity of life should not in any way discourage us.
Look at Nature; take the simplest of Nature's works. Take a
leaf, a flower, or a seed and examine it with a microscope; how
wonderfully complex it is! But in addition to the complexity,
there is order. Look at the life of man, at man's physical
nature; how marvelously complex is the human form; and there too
is order. There is a little balance-wheel in the human frame,
not exactly a wheel, but what in human physiology plays the same
part: in the ear is a very little, delicate organ, any injury to
which makes it difficult for a man to keep his balance or to walk
straight. And I believe that research and investigation would
show that in all the complexity of life or of Nature, there is
some organ or some factor that preserves balance.
Doubtless in the human frame there are other balancing organs or
factors, and the welfare of the whole being depends upon the
balance and interaction of all its parts; and further, as
Katherine Tingley says in her definition of Raja-Yoga, upon "the
balance of all the faculties, physical, mental, moral, and
In the Upanishads, there is a very beautiful verse: "The Wheel of
Sacrifice has Love for its nave, Action for its tire, and
Brotherhood for its spokes." The center, the nave, is love; not
love as it is so often spoken of; but Divine Love. We might say
Divinity itself is there, at the very Heart of the Universe. Yet
where is the road that leads thither? Is it so completely
overgrown as to be obliterated? "The heart of things is peace,"
but out in the world is confusion. What is lacking? What is it
that has caused all this confusion, this lack of balance? In our
own lives, we know, very often we find ourselves in danger of
losing our poise and balance. Why is it?
There has been for ages the search after material things, delving
down into the material nature, seeking the gratification of
material desires, forgetting that life is something more than
matter, more than the activity of the physical nature, more even
than the activity of the reasoning mind. One may, as he thinks,
be sure that his line of reasoning is correct, and yet be off
balance because of some unknown, disregarded, or misunderstood
In any machine, there must be balance; and how marvelous is some
of our modern machinery. There must be no waste motion, no
non-essentials. Parts of the machine are for giving strength and
stability; other parts may be delicate and fine. But all the
parts must work together; for however complex the machine may be;
there must be order, there must be balance.
For large masses of machinery, a heavy fly-wheel is provided to
maintain balance and prevent the machine from racing, and to hold
it steady if there is a sudden slackening of the power. Is there
an analog of this in human life? What is that balance-wheel? What
can give balance, poise, and hold steady the passions and the
mind? Is there not something that has been forgotten in human
life? It is not to be found in the material nature or in the
brain-mind. It is in the heart of things, in the Heart of the
Universe. It is at the very center of all; there the point of
balance is to be sought. It is the spiritual nature that has
been lost sight of.
We go along in our day's work; we are absorbed in the material
things of life; and how often do we face disappointment and
heartache? And yet when we were children -- and possibly all of
us can look back to those happy times when we listened to the
fairy-tales and the old myths of the ancient days -- all life was
full of beauty and wonder; life was full of happy adventure, and
we lived in a wonderland.
Then after a while, we began to forget; yet still in our youth,
before going into active outer life, we had our high ideals. Oh!
There was something so beautiful in life; we read about the
heroes and about what they had done; and there was something for
every one of us to do, some noble quest, some great deed for us
to do. We were going out into the life of the world as a
warrior, as one of the heroes; we were going out to succor the
distressed and ease the heartache of the sorrowing.
And we went out into the world -- and what was there? How soon
our dreams were dispelled, our ideals killed, by the indifference
of the world! And for so many (fortunate for those for whom it
was not so), life became drab monotony. And though there were
moments when we glimpsed the bright reality of our childhood
dreams and of our youthful aspirations that roused us for a
moment to our best, how soon those moments passed away!
Now why should this be so? What is lacking from life as it exists
for the great mass of humanity? Are we to say with Hamlet that:
> The time is out of joint: -- O cursed spite,
> That ever I was born to set it right!
Not that any one of us would be so vain as to think that we could
set the whole time and the whole world right. But surely we must
acknowledge that the time IS out of joint, that the balance has
been lost, that there is something sadly lacking in human life.
Is it perchance what we had in our childhood, almost in our
babyhood, the memory of the beautiful stories our mothers used to
tell us, the ideals we had in our youth when we were facing the
world, when we were going to do something great and noble and
beautiful in the world -- and could not? Does this seem foolish
to some? Yet one of the wise of old time said, "Except ye become
as little children" and another in far older times, "the pupil
must regain the child-state he has lost." Fortunately indeed
there are some whose childhood is not altogether forgotten; it is
not altogether a dead past.
Think what childhood means; think of the far past golden age,
when humanity was as a child and all life was beautiful and pure.
And if we will but turn our thoughts, even now and then, to the
meaning of that time, and bring back but the faintest memory of
the beauty and sweet innocence of childhood into our lives and
into the lives of all grown men and women, surely we shall be
doing SOMETHING to restore the balance in human life.
But in the lives of all of us is the wide divergence between our
ideals that are still ours and our actions, even when at our
best. We still have our ideals. Out in the world, there are
thousands and millions who have their ideals and yet there are
the conditions in Europe and throughout the world where the
ideals have gone so astray. Why is it, if we have these ideals,
why is it so difficult to live up to them? -- for that is what is
required of us, to reach up, not to drag our ideals down to our
level of life, but rather to seek to raise that level to conform
to them. It is just this: we have forgotten a part of our
natures. We have been so intent on building up this machinery of
our material lives, our personal selfish interests, that we have
neglected the most important factor without which we do not truly
Our lives are over-weight. We have ignored the important part,
and yet it is there. We cannot entirely get away from it; we
cannot altogether take out of our lives beauty and love, no
matter what we may do, no matter what mistakes we may make. They
are there, however hidden; the very sunshine proclaims them, our
friendships and affections are evidence of them. We may never
think about the sunshine; perhaps there are some so wretched that
they do not know that the sun is shining, yet nevertheless,
behind the clouds THE SUN IS SHINING. Now and again these
wretched ones creep out of their hovels and the sun shines down
upon them, though they never raise their eyes to it. So too the
spiritual divine life that is in the heart of each is equally
shining although it may be absolutely hidden. And there may come
even to the most wretched a ray, a memory, perhaps, of the divine
Truly Theosophy may be called the balance-wheel of human life
because it makes life complete; because it is the Higher Law of
conduct, as Katherine Tingley says; because it welds all together
into a living whole so that we are not separate; and because like
the wheel of sacrifice, Theosophy too has love for its nave,
action for its tire, and brotherhood for its spokes.
Perhaps a word should be said about the meaning attached to
SACRIFICE. If it is the giving up of something that we feel we
must give up, which is hard to part with or something that we
have to force ourselves to do -- that is no sacrifice, truly.
Sacrifice is the gift that we lay upon the altar of life, with
our whole heart-love. That is true sacrifice, because the word
itself means to make sacred, to make holy. That is sacrifice.
Does a mother think about sacrifice, in the ordinary sense of the
word, when she spends all her strength and all her energy and
gives up her rest and her sleep to save her child, watching by
the bedside of the little one racked with pain? Does she call it
SACRIFICE? It is the offering of her heart, of her very life, and
she gives it gladly. THAT IS REAL SACRIFICE. It is what we give
with joy; it is what we most desire to give; and the soul of
sacrifice is the soul of glad offering.
When we think of Theosophy as the balance-wheel of human life, we
find first of all that it gives to man knowledge of himself; and
without this knowledge, we should never know what was lacking.
It not only gives knowledge to man about himself and the
complexity of his being, but also it brings ORDER into all that
complexity. For Theosophy is Wisdom, and to quote a few words
from the Bhagavad-Gita, which I think are among the most
beautiful in that little book:
> It is the light of all lights, and is declared to be beyond all
> darkness; and it is wisdom itself, the object of wisdom, and that
> which is to be obtained by wisdom; in the hearts of all it ever
> -- ch. xiii
In the heart of every man and woman, there is a ray of Divinity,
a ray of that light that is Theosophy, Divine Wisdom. We do not
have to look outside for it -- though we may get aid from
outside; and it is in the heart of things; it is the secret of
all things. To find it, we must first look within our own
hearts. There is always a little ray there; and in order to find
more of that Divine Light, in order to find that path that leads
to the Heart of the Universe, we must hold sacred and follow that
which we have.
Shall we then say with Hamlet, "0 cursed spite that ever I was
born to set it right"? No! We will say, so far as this little
universe of our immediate surroundings is concerned, "0 blessed
joy, that we are here to help to set it right." For there is no
pessimism in Theosophy. There is no possibility for a
Theosophist to be a pessimist. It is his joy to help to right
the wrongs of the world. It is the one thing he desires to do.
It is his sacrifice, in the sense of the glad offering. He will
see to it that so far as lies in his power, beauty and order and
harmony are brought into this little Universe from his own
experiences and from his own surroundings.
Then we can show these grown men and women who have lost all the
spontaneity and the joy of childhood, for whom life has gone so
far astray, for whom the complexity of life has become so great,
the confusion so confounding -- we can show them that there is
something that we and they can do. We can turn to Theosophy, to
Raja-Yoga, which is an aspect of Theosophy, and we can show that
what is needed most is the help that we can give to the children.
If this world is to become a better place, we must begin with the
children. That is why Katherine Tingley started her School, and
that is why she gave to it the name Raja-Yoga, which Katherine
Tingley defines as the balance of all the faculties, and which
she has further declared to be Theosophy applied to education.
And by taking Raja-Yoga as the balance-wheel -- for Raja-Yoga
means literally "Royal Union" -- we shall get that union that
exists between the spokes of a wheel, all united in the nave, a
union that exists in the most complex piece of machinery when all
is working in the most perfect harmony and order. But we must
not look on ourselves or upon life as a piece of machinery. The
world is not a mere mechanism. It is a living organism in which
there are union and harmony that come from the perfect balance of
all the faculties: the physical, the mental, the moral, and the
To find this balance in human life, giving to the material life
its due, holding at their right valuation the affections and the
mind, we must travel inward towards the center of things along
the pathway of spiritual effort that leads to the Heart of the
Universe. As William Quan Judge once wrote, "The Will, the
Conscience, the Affections, and the Intellect, must work in one
straight line for the procuring of truest Light."
Therefore Theosophy, the Balance-Wheel of human life, has Love
for its nave, Action for its tire, and Brotherhood for its
THE EVOLUTION OF IMMORTALITY
By Michael Byrom
[From THE ARYAN PATH, June 1961, pages 246-51]
Death is the core of evolution as, without death, there could be
no progress. Individual consciousness is usually finite, though
it is capable of expansion. When the expansion ceases, the
individual is dying in the spiritual sense unless he has attained
to what Buddhist mysticism describes as Nirvana, which is to pass
beyond the dimension of space-time.
The world is largely populated by dying souls in living bodies
and by living bodies in whom souls can scarcely be said to have
existed at all. It is generally understood that the cat, the
dog, the bird, and the insect are not the possessors of souls in
the human sense, but theologians are reluctant to admit that
humans can be soulless, though the lives of many are
fundamentally indistinguishable from those of the animals.
For those individuals in any population who are alive in the
spiritual sense, the existence of the soul is a fact and not a
matter for speculation. Their lives are spent, not in the
development or indulgence of their animal attributes, but in the
development of the inner life. This is a quest for experience,
spiritual as opposed to carnal. It is essentially the life of
the mind. They may be scientists, philosophers, artists,
musicians, or saints. Scientific knowledge is spiritual only in
the sense that it is non-carnal, as scientific knowledge is
bounded by the physical universe; it is consciousness at an
elementary evolutionary level.
Scientific knowledge, unlike the knowledge of the raja-yogi, can
be communicated verbally, which explains its evolution. The
particular knowledge of individual specialists is built up into
knowledge of the whole. Similarly, knowledge of beauty is
communicable through works of art, and the artist, like the
scientific specialist, is able to see his particular vision in
relation to the whole and to draw upon the achievements of
previous esthetic explorers. This is known as the evolution of
culture, but it is really the evolution of God.
Unlike the artist, musician, and poet, the religious mystic
cannot communicate his experience (except through personal
contact), which has led the world to believe that all religious
experience is the same. Knowledge of God is felt to be an
identical experience, not only because God is, by definition,
invariable, but also because descriptions of the psychological
process by which belief is discovered are similar.
Now, one of the most interesting things about art is that the
psychological process involved in its production is the same
whether the work is good or bad, high or low. The sincerity of
the artist's creative experience is not the measure of the
quality of his work. The quality of the work is the quality of
his mind, just as the strength of a wrestler is the quality of
his body and not the result of his digestive process that is the
same as that of a physical weakling.
It is therefore logical to suppose that the religious experience
of Ramakrishna need not be the same thing as the religious
experience of Savonarola. To say that there is only one Good may
be true; it is also true that there is only one Beauty, yet we
feel that some works of art are more beautiful than others.
The truth is that all visionaries achieve varying degrees of
knowledge, which is transcendental in only a few exceptional
The three approaches to transcendental knowledge are through
Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. The way of the saint is through
Goodness (moral purification), the way of the philosopher is
through Truth (intellectual purification), and the way of the
artist is through Beauty (esthetic purification). The ways are
separate, yet closely resemble one another. The saintly life may
be good, but it is also beautiful; the work of a great painter or
composer may be a vision of beauty, but it is also truth. If the
philosopher's thought is not beautiful, then it cannot be good,
and thus it cannot be true.
It is futile to attempt to decide which is the greater: Art,
Philosophy, or Religion. One might just as well try to decide
which table leg is the most important. A philosopher who decides
that beauty is inferior to truth is simply admitting that he is a
philosopher and not an artist, while a saint who decides that
truth is inferior to goodness is confessing that he has no
intellect. The argument used by the former (the
Philistine-philosopher) is usually that a preoccupation with
esthetics is a preoccupation with externals, as the apprehension
of beauty is made through the physical senses (the eyes and
ears). I am thinking of Plotinus. Now, in fact, beauty is only
perceived THROUGH externals; it is not external itself. It is no
more external than truth, which is perceived through the
"externals" of falsehood, or of goodness, which is perceived
through the "externals" of evil. A saint who is blind and deaf
is not necessarily purer than a saint in full possession of his
faculties! His quest for the good remains a quest through the
externals of sin.
The question, therefore, is not which is the greatest: Art,
Philosophy, or Religion? But rather who are the greatest artists,
philosophers, and saints; for THEIR vision has truly passed
beyond the confines of good and evil, truth and falsehood, beauty
and ugliness. It is Divine.
In the recently discovered collection of Sayings attributed to
Jesus (THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS) are the following words:
> My soul was afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind
> in their heart and do not see that empty they have come into the
> world (and that) empty they seek to go out of the world again.
I began this essay by saying that the world is largely populated
by the living dead, but I want to emphasize that even those who
are alive in the spiritual sense leave the world "empty" unless
they attain transcendental knowledge, which is what Jesus meant
by the Kingdom. Immortality is only for those who have realized
it within themselves or as the first saying of the Thomas Gospel
puts it: "Whoever finds the explanation of these words will not
taste death." The rest must die and be reincarnated according to
Hindu and Buddhist doctrine.
The ancient doctrine of reincarnation, while it is not true in
its literal sense, that is, true in the sense that the INDIVIDUAL
soul survives death to live again, is true in an evolutionary
sense. The individual soul, being imperfect, cannot survive
death. But when seen, not as an individual, but as an individual
expression of an impersonal spirit or will, it can be said to be
reincarnated in future individuals. In this sense, all souls are
The doctrine of reincarnation really evinces a pre-Darwinian
insight into the ascent of Man, by which I mean that it is true
in the sense that each of us has lived longer than the time that
has elapsed since his birth. The individual human being may live
for no more than six months, but he is two billion years old when
he dies, or whatever time it has taken for his evolution from a
single-celled organism. In this sense, he may be said to contain
countless thousands of preexistences, all of which lie buried in
the subconscious, and in fact, as the expression of Will (which
is indestructible), he must always have existed in some
evolutionary form, and indeed he must live forever.
This does not mean that the individual life is any less
perishable than it seems. What is individually inadequate cannot
survive its individual dissolution (death) as immortality is
synonymous with perfection (God).
Belief in the extinction of consciousness at death is often
called materialism, but what is usually described as
"materialism" is really an advance upon superstitious ignorance.
The materialist, whose beliefs are limited to empirical facts, is
at least free from the errors of paganism; that is, belief in an
anthropomorphic God, a Heaven full of angels, a Hell full of
demons, to one of which abodes the individual human spirit
departs after death.
Such belief, the framework of Medieval Christianity, is primitive
superstition and not religion and is closely associated with
sorcery and black magic. It remains, like the gallows, the bull
ring, and the days of the week, as a macabre reminder of Man's
past in the form of the so-called Christian Church with its
altar, idols, and priests. To see newsreel shots of the Pope
blessing the faithful is like losing a thousand years of
civilization, yet devout churchgoers despise the modern agnostic
for his atheism. No wonder the agnostics sometimes become
irritable. They know that skepticism is an advance upon
Now, the idea that the human spirit survives the death of the
body is pure paganism, believed not only by temple-worshippers
two thousand years ago but also by primitive sun-worshippers
thousands of years before that. To believe in ghosts, which is
to believe in personal immortality, is to be superstitious, not
religious. To be truly religious is to be impersonal, to be
ego-less. Personal immortality is a belief held by those who
cherish the ego, by those whose outlook is essentially selfish or
personal. It is part of the pagan belief in a personal God.
Pass beyond belief in a personal God and you pass beyond belief
in personal immortality.
Thus far, the traditional mystic would agree with the modern
evolutionist because the extent of his immortality is the extent
to which he has overcome the personal. The pagan probably would
maintain that the mind (or personal consciousness) survives the
body's dissolution; the mystic probably would not. The mystic
would maintain that transcendental knowledge survives the
dissolution of the mind that has apprehended it (because, in
fact, the mind has NOT apprehended it) but the evolutionist does
not. To the evolutionist, the Immortal lasts no longer than the
mystic's mind even as the mystic's mind lasts as long, and no
longer, than the brain that has produced it.
The relation of brain and mind is a mystery. They are connected
and yet there is no connection. The brain is matter, the mind is
spirit (it is consciousness), yet damage the brain and the mind
is impaired. Similarly, the relation of mind to transcendental
knowledge is a mystery. They are separate and yet they are one.
The mind is personal, temporal, and finite (in understanding);
transcendental Knowledge is impersonal, immutable, and infinite.
Yet without mind, there is no transcendental Knowledge. The
mystery is no greater than the evolutionary gulf that separates
dead matter from living matter; without dead matter, there is no
living matter, the latter having evolved from the former as the
initial advance in the fantastic progression of creative
If the initial advance in the progress of creative evolution was
the creation of living matter from dead matter, the second great
advance was the emergence of mind as this is nothing less than
the initial step towards the annihilation of Space and Time.
Matter exists within Space and Time but thought exists only in
Time, which is to say that thought is immaterial. The
transcendence of Time is the ultimate fulfillment of evolution,
and this power is latent in Man; in familiar language, he has
knowledge of God that is knowledge of immortality.
Men are thus immortal in two senses. One: potentially, they are
able to attain self-transcendence. Two: as the expression of
Will, they cannot be destroyed. Will, like Matter, which is the
primary condition of Will, is indestructible; it can only change
its form as when life leaves the body. It is subject to
devolution as well as evolution. Buddha's belief that the
physical universe is neither true nor untrue is an unscientific
attempt to formulate this idea. So is the Christian Science
statement that God is All, with its appendage that evil is a
"false thought." If God is All, all must be Good, so evil, which
is felt to be real, must also be unreal, a paradox that presents
no difficulty to the understanding of the evolutionist.
Yet to say that because all is God (and therefore indestructible)
men are consequently immortal is a poor sort of immortality and
is not what is usually meant by the word. The gas to which the
most illumined mystic is reduced or devolved at his cremation is
a miserable substitute for his knowledge, which being different
in kind from his body and his mind, is felt to survive his death.
It is this sense of the "difference of kind" that lies behind the
age-old beliefs both in personal and in impersonal immortality.
If the mind is different in kind from the body, why should it not
continue to "be" after the body's dissolution? And if
transcendental Knowledge is a different kind of consciousness
from mental consciousness, surely this must prove its continuance
(or "is-ness") whether or not there is a mind capable of
The evolutionary theory outdates these views. God, to the
evolutionist, is quite literally dependent upon a supply of fresh
water. Like Angelus Silesius, the evolutionist knows that
"without me, God could not endure for a moment." For the
difference in kind that exists between Matter, Body, Mind, and
God is not the proof of their independence, it is simply the
condition of their dependence; that is, it is a startling fact of
the evolutionary process.
From the evolutionary standpoint, it is significant that the
great religious teachers have always stressed the urgency of
knowing God (or attaining Nirvana) in this life, which is to
realize Eternity within Time and Infinity within the finite.
There is no question of quitting the earth for Heaven when
knowledge of Heaven has been attained.
Saints have suffered martyrdom, but they have neither committed
suicide nor willed their own premature deaths, evidently
subconsciously realizing the strange dependence of Heaven upon
earth, although this is inconsistent with their pre-evolutionary
doctrine. Death is the negation of Life, and it is only through
life and its evolution that the Kingdom of Heaven can be
MRS. BESANT'S FAREWELL ADDRESS TO THE SECULARISTS
By H.S. Olcott
[From OLD DIARY LEAVES, IV, pages 390-96.]
Returning to London, I escorted Mrs. Besant to the "Hall of
Science" to hear her farewell address to the Secularists.
With a curious incapacity for introspection, the leaders of that
party had passed a vote that she should not be allowed to lecture
any more on Theosophy if she wished to continue to speak from the
Secularist platform. The poor creatures did not see that they
were virtually setting up a new orthodoxy -- that of Disbelief --
and arrogating to themselves disciplinary authority over the
pretended Freethinkers of their party.
Annie Besant had given to that movement nearly all its culture
and idealism, had thrown over its crude iconoclasm the iridescent
veil of her own refinement and eloquence. Mr. Bradlaugh was
their Hercules and embodiment of strength, she their Hypatia,
embodiment of culture and winsome eloquence.
They could afford to lose her least of all, and yet they were too
blind to see that the inevitable result of their meditated
tyranny would be to drive her out of their association into
Theosophy, where independence of action and thought is not only
tolerated, but enjoined.
I sat on the platform with her looking over the large audience of
intelligent faces, and felt very sorry to think that these useful
pioneers of a new era of religious activity were so foolishly
losing their best friend.
Mrs. Besant's address vibrated with pathos as she defined the
false position in which they sought to place her, and the
imperative necessity that she should be true to the basic
principle of their party by keeping perfect liberty of action in
matters of conscience.
Evidently a deep impression was made upon the majority, and I
judged from the applause that if a poll of opinions had been
taken, she would have been asked to abide with the old friends
with whom she had battled so many years against popular
superstition and bigoted prejudice. But the critical moment was
allowed to pass, since there was no one in the hall brave enough
to rise and make the necessary motion; and so she and I passed
out into the street and in the carriage on the way home exchanged
sympathetic views as to the future of the Secularist party.
From the fact that the address was published in full in the DAILY
CHRONICLE, and commented upon by virtually the whole British
press, I am able to give a few extracts to show the general drift
of her argument.
She said that it was upon 28th February, 1875 that she had stood
for the first time on that platform and spoken to a Freethought
audience. She had written for the NATIONAL REFORMER under the
pseudonym of " Ajax," a name that she had chosen because the
words that were said to have broken from the lips of that mighty
hero, when the darkness came down on him and his army were
"Light, more light!" And then she uttered this noble sentiment:
"It is that cry for light that has been the keynote of my own
intellectual life. It was and is so -- wherever the light may
lead me, through whatever difficulties."
She eloquently referred to the profound friendship that had
existed between Mr. Bradlaugh and herself and said that if there
were one thing above all others that Charles Bradlaugh did, it
was to keep the Freethought platform free from any narrowness of
doctrine or belief.
She recalled the stormy days of 1875-6 when their windows were
broken, stones were thrown at them, and they walked the streets
to and from the hall through brandished sticks.
She said that she had broken with Christianity in 1872, and broke
with it once and for all; she had nothing to unsay, nothing to
undo, nothing to retract as regards her position then and now;
she stood on the same ground as heretofore, and in passing into
the newer light of Theosophy, her return to Christianity had
"become even more impossible than in any older days of the
National Secular Society."
She sharply distinguished from each other:
> [Two very different schools of Materialism, one of which] cares
> nothing for man, but only for itself; which seeks only personal
> gain, and cares only for the moment. With that materialism
> neither I nor those with whom I have worked had anything in
> common. That is the materialism that destroys the glory of human
> life, a materialism that can only be held by the degraded; never
> a form of materialism preached from this platform, or the
> training schools that have known many of the noblest intellects
> and purest hearts.
> To the materialism of such men as Clifford and Charles Bradlaugh,
> I have no sort of reproach to speak, and never shall. I know it
> is a philosophy that few are able to live out -- to work without
> self as an object is the great lesson of human life.
> There are problems in the universe that materialism not only does
> not solve, but also declares insoluble -- difficulties that
> materialism cannot grapple with, about which it says man must
> remain dumb for evermore. I came to problem after problem for
> which scientific materialism had no answer. Yet these things
> were facts. I came across facts for which my philosophy had no
> What was I to do? Was Ito say that nature was not greater than my
> knowledge, and that because a fact was new, it was an illusion?
> Not thus had I learned the lesson of materialistic science. When
> I found that there were facts of life other than as the
> materialists defined it, I determined still to go on -- although
> the foundations were shaking -- and not be recreant enough in the
> search after truth to draw back because it wore a face other than
> the one I had expected, I had read two books by Mr. Sinnett, and
> these threw an intelligible light on a large number of facts that
> had always remained unexplained in the history of man.
> The books did not carry me very far, but they suggested a new
> line of investigation, and from that time forward I looked for
> other clues. Those clues were not definitely found until early
> in the year 1889. I had experimented then and before in
> Spiritualism, and found many facts and much folly in it.
> In 1889, I had a book given me to review -- a book written by
> H.P. Blavatsky, entitled THE SECRET DOCTRINE. I suppose I was
> given it to review because I was thought to be more or less mad
> on such subjects. I knew on studying that book that I had found
> the clue I had been seeking, and I then asked for an introduction
> to the writer, feeling that one who had written it might tell
> something of a path along which I might travel.
After defending the character of Mme. Blavatsky and the
Theosophical Society, she concluded with this powerful
> Every month that has passed since Madame Blavatsky left has given
> me more and more light. Are you, I would ask, quite wise to
> believe that you are right and that there is nothing in the
> universe you do not know? It is not a safe position to take up.
> It has been taken up in other days and always assailed. It was
> taken up by the Roman Church, by the Protestant Church. If it is
> to be taken up by the Freethought party now, are we to regard the
> body as the one and final possessor of knowledge, which may never
> be increased? That, and nothing less, is the position you are
> taking at the present time.
> What is the reason I leave your platform? Why do I do so? I shall
> tell you. Because your Society sends me off it. The reason this
> is my last lecture is because when the hall passes into the hands
> of the National Secular Society, I should not be permitted to say
> anything going against the principles and objects of that
> Now I shall never speak under such conditions. I did not break
> with the great Church of England and ruin my social position in
> order that I might come to this platform and be told what I
> should say. Our late leader would never have done it. I do not
> challenge the right of your Society to make any conditions you
> like. But, my friends and brothers, is it wise? I hold that the
> right of the speaker to speak is beyond all limitation, save of
> the reason. If you are right, discussion will not shake your
> platform; if you are wrong, it would act as a corrective. While
> I admit your right to debar me, I sorely misjudge the wisdom of
> the judgment.
> In bidding you farewell, I have no words save words of gratitude.
> In this hall for well-nigh seventeen years, I have met with a
> kindness that has never changed, a loyalty that has never broken,
> a courage that has always been ready to stand by me. Without
> your help, I should have been crushed many a year ago; without
> the love you gave me, my heart had been broken many, many years
> But not even for you shall a gag be placed on my mouth; not even
> for your sake will I promise not to speak of that which I know
> now to be truth. I should commit a treachery to truth and
> conscience if I allowed anyone to stand between my right to speak
> and that which I believe I have found. And so, henceforth, I
> must speak in other halls than in yours. Henceforth, in this
> hall -- identified with so much of struggle and pain, and so much
> also of the strongest joy nature can know -- I shall be a
> To you, friends and comrades of so many years -- of whom I have
> spoken no harsh words since I left you, for whom I have none but
> words of gratitude -- to you I say farewell; going out into a
> life shorn indeed of many friends, but with a true conscience and
> a good heart.
> I know that those to whom I have pledged my services are true and
> pure and bright. I would never have left your platform unless I
> had been compelled. I must take my dismissal if it must be. To
> you now, and for the rest of this life, I bid farewell.
Her concluding words were spoken with deep emotion, and it was
very evident that the hearts of the majority of the audience were
touched; tears could be seen in many eyes, and as she left the
platform, the hall rang again and again with deafening cheers.
ART FROM A THEOSOPHICAL STANDPOINT
By R. Machell
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, May 1922, pages 442-49]
Writers on Art frequently assume that the word itself needs no
definition, being perfectly intelligible to any well-educated
person; but in the course of their observations, it becomes
evident that the term is used by them in a variety of ways with
no indication of the nature of the definition adopted at any
particular moment, nor any assurance that the writer has any
fixed point of view. Naturally enough, the more familiar the
term the more difficult will be its definition, for "familiarity
breeds contempt," and unfortunately often passes as a substitute
for understanding with the average man.
After many years of thought upon the subject, I am convinced that
there must be as many interpretations of this word as there are
minds to think seriously about it; and that before attempting to
write upon the subject at all, one ought to try to define one's
own use of the term without dogmatizing or claiming any finality
for the definition adopted.
The popular use of the word is so vague as to be no definition at
all, and adequately expresses the confusion of popular opinion on
the subject. But among art-lovers we might expect to find some
common standpoint from which some general view might be obtained.
Yet even here we find the standpoint is so variable and so
personal as to afford no common ground for study and comparison
of experiences. In fact it is evident that many enthusiastic
patrons of art and some serious students have never quite made up
their minds as to what art really is, nor even as to what they
themselves mean by the term; while many of them have movable
viewpoints, which allow them to entertain a variety of opinions
on the subject, and which also provide them with an "exit in case
of emergency" when hard pressed in a discussion.
It is probable that the most general conception would be that art
is particularly concerned with beauty in any and all of its
aspects, and that the mission of art is to give pleasure. Now
beauty is a vague term and may mean almost anything; but to
people who do not think deeply, it has a clearly defined meaning
that is purely personal: so that there may be as many conceptions
of beauty as there are people to formulate them. To such people,
the only test of beauty lies in their own emotions. The only
thing that enables them to agree amongst themselves is their lack
of real individuality and their general tendency to think with
the crowd whose emotions they share.
Sometimes you may hear the admission made by some honest
art-lover: "I know nothing about art; but I know what I like,"
which sounds candid but is only half true; for while the
ignorance may be admitted without question, the knowledge of what
is pleasing is very doubtful and is open to suspicion on the
score of the rarity of any individual taste. What is generally
popular is that which appeals to the most ordinary emotions; and
people who have cultivated their natural faculties will not be
pleased so easily.
But to real lovers of art, something more is necessary; even if
they rise no higher than to demand enjoyment, and have no loftier
standard of enjoyment than the gratification of their emotions;
for they will have refined their emotions, and may have purified
their ideals so far as to seek pleasure in the gratification of
intellectual desires that may be unknown to the crowd, whose
emotions are almost entirely sensuous.
The conception of beauty too may be so intellectualized as to
appear unrecognizable to the ordinary person and yet be a
variation on the same theme.
But the Theosophist who loves art will probably pass by all forms
of art that satisfy the ordinary taste, not with scorn, which
betrays vanity and intolerance, but with the same kindly feeling
that may prevent one from throwing a child's doll on the
trash-pile, however much one may object to the thing itself.
The Theosophist will probably feel that most of what passes for
art in the general world is soulless, much sensuous, and a
considerable part wholly objectionable, if not actually
degrading. But a too general condemnation of art will bring us
to the Puritan position of mere denunciation of beauty and joy,
which cannot possibly be considered in connection with the
spiritual teachings of Theosophy. For beauty, to a Theosophist,
is found in "the eternal fitness of things," where truth reigns
and joy is the natural condition of life. There is no room for
fanaticism in Theosophy nor can beauty and truth be parted.
What then is a Theosophical conception of art and beauty? It
seems to me that a Theosophist must feel that true art is the
effort to express the prompting of the soul. For although soul
is the essential element in the complex being we call man, yet at
the present stage of human evolution, the majority of mankind (at
least in so-called civilized countries) are individually almost
entirely unaware of the existence of the soul. A Theosophist
thinks of a man as a soul veiled by a material body, blinded by
ignorance of his own nature and unconscious of the purpose of his
To the pure soul, beauty must be harmony or the fitness of
things; and this conception will naturally arise in the soul and
seek expression through the personality, which will necessarily
stamp the expression of the sleeping soul with the
characteristics of the awakened personal self with its sensuous
instincts and vulgar ideals of life. Even the most crude and
material expression of joy may have had its origin in the, as
yet, unawakened soul. Evolution I take to be the awakening of
the soul. And it is certain that we are not all equally evolved,
nor are we as yet more than partially awake.
The love of art seems to be a prompting of the soul; while the
character of the art that satisfies the individual will be a fair
indication of the stage of his evolution. Ask him of what he
conceives to be the mission of art, and his answer will show you
what his conception of life and its purpose is. A Theosophist
might say that the function of art is to reveal the beauty in
nature and the significance of life. To the ordinary man, life
has no significance, to him the phrase will have no meaning, but
to the student of aesthetics, the significance of life is the
source of true beauty.
"High art" was a cant phrase at one time, and became ridiculous
because so many pretenders learned to talk about it without any
understanding; and the phrase received its death-blow at the
hands of that brilliant satirist W.S. Gilbert, author of so many
popular operas, in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta of PATIENCE
when he put a piece of pure philosophy into the mouth of the
ridiculous Bunthorne, who says: "High art is for the few; the
higher the art, the fewer the few: the highest art is for the
One," and the house roared with laughter. But the same sentiment
expressed in the same words in the mouth of a dignified character
in a serious drama would probably have been applauded as a noble
expression of a lofty truth.
The utterance of profound wisdom by a fool has been a favorite
trick of many dramatists; it is justified by nature who sometimes
emphasizes the discrepancy often existing between the deep wisdom
of the soul and the grotesque folly of the personality through
which that wisdom finds a mangled utterance, or a perfect
expression rendered impotent by the absurd appearance of its
Returning to popular conceptions of art, it would not be too much
to say that the ordinary mind looks upon art as a producer of
fictions, wholly concerned with the appearance of things and only
true insofar as these appearances are correctly reproduced.
Whereas, the more cultured critic of art in our day will speak
contemptuously of such reproductions as mere mechanical work
having no relation at all to art.
Certainly truth must be measured in ways adapted to the occasion:
it may be that a most conscientious reproduction of a scene in
nature may entirely misrepresent the real significance of the
subject, while some essential quality or characteristic of the
same scene may be vividly suggested in a work that apparently
exaggerates or falsifies the facts of the case as they would be
seen by the camera, or by a man with a photographic eye and the
intelligence of a photo film.
In making truth a test of art, we must remember that it is more
difficult to define truth or to explain its real nature than it
is to say what true art is. For instance, it is easy to see that
the appearance of a thing is illusive, delusive, and dependent
upon the power of man to see and to understand what he sees; and
further, it is evident that the appearance of things is not the
same as the reality of the things. What then is truth? And what
has art to do with truth, seeing that it deals entirely with
Truth in itself may be absolute. The human mind deals only with
relativity; it only compares and contrasts things and their
opposites. To the mind, truth appears as relative to falsehood;
and being relative, it is not absolute. So that if we are to
measure art by its truth, we must first find a standard of truth
or else assume one and try to get others to accept it. This is
the usual method, and it has many and obvious advantages.
Knowing as little as we do of the nature of truth, it is strange
that we should make it the touchstone of all experience. Perhaps
the impossibility of producing it and actually applying it as a
test is its real recommendation, for it throws us back on our own
resources and makes each one responsible for his own judgment on
all important matters. This individual responsibility for our
own decisions is perhaps the greatest truth we have to learn
except for the still simpler lesson of our unity, which is the
last step in wisdom.
The search for truth in art may lead in opposite directions and
does give rise to endless controversies, for truth is everywhere,
and yet it can never be placed anywhere.
Perhaps realism in art is the most elusive of all ideals, for art
is never realistic in the literal sense. Its methods are all
appeals to imagination, no matter how narrow may be the artist's
conception of his art. Art can never be other than suggestive.
The realism lies in the belief that the appearance of an object
is a reality, and consequently a very faithful reproduction of
its appearance will create an impression of reality in the mind
of the spectator. But it is easy to see that every object has
innumerable aspects, all of which are conditioned by the
faculties of the perceiver and can only be appearances, never
realities. So that even in contemplating the original object,
the observer is dealing with his own impressions and not with the
object itself. How then can his reproduction of his own
impressions be other than a suggestion of an appearance? Where
does realism come in? Even if the suggestion is so strong as to
delude a spectator into the belief that the reproduction is the
original object, what is it more than delusion? Is delusion
truth? Is successful suggestion realism?
Therefore I would say that the realist starts with self-delusion
as to the nature of truth and the reality of nature and ends with
an attempt to deceive the senses of others or to excite
admiration by his industry and skill. His work will please many
who are anxious to believe that appearances are realities, for
the thought that the world may be an illusion frightens them, and
they spend their lives laboring to persuade themselves that
things of the world are very real. These unawakened souls
constitute a large part of our present humanity and are to be met
in all classes of society. So realism in art has a sure support
in public taste, but for the true art-lover, it has little
Those of them who still look for beauty in art have a standard
that is unintelligible to the masses, whose ideals of beauty are
all sensuous; whereas the more advanced critic is interested by
the significance of color and form, of life and action. This
word 'significance' has for him an overwhelming importance. In
many cases, it has entirely ousted the more popular ideal of
beauty, appealing as it does to the intellect rather than the
senses. And yet it may be said that many of these advanced
students, in substituting the intellect for the senses as their
foundation for beauty, have made no advance towards a spiritual
concept of art, however much they may despise 'mere beauty.'
Beauty is greater than either the senses or the intellect. It is
an eternal principle of harmony or fitness that may be discovered
on all planes of conscious existence; and I venture to think that
he who repudiates beauty turns his back on the source of
inspiration from which all art flows; but of course I am now
using the term "beauty" in its higher sense.
The old Chinese painter Hsieh-ho, in his canon of art, placed
first on his list of essentials in a work of art "spiritual
rhythm," translated by Okakura as "the life-movement of the
spirit in the rhythm of things."
To the ordinary lover of western art, such an ideal would be
simply unintelligible. It is easy to see that some such
spiritual aspiration was recognized in the East as the first
essential in art, and a study of the best Chinese work will
convince an unprejudiced student that the prime object of art was
held by Chinese artists to be neither sensual nor intellectual
alone, but spiritual. Our civilization is now so sunk in
materialism that the word "spiritual" has almost lost its
significance to even well-educated westerners. For this reason,
it is hard for our people to understand what the Chinese artists
were driving at.
In their paintings, they sought continually to suggest infinity.
In every material object represented, there was a suggestion that
some abstract quality in the composition was the real motif, even
when the object was reproduced with the minutest exactitude. A
flying bird was a suggestion of flight rather than of a bird; a
landscape obviously served merely as the foundation for a
suggestion of some emotional quality or spiritual aspiration. I
think that to them, art was sacred, as though the world was ruled
by spiritual powers of various kinds and qualities. Their
concept of the Universe was of a spiritual world mirrored in
various conditions from the highest to the lowest, in all of
which, spiritual powers ruled and were worshiped with suitable
Europeans and Americans are beginning to wake up to some
appreciation of Chinese art, which of course has had its ups and
downs in the long and turbulent history of that old civilization,
and a few of the critics have realized that there were times when
art reached a higher development there than has yet been achieved
in our land. But it is only a few of these explorers who have
grasped the fact that the life and art of China were impregnated
with the ancient Wisdom-Religion, while the people were familiar
with spiritual ideals that have been utterly lost to the nations
of Europe, but that are now gradually finding their way back into
the consciousness of the people through the aid of the
Theosophical revelation brought to the world by H.P. Blavatsky.
In Europe and America, the word "spiritual" had sunk to the
lowest depths of misinterpretation and was associated in the
popular mind with all sorts of gross superstitions; and even now,
the word seems generally to be taken as referring merely to the
most material plane of the astral world. Theosophy restores it
to its true significance as the plane of causation that underlies
and vitalizes all the astral and physical conditions of
existence; as the source and origin of all intelligence; the
cause and creative energy that calls the manifested universes
into being; that reveals itself as natural law in the mineral and
vegetable kingdoms, as instinct in the animal, and as the
redeeming spirit in man; that leads evolution, and guides the
countless universes in their appearance and their disappearance.
To the Theosophist, the spiritual world is formless and
comprehensible only to the spiritual self of man by means of
It is this spiritual principle in man that must inspire true art,
according to Theosophy as I understand it. No Theosophist is
entitled to dogmatize on such a subject. Without it, art is
merely imitative and not creative, and surely the mission of art
is to create. But what is creation? Is it the making of
something out of nothing? That is hard to believe; but it surely
is the giving of a form to that which was formless.
That is what nature is doing all the time. The creation of the
world goes on continuously through its seven ages, or "days,"
till it achieves perfection; and the creative energy, exhausted,
rests for a period, incalculable perhaps, but still measurable by
analogy, even as we measure the night through which we pass in
sleep unconscious of the hours.
It is a common thing to speak of a work of art as a creation; but
creative art is rare. So much is merely reproductive, or
imitative. The conception of creation has been so terribly
degraded by our ancestors, who truly fashioned a creator of their
own and called it "God," creating their God in their own image
and then endowing him with the power to make something out of
nothing. All of this was merely a perversion of the old
teachings, which showed the creative hosts engaged in giving form
to that which was formless, creating worlds and peopling them
with such creatures as they were able to produce. Then came the
spiritual lords, whose evolution had been accomplished in
preceding universes, and these redeemers of the world took up the
task of human evolution where nature left it, and so became the
Gods who walked with men and taught them all the arts and
sciences that they themselves had learned in former worlds.
The creation of the world continues day by day; and so man rises
in the scale of evolution through the long ages, falling and
rising, seeking and finding, and again losing the path of
spiritual progress to find it later thanks to the guiding of the
"elder brothers" of the race. And so the arts are brought to
man, and so they flourish for a time and then become
materialized, losing their power to uplift. Then comes a ray of
spiritual light, and art revives. A new golden age is born, to
be succeeded by the inevitable turning of the wheel that brings
the night as surely as the day and the cold wintertime as
regularly as the spring and summer.
Art may well be called divine, and surely it is creative, for the
spiritual impulse ever gives new form to everlasting truth,
leading men up to higher concepts of that truth by the creation
of new standards. Then the forces of chaos grasp at these forms
and destroy their beauty, seeking to adapt them to low uses.
Thus every ideal has its perversion in the world, and thus art
seems to perish periodically. But the spiritual impulse does not
die, and art is born again as soon as man is able to feel in his
heart the spiritual urge that men call genius. He may respond or
he may fail; but the origin of art is still the spiritual world,
and the artist must rise from the mud of mere material existence
if he is to be a fit interpreter of the divine impulse that seeks
to lift humanity from degradation and awaken in the soul the
consciousness of its divinity.
THE KEYNOTE OF DOSTOYEVSKY'S WRITINGS
By Boris de Zirkoff
[From THE THEOSOPHICAL PATH, August 1925, pages 164-72]
At the source of life eternal, beyond the world of illusions and
evanescent shadows that fill our mind with their blurring
impressions and ephemeral apparitions, behind the veil of
unrealities and fleeting phantoms which hide from our eyes, like
an ocean of mist and ever-changing forms, the primeval glory of a
superior world, there is a single Truth underlying all the
numerous manifestations of the Universe. This Truth permeates
everything. It enters into the very depths of being and molds as
if by an invisible hand the fugitive shapes of Nature.
Man as a thinking being has tried from remote antiquity to
express this Truth lying at the foundation of the world by means
of words, or musical tones, or colors, or even mathematical
relations. The nearer he has succeeded in approaching the
invisible and ever-present Reality on the other side of this
tangible plane of ours, the more beautiful, perfect, and
suggestive has been the result of his artistic work.
If the Truth is One -- and how could it be otherwise? -- then we
see that the truly artistic productions of men are but the more
or less faithful expressions of the same hidden Reality, and if
this is true, there must exist a certain correspondence between
the different means of expressing this Truth because everything
in the world is in constant relation to each other thing although
that relation may be a hidden one.
Thus, there must exist an analogy between a piece of literary art
and an inspiring musical production, as well as a beautiful
painting, provided that we chose among these things those which
have, so to say, the same keynote, the same fundamental tune,
underlying their visible or tangible manifestation. If we listen
to the voice of our intuition, which is the direct current from
that center of Truth and Life in ourselves that is hidden by the
illusion of matter, if we try to attune our mind to the essential
tonic of an artistic production -- a literary work, for instance
-- we shall be able to IMAGINE or even to BEHOLD or HEAR before
our inner eye, or ear, the corresponding expression of the same
thoughts in a series of musical tones, or in a suite of colors,
or even in a sculptural shape, which are, so to speak, inherent
with the characteristic of that literary or other work.
All this because of the simple and obvious fact that a certain
set of mental or spiritual vibrations representing or incarnating
in words a certain given series of thoughts, taken from the
surrounding circumstances of life, can be transposed to another
set of vibrations belonging to the realm of music, or painting,
or sculpture, or even mathematics (if we take the real hidden
meaning of that great science), on account of the law of
Universal Analogy on the different and respective planes to which
the enumerated branches of art belong.
These few words of introduction may be useful in order to
understand, or better, in order to try to understand, the real,
hidden significance of the literary genius of Dostoyevsky. For
those who have read his works, even in a poor translation of the
original, the following lines dedicated to the memory of the
greatest novelist and psychologist of the last fifty years may
seem, with perfect justice, a feeble attempt to express the
inexpressible, to put into words those titanic ideas which cannot
be materialized and ought to remain forever in the world of
THOUGHT. There is no criticism, no appreciation, and no analysis
that could possibly reveal something new to those who know the
depths of the works of Dostoyevsky, the deep and terrifying abyss
of his psychological studies and the whole world of ideas which
they open before the silent reader.
These works speak for themselves. They are sublime and
inimitable proofs of a genius from another plane. They stand as
so many beacon-lights, incarnating the hidden, mysterious powers
of the soul which mar or create the inner potencies of human
beings. They have engulfed in their depth the author himself, as
they are not so much descriptions of human events, as they are
TYPES of Humanity in which mold are concentrated all the gigantic
forces of the soul and all the destructive energies of matter.
For those who are not acquainted with Dostoyevsky and the
literary testament left by him for the edification of future
generations, the present lines are intended to convey, in a very
poor and incomplete way, it is true, the ideas inseparably
connected with the genius of that writer: the grandeur, the
solemnity, the frightful depth, the mournful terror, and the
Truth shining even in the abyss of gloom and suffering -- that
inner voice of the Divine in man, forgotten but still vibrating,
oppressed but still alive, condemned but still existing.
If we are to compare the character, the atmosphere, of his novels
with any other expression of art, if we are to seek for the
keynote of his descriptions, if we are to find their analogy on
another plane of manifestation, we shall have to turn to the
power of Wagnerian music, to the superhuman grandeur of the
Gotterdammerung in its most solemn and gigantic force.
Like Wagner, Dostoyevsky does not deal exclusively in ideas, the
loose changes of the world, and the fleeting specters on the
screen of our limited mind. He goes to the unalterable bases of
the soul, and digs, and digs, and digs in the very foundation of
being, taking thread by thread from the web of the human heart.
He shows us the futility of our lower mind, the poor and limited
horizon of our logical analysis. He wipes away all the
traditional replies we are ready to throw at him in order to
prove him wrong. He puts us face to face with the sad realities
What is it in his works that makes us feel (we have already
ceased thinking), like the titanic harmonies of Wagner (to a
certain degree), as if we were submerged under the weight not
only of our own personality, but also under the sway of all human
suffering and despair, as if we were face to face with all
eternity released at once like a flood of force from the
immeasurable deeps of being? Like the music of Wagner, with its
colossal power of creating ideas and emotions, the works of
Dostoyevsky deepen our conception of the grandeur and richness of
the human soul. They sound like melodies from another world and
echo in the infinity of space. They open all the mysterious
corners of the human heart and search them with the irresistible
light of truth and justice. But there is more.
The analogy with Wagnerian music has to be abandoned here. There
are scenes in Dostoyevsky which have something dreadful and
inexpressible. They seem to fall upon us like heavy stones, one
after another, and with a deadened and mournful sound. In
desperate succession, they fall and fall again. They hurt us.
They threaten to kill. We cry. We try to escape, but no, there
is no exit. They fall and fall again. Around us they pile in
huge walls, and seeing that we are still alive still trying to
save our poor existence and shake off the terrible dream, these
walls begin to approach in silence, to crush us between them.
They have touched us already. One moment more and something
terrible, inexpressible, and unimaginable would occur.
Here, suddenly in the midst of silence, despair, and agony, face
to face with the unavoidable, a door -- a hole rather -- opens in
the darkness, and beyond we catch a glimpse of the Eternal Truth.
We rush toward the bright spot of light. Our last hope gives us
wings and power, and under the crush and the general destruction
of the threatening stone-walls, we awaken from the frightful
nightmare of an underworld. We are still in the same chair.
Everything is the same around us. The people walk as before.
Life flows in an endless stream. The hours fly in a rhythmic
succession, but THERE in the very depths of our soul, in the
chamber of our inner being, we have seen.
This is how Dostoyevsky creates the magical circle in which he
encloses his reader. Slowly but irresistibly, you feel yourself
drawn toward those elementary types of poor, suffering,
passionate, degraded, and fallen human beings. First you feel a
certain apprehension, a certain aversion towards them. There is
in your soul a revolt against the very possibility of their
existence. You try, but in vain, to imagine that these types
have never existed but in the sickly imagination of the writer.
Why is this feeling in your heart? Because you are UNCONSCIOUSLY
ASHAMED of the thought that among this humanity to which you
belong, amidst all these creatures which move and vegetate around
you, there exist such types, such horrible caricatures of the
human ideal, which ought to be the divine ideal.
Then, little by little, you come to think that perhaps the writer
is not so very much in error after all about his humanity. You
begin even to feel a certain sympathy toward those miserable and
wretched beings, drowned in passion and spiritual darkness.
Later on you seem to understand their feelings and deeds. You
are unconsciously drawn into the magical whirlwind of their
The writer, the genial writer, has struck in you a chord which
resounds and vibrates under the touch of his enchanted fingers.
Why is this? It is because the feelings, the thoughts, of his
heroes are in the very essence of YOUR OWN feelings and thoughts.
A little more and you are lost in the world created by the
author. You have become an integral part of it. Toward the end
of these colossal psychological studies where each string of the
human soul is strained to the utmost, you are living with the
strange and nevertheless real personages of the novel. You are
suffering with them. You are striving with them. You are
fighting in your own nature against the same lower instincts and
At the last page, you would like to throw the book away, to run
outdoors, to breathe the pure and invigorating air of the dawn,
to free yourself from the nightmare of a reality too obvious,
alas! But you are bound, tied to the scenes of gloom and misery,
the magical spell of which has revealed to you that although they
seem at first abnormal and unnatural, yet they incarnate truth,
however sad and pitiful it may be.
Yes, the world of Dostoyevsky is a strange world. Taken in its
realistic meaning, from the standpoint of modern criticism and
analysis (those poor weak tools of the equally weak brain-mind of
ours), it seems to be unreal and even fantastic. It is a world
whose profound caves and caverns the modern "civilized" man would
refuse to explore.
Truly, what has a nightmare of an epileptic mystic to do with the
rush and noise of our business-life? -- Nothing. But those who
have gone a step farther in the study of the interplay between
the two fundamental natures of man and their desperate fight
against each other know that behind the fantastic, visionary
types of Dostoyevsky's novels, there is a truth. It is grand in
its essence, but changeable in its Protean aspects.
To the eye of the ordinary man, this world is so terrible and so
incomprehensible that the heart shudders, the soul shrinks, and
the brain-mind is wrought to confusion by the irresistible power
of it. It is otherwise with the psychologist and serious seeker.
He knows that there is no novel in the whole world which could
even compare with the depths reached by Dostoyevsky in his works,
no art that could picture in a few but striking words such an
image of man's soul, at its BEST as well as at its WORST. On
account of this for all their external resemblances to other
novels, the major works of Dostoyevsky are fundamentally
As said before, to give an idea of the tremendously suggestive
power of his literary productions, one has to go outside of
literature and try to throw oneself into such supreme pieces of
art as the Gotterdammerung, or the Rhapsodies of Liszt. To
picture it would be to portray the image of a thunderstorm in the
midst of snowy mountains and desolate peaks. The lightning
flashes, the tempest growls, the thunder rolls in mighty echoes,
and the soul of man shudders and echoes all in its very depths as
if moved by a superhuman power.
Perhaps one of the most characteristic traits of the types put
forward by Dostoyevsky is the fact that they do not exist in
time. They exist only in space. The conception of time is
absent from the works of Dostoyevsky. His scenes depict the
evolution of emotions and feelings, the history of the spiritual
development of men, embracing several years, or even the whole
life of the individual, and yet occurring in rapid succession in
This rapid development seems to be perfectly natural and
legitimate because the reader, perhaps without knowing it
himself, is fully aware that these characters and
soul-experiences, with their complicated and multifarious
emotions, are but the incarnation of certain human types,
existing there where humanity itself exists, and bound neither by
time nor by any conventional custom or preconceived idea. They
are collective pictures, so to say, the sum-total of a certain
class of people, or of all the innumerable feelings which
animated a single human being during a given period of his life,
even during the whole of this life. They are not things, or
personalities in themselves, but rather terms to define
temperaments and inner soul-vibrations.
Because of this, European critics have never been able to
understand the possibility of the real existence of Dostoyevsky's
types. They have tried to dissect them, to analyze, and to find
out if they could ever be traced among themselves, but they have
forgotten -- or let us say it plainly -- they have never grasped
the idea that these types are not in the ordinary sense human
beings, but rather picture-souls given embodiment, taken from the
plane of astral shadows moving around in the atmosphere of men
and FIXED, so to speak, on the screen of the novel. The story is
in the hands of Dostoyevsky as the opera was in the hands of
Wagner; they handle them for their own purposes and aims.
Why is it that the novels of Dostoyevsky have risen to such fame
throughout the world and have forced themselves to the very top
of psychological studies? It is because Dostoyevsky is not merely
an interesting writer. He is not the representative of such or
such a school or such and such a style. He is the Great
Inquisitor of the human soul before whom all the hidden and
secret sides of man's feelings are disclosed and uncovered to the
very last. Men know that what he wrote IS true because everyone
in the world, if he is endowed with some understanding, feels
that the truths put forth by Dostoyevsky and described by him in
their fullness are inherent in every man on earth if he but
searches for them deep enough in his being.
Dostoyevsky is a Russian, Russian by soul and body. His works
are Russian. The types created by him are essentially Russian.
His conception of religion, philosophy, and ethics is Russian
too. Yet, the same Dostoyevsky, as individuality and as writer
(as are also his types) is universal. These claim for themselves
the whole world. They picture man as he is from North to South
and from East to West. They reflect humanity as if the soul of
the author was a faithful mirror of the universe. How can it be?
Is it perhaps as Mereshkovsky said once, because "the essentially
and decidedly Russian is always the decidedly universal?" May be!
The reader can find it out for himself.
If we said that Dostoyevsky had no conception of time, it was to
point out the absence of any conventional idea about that
element. However, if we plunge into the soul-life of the writer,
we shall be able to catch a glimpse of his innermost
consciousness and of the dominant thought which haunted him from
birth to death.
This thought was Eternity. Eternity is his only conception of
time. It is the absolute time -- the absence of any. Eternity
fills the life of his heroes. It soars over the scenes of terror
and agony. It whispers in the infinite space of the world. It
hangs in a void so terrifying, so dark, and so boundless that the
human mind can hardly stand the vision. Read THE IDIOT or CRIME
AND PUNISHMENT, those pictures of Karmic Law in full sway! Try to
live for a moment as an integral part of that world of sorrow!
You will grasp the unutterable, and understand the seemingly
In Dostoyevsky for the duration of eternity, we seem to fall
forever and forever and to swoon in the darkness of night. His
eyes look into our soul and search its most somber corners. With
him we feel the sorrow of humanity, the immense suffering of the
present age, the pain of its future spiritual birth.
Look at the heroes of Dostoyevsky! They are not people. They
never lived as such. They are apparitions risen from the gulf.
They are figures enormous and nocturnal. Born in the abyss of
suffering and despair, they wander through the bitter life of
illusion and disappear in Eternity. They hint at the secret of
life in words appalling, like revelations echoing down the
corridors of a nightmare. These men and women, like so many
phantoms of another world, are under the torture of eternity, at
the mercy of a grand inquisitor who extorts the inmost secret of
Through the veil of their daily life, we see the problem of
eternity haunting their imagination. It is their only problem.
They try to solve it before the breath of life has left their
suffering bodies. But we feel also, with the writer, that even
if death puts an end to their agony -- before the problem is
solved -- another world, indeed a better one, will open before
them the secrets of the inner being. Sometimes, even during this
earthly existence, a blinding flash of ecstasy reveals to them
the hidden meaning of eternal life.
Dostoyevsky appears to have been vouchsafed the gift of eternity
disclosed in one moment, of that eternity where (as he says again
and again) THERE SHALL BE NO TIME. This vision appears with
terrific power in the last scene of THE IDIOT, where Prince
Myshkin the compassionate, and Rogozhin the dark force of life,
brood by the dead body of Nastasya in that horrible room.
In Dostoyevsky's heroes a formidable and unbelievable energy
seems to be concentrated. Their whole being is loaded with some
unknown and frightful force which threatens to burst their soul
asunder. It is this disintegration and explosion of the soul but
not of the Spirit, under the intolerable pressure of pain,
desire, or despair, which is perhaps the most general problem of
Dostoyevsky's novels. Love and pity exist in fullest measure.
But love and pity could never have created the gigantic figures
of Stavrogin and Ivan Karamasov, or Svidrigailov and Rogozhin.
In order to pity and love them, they must have been first of all
fashioned, and the Karmic Law has molded them. No other man than
Dostoyevsky has ever better understood what we might call the
"satanic profundities" in "Apocalyptic" parlance. He knew them
and revealed them. He has shown that even in the depths of
perdition, there ever was and shall be a hope, a spark, of Life
In studying Dostoyevsky from the standpoint of his works, we must
take into consideration the invincible need he had to fathom the
most dangerous and most criminal principles of the human heart.
There was no side in human nature which has not been sounded and
described by him in most minute details. In reading his works,
we involuntarily ask ourselves: How could he possibly know the
innumerable impressions, feelings, and emotions of the criminal
types he deals with? Would it have been possible for him to grasp
the abysses of human nature by mere intuition or intellectual
study? There is in all these descriptions such a revelation of
the inner experiences of a fallen being that one may inquire: Has
he ONLY OBSERVED the people he met? Is it ONLY a curiosity of the
Is it not, perhaps, the minute description of his own
experiences, of his own deeds ages ago -- the public confession
of all the dark specters that haunted his inner consciousness?
"Foolishness!" will say the reader. "Read his biography, the
diaries he himself left as a testament for generations to come.
We know his life. There is no more crime in it than in the life
of every other man."
"Yes," we shall reply. Although there are several periods in his
life we do not know anything about, we still are willing to admit
that THIS life was not the original from which has been copied
the panorama of his novels.
Here we have to stop. Had not Dostoyevsky the dim reminiscence
of mistakes committed in the past? Did he not say often that the
feeling of an awful crime weighed on his soul especially after
the crises of his malady?
Now would it be too bold to say that Dostoyevsky, with his
strained nerves, with the sickly sensitiveness of his brain, with
power of intuition, and with the earthly bonds of life weakened
by his epileptic fits was able to see with his inner eye
something of the past lives he had spent on this earth of ours?
Would it be too foolish to believe that he described in detail
the deeds he himself committed ages ago? No. There is nothing
impossible in this supposition. On the contrary, it is a very
Dostoyevsky, the entity who had passed through many a
life-experience, during numberless existences on earth, was drawn
hither again by the Law of Justice in order to expiate the deeds
he had committed in the past. His terrible malady was certainly
the obsession brought upon himself as effect of forgotten causes.
Thus we shall be able to understand in a better way the strange
acuity of his psychological analysis, if we look for its source
in the very soul of the writer himself. Summing up, may we say
that the story of his heroes is the story of his own past lives?
We believe so.
Such is the keynote of Dostoyevsky's writings. Such is the world
he lives in. Such is his power of revelation. His life, his
sufferings, his bitter experiences, the somber reminiscences
lingering in his soul, put their seal on his physical appearance.
Even in his youth Dostoyevsky "never seemed to be young," with
the shadows of pain on his hollow cheeks, his enormous forehead
where shone the light of genius, his thin lips, contracted by the
'sacred malady,' his serious and solemn look, TURNED WITHIN, his
small but fiery eyes, and that inexpressible quality about his
face, the IMMOBILITY IN THE MOVEMENT, the impulse that stops at
once and petrifies under intense effort.
During literary evenings, Dostoyevsky liked to read THE PROPHET
of Pushkin. Was it chance or coincidence? No! There was in
himself something of the prophet and the revealer of truths. At
the last verse: "Let Thy Word consume the hearts of men!" his
voice, which, feeble at first, had risen slowly, became a cry
vibrating in the midst of silence, and making the public shudder
around him. It was because this public felt, in spite of its own
dullness, like the Florentines under the sermons of Savonarola,
that in the man who was before them there burned a "sacred fire,"
that sacred fire which lightens the torches of thought.
Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application