The Key to Theosophy



Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

1831 -1891



The Key to Theosophy


Helena Petrovna Blavatsky


Key to Theosophy Index



On Self-Sacrifice



Q. Is equal justice to all and love to every creature the highest standard of


A. No; there is an even far higher one.


Q. What can it be?

A. The giving to othersmore than to oneself-self-sacrifice. Such was the

standard and abounding measure which marked so preeminently the greatest

Teachers and Masters of Humanity-e.g., Gautama Buddha in History, and Jesus of Nazareth as in the Gospels. This trait alone was enough to secure to them the

perpetual reverence and gratitude of the generations of men that come after

them. We say, however, that self-sacrifice has to be performed with

discrimination; and such a self-abandonment, if made without justice, or

blindly, regardless of subsequent results, may often prove not only made in

vain, but harmful. One of the fundamental rules of Theosophy is, justice to

oneself-viewed as a unit of collective humanity, not as a personal self-justice,

not more but not less than to others; unless, indeed, by the sacrifice of the

oneself we can benefit the many.


Q. Could you make your idea clearer by giving an instance?

A. There are many instances to illustrate it in history. Self-sacrifice for

practical good to save many, or several people, Theosophy holds as far higher

than self-abnegation for a sectarian idea, such as that of "saving the heathen

from damnation," for instance. In our opinion, Father Damien, the young man of

thirty who offered his whole life in sacrifice for the benefit and alleviation

of the sufferings of the lepers at Molokai, and who went to live for eighteen

years alone with them, to finally catch the loathsome disease and die, has not

died in vain. He has given relief and relative happiness to thousands of

miserable wretches. He has brought to them consolation, mental and physical.


He threw a streak of light into the black and dreary night of an existence, the

hopelessness of which is unparalleled in the records of human suffering. He was

a true Theosophist, and his memory will live forever in our annals. In our sight

this poor Belgian priest stands immeasurably higher than-for instance-all those

sincere but vain-glorious fools, the Missionaries who have sacrificed their

lives in the South Sea Islands or China. What good have they done? They went in one case to those who are not yet ripe for any truth; and in the other to a

nation whose systems of religious philosophy are as grand as any, if only the

men who have them would live up to the standard of Confucius and their other

sages. And they died victims of irresponsible cannibals and savages, and of

popular fanaticism and hatred. Whereas, by going to the slums of Whitechapel or some other such locality of those that stagnate right under the blazing sun of

our civilization, full of Christian savages and mental leprosy, they might have

done real good, and preserved their lives for a better and worthier cause.


Q. But the Christians do not think so?

A. Of course not, because they act on an erroneous belief. They think that by

baptizing the body of an irresponsible savage they save his soul from damnation.

One church forgets her martyrs, the other beatifies and raises statues to such

men as Labro, who sacrificed his body for forty years only to benefit the vermin

which it bred. Had we the means to do so, we would raise a statue to Father

Damien, the true, practical saint, and perpetuate his memory forever as a living

exemplar of Theosophical heroism and of Buddha- and Christ-like mercy and



Q. Then you regard self-sacrifice as a duty?

A. We do; and explain it by showing that altruism is an integral part of

self-development. But we have to discriminate. A man has no right to starve

himselfto death that another man may have food, unless the life of that man is

obviously more useful to the many than is his own life. But it is his duty to

sacrifice his own comfort, and to work for others if they are unable to work for

themselves. It is his duty to give all that which is wholly his own and can

benefit no one but himself if he selfishly keeps it from others. Theosophy

teaches self-abnegation, but does not teach rash and useless self-sacrifice, nor

does it justify fanaticism.


Q. But how are we to reach such an elevated status?

A. By the enlightened application of our precepts to practice. By the use of our

higher reason, spiritual intuition, and moral sense, and by following the

dictates of what we call "the still small voice" of our conscience, which is

that of our Ego, and which speaks louder in us than the earthquakes and the

thunders of Jehovah, wherein "the Lord is not."


Q. If such are our duties to humanity at large, what do you understand by our

duties to our immediate surroundings?

A. Just the same, plusthose that arise from special obligations with regard to

family ties.


Q. Then it is not true, as it is said, that no sooner does a man enter into the

Theosophical Society than he begins to be gradually severed from his wife,

children, and family duties?

A. It is a groundless slander, like so many others. The first of the

Theosophical duties is to do one's duty by all men, and especially by those to

whom one's specific responsibilities are due, because one has either voluntarily

undertaken them, such as marriage ties, or because one's destiny has allied one

to them; I mean those we owe to parents or next of kin.


Q. And what may be the duty of a Theosophist to himself?

A. To control and conquer,through the Higher, the lower self. To purify himself

inwardly and morally; to fear no one, and nought, save the tribunal of his own

conscience. Never to do a thing by halves; i.e.,if he thinks it the right thing

to do, let him do it openly and boldly, and if wrong, never touch it at all. It

is the duty of a Theosophist to lighten his burden by thinking of the wise

aphorism of Epictetus, who says:Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflection the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power, and consequently should not be any part of your concern.


Q. But suppose a member of your Society should plead inability to practice

altruism by other people, on the ground that "charity begins at home," urging

that he is too busy, or too poor, to benefit mankind or even any of its

units-what are your rules in such a case?

A. No man has a right to say that he can do nothing for others, on any pretext

whatever. "By doing the proper duty in the proper place, a man may make the

world his debtor," says an English writer. A cup of cold water given in time to

a thirsty wayfarer is a nobler duty and more worth, than a dozen of dinners

given away, out of season, to men who can afford to pay for them. No man who has not got it in him will ever become a Theosophist; but he may remain a member of our Society all the same. We have no rules by which we could force any man to become a practical Theosophist, if he does not desire to be one.


Q. Then why does he enter the Society at all?

A. That is best known to him who does so. For, here again, we have no right to

prejudge a person, not even if the voice of a whole community should be against

him, and I may tell you why. In our day, vox populi(so far as regards the voice

of the educated, at any rate) is no longer vox dei, but ever that of prejudice,

of selfish motives, and often simply that of unpopularity. Our duty is to sow

seeds broadcast for the future, and see they are good; not to stop to enquire

why we should do so, and how and wherefore we are obliged to lose our time,

since those who will reap the harvest in days to come will never be ourselves.






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