The Key to Theosophy
The Key to Theosophy
The Difference Between
Theosophy and Spiritualism
Q. But do you not believe in Spiritualism?
A. If by "Spiritualism" you mean the explanation which Spiritualists give of some abnormal phenomena, then decidedly we do not. They maintain that these manifestations are all produced by the "spirits" of departed mortals, generally their relatives, who return to earth, they say, to communicate with those they have loved or to whom they are attached. We deny this point blank. We assert that the spirits of the dead cannot return to earth-save in rare and exceptional cases, of which I may speak later; nor do they communicate with men except by entirely subjective means. That which does appear objectively, is only the phantom of the ex-physical man. But in psychic, and so to say, "Spiritual" Spiritualism, we do believe, most decidedly.
Q. Do you reject the phenomena also?
A. Assuredly not-save cases of conscious fraud.
Q. How do you account for them, then?
A. In many ways. The causes of such manifestations are by no means so simple as the Spiritualists would like to believe. Foremost of all, the deus ex machina of the so-called "materializations" is usually the astral body or "double" of the medium or of someone present. This astral body is also the producer or operating force in the manifestations of slate-writing, "Davenport"-like manifestations, and so on.
Q. You say usually-then what is it that produces the rest?
A. That depends on the nature of the manifestations. Sometimes the astral remains, the Kamalokic "shells" of the vanished personalities that were; at other times, Elementals. Spirit is a word of manifold and wide significance. I really do not know what Spiritualists mean by the term; but what we understand them to claim is that the physical phenomena are produced by the reincarnating Ego, the Spiritual and immortal "individuality." And this hypothesis we entirely reject. The Conscious Individuality of the disembodied cannot materialize, nor can it return from its own mental Devachanic sphere to the plane of terrestrial objectivity.
Q. But many of the communications received from the "spirits" show not only intelligence, but a knowledge of facts not known to the medium, and sometimes even not consciously present to the mind of the investigator, or any of those who compose the audience.
A. This does not necessarily prove that the intelligence and knowledge you speak of belong to spirits, or emanate from disembodied souls. Somnambulists have been known to compose music and poetry and to solve mathematical problems while in their trance state, without having ever learnt music or mathematics. Others, answered intelligently to questions put to them, and even, in several cases, spoke languages, such as Hebrew and Latin, of which they were entirely ignorant when awake-all this in a state of profound sleep. Will you, then, maintain that this was caused by "spirits"?
Q. But how would you explain it?
A. We assert that the divine spark in man being one and identical in its essence with the Universal Spirit, our "spiritual Self" is practically omniscient, but that it cannot manifest its knowledge owing to the impediments of matter. Now the more these impediments are removed, in other words, the more the physical body is paralyzed, as to its own independent activity and consciousness, as in deep sleep or deep trance, or, again, in illness, the more fully can the inner Self manifest on this plane.
This is our explanation of those truly wonderful phenomena of a higher order, in which undeniable intelligence and knowledge are exhibited. As to the lower order of manifestations, such as physical phenomena and the platitudes and common talk of the general "spirit," to explain even the most important of the teachings we hold upon the subject would take up more space and time than can be allotted to it at present. We have no desire to interfere with the belief of the Spiritualists any more than with any other belief. The responsibility must fall on the believers in "spirits." And at the present moment, while still convinced that the higher sort of manifestations occur through the disembodied souls, their leaders and the most learned and intelligent among the Spiritualists are the first to confess that not all the phenomena are produced by spirits. Gradually they will come to recognize the whole truth; but meanwhile we have no right nor desire to proselytize them to our views. The less so, as in the cases of purely psychic and spiritual manifestations we believe in the intercommunication of the spirit of the living man with that of disembodied personalities.
We say that in such cases it is not the spirits of the dead who descend on earth, but the spirits of the living that ascend to the pure spiritual Souls. In truth there is neither ascending nor descending, but a change of state or condition for the medium. The body of the latter becoming paralyzed, or "entranced," the spiritual Ego is free from its trammels, and finds itself on the same plane of consciousness with the disembodied spirits.
Hence, if there is any spiritual attraction between the two they can communicate, as often occurs in dreams. The difference between a mediumistic and a non-sensitive nature is this: the liberated spirit of a medium has the opportunity and facility of influencing the passive organs of its entranced physical body, to make them act, speak, and write at its will. The Ego can make it repeat, echo-like, and in the human language, the thoughts and ideas of the disembodied entity, as well as its own. But the non-receptive or non-sensitive organism of one who is very positive cannot be so influenced. Hence, although there is hardly a human being whose Ego does not hold free intercourse, during the sleep of his body, with those whom it loved and lost, yet, on account of the positiveness and non-receptivity of its physical envelope and brain, no recollection, or a very dim, dream-like remembrance, lingers in the memory of the person once awake.
Q. This means that you reject the philosophy of Spiritualism in toto?
A. If by "philosophy" you mean their crude theories, we do. But they have no philosophy, in truth. Their best, their most intellectual and earnest defenders say so. Their fundamental and only unimpeachable truth, namely, that phenomena occur through mediums controlled by invisible forces and intelligences-no one, except a blind materialist of the "Huxley big toe" school, will or can deny.
With regard to their philosophy, however, let me read to you what the able editor of Light, than whom the Spiritualists will find no wiser nor more devoted champion, says of them and their philosophy.
This is what "M.A. Oxon," one of the very few philosophical Spiritualists, writes, with respect to their lack of organization and blind bigotry:
It is worthwhile to look steadily at this point, for it is of vital moment. We have an experience and a knowledge beside which all other knowledge is comparatively insignificant. The ordinary Spiritualist waxes wroth if anyone ventures to impugn his assured knowledge of the future and his absolute certainty of the life to come. Where other men have stretched forth feeble hands groping into the dark future, he walks boldly as one who has a chart and knows his way. Where other men have stopped short at a pious aspiration or have been content with a hereditary faith, it is his boast that he knows what they only believe, and that out of his rich stores he can supplement the fading faiths built only upon hope. He is magnificent in his dealings with man's most cherished expectations. He seems to say:
You hope for that which I can demonstrate. You have accepted a traditional belief in what I can experimentally prove according to the strictest scientific method. The old beliefs are fading; come out from them and be separate. They contain as much falsehood as truth. Only by building on a sure foundation of demonstrated fact can your superstructure be stable. All round you old faiths are toppling. Avoid the crash and get you out.
When one comes to deal with this magnificent person in a practical way, what is the result? Very curious and very disappointing. He is so sure of his ground that he takes no trouble to ascertain the interpretation which others put upon his facts. The wisdom of the ages has concerned itself with the explanation of what he rightly regards as proven; but he does not turn a passing glance on its researches. He does not even agree altogether with his brother Spiritualist. It is the story over again of the old Scotch body who, together with her husband, formed a "kirk." They had exclusive keys to Heaven, or, rather, she had, for she was "na certain aboot Jamie." So the infinitely divided and subdivided and re-subdivided sects of Spiritualists shake their heads, and are "na certain aboot" one another. Again, the collective experience of mankind is solid and unvarying on this point that union is strength, and disunion a source of weakness and failure. Shoulder to shoulder, drilled and disciplined, a rabble becomes an army, each man a match for a hundred of the untrained men that may be brought against it. Organization in every department of man's work means success, saving of time and labor, profit and development. Want of method, want of plan, haphazard work, fitful energy, undisciplined effort-these mean bungling failure. The voice of humanity attests the truth. Does the Spiritualist accept the verdict and act on the conclusion? Verily, no. He refuses to organize. He is a law unto himself, and a thorn in the side of his neighbors.
Q. I was told that the Theosophical Society was originally founded to crush Spiritualism and belief in the survival of the individuality in man?
A. You are misinformed. Our beliefs are all founded on that immortal individuality. But then, like so many others, you confuse personality with individuality. Your Western psychologists do not seem to have established any clear distinction between the two. Yet it is precisely that difference which gives the keynote to the understanding of Eastern philosophy, and which lies at the root of the divergence between the Theosophical and Spiritualistic teachings. And though it may draw upon us still more the hostility of some Spiritualists, yet I must state here that it is Theosophy which is the true and unalloyed Spiritualism, while the modern scheme of that name is, as now practiced by the masses, simply transcendental materialism.
Q. Please explain your idea more clearly.
A. What I mean is that though our teachings insist upon the identity of spirit and matter, and though we say that spirit is potential matter, and matter simply crystallized spirit (e.g., as ice is solidified steam), yet since the original and eternal condition of allis not spirit but meta-spirit, so to speak, we maintain that the term spirit can only be applied to the true individuality.
Q. But what is the distinction between this "true individuality" and the "I" or "Ego" of which we are all conscious?
A. Before I can answer you, we must argue upon what you mean by "I" or "Ego." We distinguish between the simple fact of self-consciousness, the simple feeling that "I am I," and the complex thought that "I am Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Brown." Believing as we do in a series of births for the same Ego, or reincarnation, this distinction is the fundamental pivot of the whole idea. You see "Mr. Smith" really means a long series of daily experiences strung together by the thread of memory, and forming what Mr. Smith calls "himself." But none of these "experiences" are really the "I" or the Ego, nor do they give "Mr. Smith" the feeling that he is himself, for he forgets the greater part of his daily
experiences, and they produce the feeling of Egoity in him only while they last.
We Theosophists, therefore, distinguish between this bundle of "experiences," which we call the false (because so finite and evanescent)personality, and that element in man to which the feeling of "I am I" is due. It is this "I am I" which we call the true individuality; and we say that this "Ego" or individuality plays, like an actor, many parts on the stage of life. Let us call every new life on earth of the same Egoa night on the stage of a theater. One night the actor, or "Ego," appears as "Macbeth," the next as "Shylock," the third as "Romeo," the fourth as "Hamlet" or "King Lear," and so on, until he has run through the whole cycle of incarnations. The Ego begins his life-pilgrimage as a sprite, an "Ariel," or a "Puck"; he plays the part of a super, is a soldier, a servant, one of the chorus; rises then to "speaking parts," plays leading roles, interspersed with insignificant parts, till he finally retires from the stage as "Prospero," the magician.
Q. I understand. You say, then, that this true Ego cannot return to earth after death. But surely the actor is at liberty, if he has preserved the sense of his individuality, to return if he likes to the scene of his former actions?
A. We say not, simply because such a return to earth would be incompatible with any state of unalloyed bliss after death, as I am prepared to prove. We say that man suffers so much unmerited misery during his life, through the fault of others with whom he is associated, or because of his environment, that he is surely entitled to perfect rest and quiet, if not bliss, before taking up again the burden of life. However, we can discuss this in detail later.
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