The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
The Key to Theosophy
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
Theosophy for the Masses
Q. And you think that Theosophy would, by stepping in, help to remove these
evils, under the practical and adverse conditions of our modern life?
A. Had we more money, and had not most of the Theosophists to work for their
daily bread, I firmly believe we could.
Q. How? Do you expect that your doctrines could ever take hold of the uneducated
masses, when they are so abstruse and difficult that well-educated people can
hardly understand them?
A. You forget one thing, which is that your much-boasted modern education is
precisely that which makes it difficult for you to understand Theosophy. Your
mind is so full of intellectual subtleties and preconceptions that your natural
intuition and perception of the truth cannot act. It does not require metaphysics or education to make a man understand the broad truths of Karma and Reincarnation. Look at the millions of poor and uneducated Buddhists and Hindus, to whom Karma and reincarnation are solid realities, simply because their minds have never been cramped and distorted by being forced into an unnatural groove.
They have never had the innate human sense of justice perverted in them by being told to believe that their sins would be forgiven because another man had been put to death for their sakes. And the Buddhists, note well, live up to their
beliefs without a murmur against Karma, or what they regard as a just
punishment; whereas the Christian populace neither lives up to its moral ideal,
nor accepts its lot contentedly. Hence murmuring and dissatisfaction, and the
intensity of the struggle for existence in Western lands.
Q. But this contentedness, which you praise so much, would do away with all
motive for exertion and bring progress to a stand-still.
A. And we, Theosophists, say that your vaunted progress and civilization are no
better than a host of will-o'-the-wisps, flickering over a marsh which exhales a
poisonous and deadly miasma. This, because we see selfishness, crime,
immorality, and all the evils imaginable, pouncing upon unfortunate mankind from this Pandora's box which you call an age of progress, and increasing pari passu with the growth of your material civilization. At such a price, better the
inertia and inactivity of Buddhist countries, which have arisen only as a
consequence of ages of political slavery.
Q. Then is all this metaphysics and mysticism with which you occupy yourself so much, of no importance?
A. To the masses, who need only practical guidance and support, they are not of much consequence; but for the educated, the natural leaders of the masses, those whose modes of thought and action will sooner or later be adopted by those masses, they are of the greatest importance. It is only by means of the
philosophy that an intelligent and educated man can avoid the intellectual
suicide of believing on blind faith; and it is only by assimilating the strict
continuity and logical coherence of the Eastern, if not esoteric, doctrines,
that he can realize their truth. Conviction breeds enthusiasm, and "Enthusiasm,"
says Bulwer Lytton, "is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no
victories without it;" while Emerson most truly remarks that "every great and
commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm."
And what is more calculated to produce such a feeling than a philosophy so
grand, so consistent, so logical, and so all-embracing as our Eastern Doctrines?
Q. And yet its enemies are very numerous, and every day Theosophy acquires new opponents.
A. And this is precisely that which proves its intrinsic excellence and value.
People hate only the things they fear, and no one goes out of his way to
overthrow that which neither threatens nor rises beyond mediocrity.
Q. Do you hope to impart this enthusiasm, one day, to the masses?
A. Why not? Since history tells us that the masses adopted Buddhism with
enthusiasm, while, as said before, the practical effect upon them of this
philosophy of ethics is still shown by the smallness of the percentage of crime
amongst Buddhist populations as compared with every other religion. The chief
point is, to uproot that most fertile source of all crime and immortality-the
belief that it is possible for them to escape the consequences of their own
actions. Once teach them that greatest of all laws, Karma and Reincarnation, and
besides feeling in themselves the true dignity of human nature, they will turn
from evil and eschew it as they would a physical danger.
How Members Can Help the Society
Q. How do you expect the Fellows of your Society to help in the work?
A. First by studying and comprehending the theosophical doctrines, so that they
may teach others, especially the young people. Secondly, by taking every
opportunity of talking to others and explaining to them what Theosophy is, and
what it is not; by removing misconceptions and spreading an interest in the
subject. Thirdly, by assisting in circulating our literature, by buying books
when they have the means, by lending and giving them and by inducing their
friends to do so. Fourthly, by defending the Society from the unjust aspersions
cast upon it, by every legitimate device in their power. Fifth, and most
important of all, by the example of their own lives.
Q. But all this literature, to the spread of which you attach so much importance, does not seem to me of much practical use in helping mankind. This is not practical charity.
A. We think otherwise. We hold that a good book which gives people food for
thought, which strengthens and clears their minds, and enables them to grasp
truths which they have dimly felt but could not formulate-we hold that such a
book does a real, substantial good. As to what you call practical deeds of
charity, to benefit the bodies of our fellowmen, we do what little we can; but,
as I have already told you, most of us are poor, whilst the Society itself has
not even the money to pay a staff of workers. All of us who toil for it, give
our labor gratis, and in most cases money as well. The few who have the means of doing what are usually called charitable actions, follow the Buddhist precepts
and do their work themselves, not by proxy or by subscribing publicly to
charitable funds. What the Theosophist has to do above all is to forget his
What a Theosophist Ought Not to Do
Q. Have you any prohibitory laws or clauses for Theosophists in your Society?
A. Many, but-alas!-none of them are enforced. They express the ideal of our
organization, but the practical application of such things we are compelled to
leave to the discretion of the Fellows themselves. Unfortunately, the state of
men's minds in the present century is such that, unless we allow these clauses
to remain, so to speak, obsolete, no man or woman would dare to risk joining the Theosophical Society. This is precisely why I feel forced to lay such a stress
on the difference between true Theosophy and its hard-struggling and
well-intentioned, but still unworthy vehicle, the Theosophical Society.
Q. May I be told what are these perilous reefs in
A. Well may you call them reefs, as more than one otherwise sincere and
well-meaning F.T.S. has had his Theosophical canoe shattered into splinters on
them! And yet to avoid certain things seems the easiest thing in the world to
do. For instance, here is a series of such negatives, screening positive
No Theosophist should be silent when he hears evil reports or slanders spread
about the Society, or innocent persons, whether they be his colleagues or
Q. But suppose what one hears is the truth, or may be true without one knowing
A. Then you must demand good proofs of the assertion, and hear both sides
impartially before you permit the accusation to go uncontradicted. You have no
right to believe in evil, until you get undeniable proof of the correctness of
Q. And what should you do then?
A. Pity and forbearance, charity and long-suffering, ought to be always there to
prompt us to excuse our sinning brethren, and to pass the gentlest sentence
possible upon those who err. A Theosophist ought never to forget what is due to the shortcomings and infirmities of human nature.
Q. Ought he to forgive entirely in such cases?
A. In every case, especially he who is sinned against.
Q. But if by so doing, he risks to injure, or allow others to be injured? What
ought he to do then?
A. His duty; that which his conscience and higher nature suggests to him; but
only after mature deliberation. Justice consists in doing no injury to any
living being; but justice commands us also never to allow injury to be done to
the many, or even to one innocent person, by allowing the guilty one to go
Q. What are the other negative clauses?
A. No Theosophist ought to be contented with an idle or frivolous life, doing no
real good to himself and still less to others. He should work for the benefit of
the few who need his help if he is unable to toil for Humanity, and thus work
for the advancement of the Theosophical cause.
Q. This demands an exceptional nature, and would come rather hard upon some
A. Then they had better remain outside the T.S. instead of sailing under false
colors. No one is asked to give more than he can afford, whether in devotion,
time, work, or money.
Q. What comes next?
A. No working member should set too great value on his personal progress or
proficiency in Theosophic studies; but must be prepared rather to do as much
altruistic work as lies in his power. He should not leave the whole of the heavy
burden and responsibility of the Theosophical Movement on the shoulders of the few devoted workers. Each member ought to feel it his duty to take what share he can in the common work, and help it by every means in his power.
Q. This is but just. What comes next?
A. No Theosophist should place his personal vanity, or feelings, above those of
his Society as a body. He who sacrifices the latter, or other people's
reputations on the altar of his personal vanity, worldly benefit, or pride,
ought not to be allowed to remain a member. One cancerous limb diseases the
Q. Is it the duty of every member to teach others and preach Theosophy?
A. It is indeed. No fellow has a right to remain idle, on the excuse that he
knows too little to teach. For he may always be sure that he will find others
who know still less than himself. And also it is not until a man begins to try
to teach others, that he discovers his own ignorance and tries to remove it. But
this is a minor clause.
Q. What do you consider, then, to be the chief of these negative Theosophical
A. To be ever prepared to recognize and confess one's faults. To rather sin
through exaggerated praise than through too little appreciation of one's
neighbor's efforts. Never to backbite or slander another person. Always to say
openly and direct to his face anything you have against him. Never to make
yourself the echo of anything you may hear against another, nor harbor revenge
against those who happen to injure you.
Q. But it is often dangerous to tell people the truth to their faces. Don't you
think so? I know one of your members who was bitterly offended, left the
Society, and became its greatest enemy, only because he was told some unpleasant truths to his face, and was blamed for them.
A. Of such we have had many. No member, whether prominent or insignificant, has ever left us without becoming our bitter enemy.
Q. How do you account for it?
A. It is simply this. Having been, in most cases, intensely devoted to the
Society at first, and having lavished upon it the most exaggerated praises, the
only possible excuse such a backslider can make for his subsequent behavior and past short-sightedness, is to pose as an innocent and deceived victim, thus
casting the blame from his own shoulders onto those of the Society in general,
and its leaders especially. Such persons remind one of the old fable about the
man with a distorted face, who broke his looking-glass on the ground that it
reflected his countenance crookedly.
Q. But what makes these people turn against the Society?
A. Wounded vanity in some form or other, almost in every case. Generally,
because theirdicta and advice are not taken as final and authoritative; or else,
because they are of those who would rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
Because, in short, they cannot bear to stand second to anybody in anything. So,
for instance, one member-a true "Sir Oracle"-criticized, and almost defamed
every member in the T.S. to outsiders as much as to Theosophists, under the
pretext that they were all untheosophical, blaming them precisely for what he
was himself doing all the time. Finally, he left the Society, giving as his
reason a profound conviction that we were all (the Founders especially)-Frauds!
Another one, after intriguing in every possible way to be placed at the head of
a large Section of the Society, finding that the members would not have him,
turned against the Founders of the T.S., and became their bitterest enemy,
denouncing one of them whenever he could, simply because the latter could not,
and would not, force himupon the Members. This was simply a case of an
outrageous wounded vanity. Still another wanted to, and virtually did,
practiceblack-magic-i.e., undue personal psychological influence on certain
Fellows, while pretending devotion and every Theosophical virtue. When this was put a stop to, the Member broke with Theosophy, and now slanders and lies against the same hapless leaders in the most virulent manner, endeavoring to
break up the society by blackening the reputation of those whom that worthy
"Fellow" was unable to deceive.
Q. What would you do with such characters?
A. Leave them to their Karma. Because one person does evil that is no reason for others to do so.
Q. But, to return to slander, where is the line of demarcation between
backbiting and just criticism to be drawn? Is it not one's duty to warn one's
friends and neighbors against those whom one knows to be dangerous associates?
A. If by allowing them to go on unchecked other persons may be thereby injured, it is certainly our duty to obviate the danger by warning them privately. But true or false, no accusation against another person should ever be spread
abroad. If true, and the fault hurts no one but the sinner, then leave him to
his Karma. If false, then you will have avoided adding to the injustice in the
world. Therefore, keep silent about such things with everyone not directly
concerned. But if your discretion and silence are likely to hurt or endanger
others, then I add: Speak the truth at all costs, and say, with Annesly,
"Consult duty, not events." There are cases when one is forced to exclaim,
"Perish discretion, rather than allow it to interfere with duty."
Q. Methinks, if you carry out these maxims, you are likely to reap a nice crop
A. And so we do. We have to admit that we are now open to the same taunt as the early Christians were. "See, how these Theosophists love one another!" may now be said of us without a shadow of injustice.
Q. Admitting yourself that there is at least as much, if not more, backbiting,
quarreling in the T.S. as in the
Scientific Societies-What kind of Brotherhood is this? I may ask.
A. A very poor specimen, indeed, as at present, and, until carefully sifted and
reorganized,no better than all others. Remember, however, that human nature is
the same in the Theosophical Society as outof it. Its members are no saints:
they are at best sinners trying to do better, and liable to fall back owing to
personal weakness. Add to this that our "Brotherhood" is no "recognized" or
established body, and stands, so to speak, outside of the pale of jurisdiction.
Besides which, it is in a chaotic condition, and as unjustly unpopular as is no
other body. What wonder, then, that those members who fail to carry out its
ideal should turn, after leaving the Society, for sympathetic protection to our
enemies, and pour all their gall and bitterness into their too willing ears!
Knowing that they will find support, sympathy, and ready credence for every
accusation, however absurd, that it may please them to launch against the
Theosophical Society, they hasten to do so, and vent their wrath on the innocent
looking-glass, which reflected too faithfully their faces. People never forgive
those whom they have wronged. The sense of kindness received, and repaid by them with ingratitude, drives them into a madness of self-justification before the
world and their own consciences. The former is but too ready to believe in
anything said against a society it hates. The latter-but I will say no more,
fearing I have already said too much.
Q. Your position does not seem to me a very enviable one.
A. It is not. But don't you think that there must be something very noble, very
exalted, very true, behind the Society and its philosophy, when the leaders and
the founders of the Movement still continue to work for it with all their
strength? They sacrifice to it all comfort, all worldly prosperity, and success,
even to their good name and reputation-aye, even to their honor-to receive in
return incessant and ceaseless obloquy, relentless persecution, untiring
slander, constant ingratitude, and misunderstanding of their best efforts,
blows, and buffets from all sides-when by simply dropping their work they would find themselves immediately released from every responsibility, shielded from every further attack.
Q. I confess, such a perseverance seems to me very astounding, and I wondered why you did all this.
A. Believe me for no self-gratification; only in the hope of training a few
individuals to carry on our work for humanity by its original program when the
Founders are dead and gone. They have already found a few such noble and devoted souls to replace them. The coming generations, thanks to these few, will find the path to peace a little less thorny, and the way a little widened, and thus
all this suffering will have produced good results, and their self-sacrifice
will not have been in vain. At present, the main, fundamental object of the
Society is to sow germs in the hearts of men, which may in time sprout, and
under more propitious circumstances lead to a healthy reform, conducive of more happiness to the masses than they have hitherto enjoyed.
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