A Christian Minister on Theosophy
Theosophist, November, 1883
Writing to the Indian Mirror, the Rev. C. H. A. Dall says:—
“Skeptomai is Greek for “I enquire.” In the radical sense I am a sceptic regarding Theosophy. I do not understand it but am trying my best to find out what it is. I have carefully read the green pamphlet you gave me. I mean that “Full Report of the Proceedings of the Seventh Anniversary Meeting of the Theosophical Society, held at the Framji Cowasji Institute, Bombay, on the 26th of November, 1882”; (the “seventh” including four New York Anniversaries?). You may well believe that it held my attention to the end; as a quarter part of it fell from your lips, and from the pen of my cousin Tilden of Simla in the Himalayas. Yes: I see good in it. It is clear that Theosophy just now means freedom. It means self-trust and self-control. It means, today, courage and independence. What I fear is its narrowness, as a plan of life. Nothing is clearer than the fact that old Hinduism strikes for one good thing; and that is worship. It says God is all, and all is God, and nothing exists, or should exist but God. So far, so good. Hinduism and Buddhism would kill feeling, kill enquiry, kill enterprise to secure Union with God—Nirvana, the perfection, at once, of Hinduism and Buddhism, means Rest; rest in the Infinite from work, from study, and from society. I do not want that self-centered rest; here or hereafter. I want rest; eternal, sacred, sure; rest in God, for ever. But not a rest that denies me association with Him and with kindred spirits, in beneficent power. I seek rest in the fellowship with the Initiate and Eternal Worker, Thinker, Lover, Life-giver. I do not wish my son to lose himself in me. And I think Hinduism and Buddhism err, in bidding me lose myself in God. The patriarchal Debendronath Tagore one day said to me “I like your definition of Nirvana, ‘Lost in God’; you have it exactly.” Hinduism and Buddhism, pure and simple, forbid thought; which Life and God command. Men will think; so there are several schools of Nirvana, or modes of defining it. And one eminent Hindu has assured me that his Nirvana permits the recognition of friends in heaven. To me all religion is Life, and all Life is growth; out of the old stock; and all growth is new. If Theosophy would turn back the sun, and invert the Divine law of progress and evolution, I take issue with it, and deny it. I need not do this more openly than is done by some of your anniversary speakers at Bombay. Yet some of them speak otherwise. For example, Theosophy, on page 77, “is ancient Aryan Philosophy,” and no more. The speaker is an “uncompromising Theosophist” on this line. Whether he accepts the Iśvara or the Niriśvara Sankhya, the theistic, or the agnostic, he does not say. He cannot accept both. Manifestly he has a very definite creed, which as he says, defies compromise. He wants old Hinduism and nothing else, this Master of Arts delegate from Rohilkhund. But Mr. Sinnett takes direct issue with him. He says, p. 6, Theosophy “embraces all seekers for truth, whatever their creed.” He bids “the Indian philosopher realize (p. 7) by working with the European, how much his philosophy has to gain by contact with the clear practical methods of thought which European science teaches.” “That quality in the European mind renders it the needed complement” of the Hindu (Aryan). Colonel Olcott endorses his friend, Mr. Sinnett. And the Editor of the Indian Mirror says (p. 19)—“I am concerned more with the practical work of our Society. I do not condemn English education in toto. What I condemn is an exclusive English education, leaving out our national literature and science I do not want to convert the distant past into the immediate future of our country. Such a thing would be the very height of absurdity. What I wish to impress upon my countrymen is to catch our national spirit [quere, of Reverence and God-consciousness?] from a study of the past, and to be guided by its light in our future onward progress.” Who, I ask, can object to this? No sane man.
Again, the delegate of the Puna Theosophical Society, the one Hebrew speaker, values Theosophy as the “key to a correct interpretation of the Jewish scriptures”: (not Aryan, but Semitic.) There is nothing mystic about him. He says, (p. 19) “Not even a tenth part of the members of the Theosophical Society believe in any abnormal phenomena, as a matter of blind faith. They only believe when they know a thing to be true. . . . Not rejecting well-authenticated phenomena, they desire to inquire into the matter without prejudice. Theosophy affords a broad platform for inquiry into every branch of knowledge without prejudice or dogmatism of any sort. It looks upon religion as a part of science: and one of its objects is to inquire deep into the religious systems of old, to find out whether these systems rest on fancies, or on a solid foundation of scientific facts.” This is Baconian, and no mistake. It is the very business of the Asiatic Society; from the days of Sir William Jones. My fear is that Theosophy will undertake so much as to accomplish very little. “Do a little, and do it well,” is a good motto. Was he a good Theosophist, who, in thought and hope, twenty centuries ago, gathered “all nations,” and said to religions “of the East and of the west,” “I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me?” And when some of the nations said “how could we feed you when we never saw you?” Jesus replied, “In doing it to your own poor, my brothers,—You did it to me.” This sounds like human brotherhood. So with other sayings of this child of Abraham, and son of David (Theosophist?) such as “call no one your father on the earth; for one is your father, even God; and ye (all men)—are brothers.” And a leading pupil of his said, “Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good and true.” “Glory, honor, and peace (Nirvana) to every man that worketh good.” And another of his pupils said, “In every nation he that feareth God, (hath the Aryan reverence?) and does right, is accepted of God” as a true man.
If this is Theosophy, the more of it the better. This, I take it, made Ram Mohun Roy the true eclectic, who never, so far as I see, called himself a “Christian,”—repeatedly declare himself “a follower of Christ.” See, in Ram Mohun Roy’s Precepts of Jesus, the Guide to Peace, his latest and largest work (an octavo of 640 pages) how clearly he proclaims himself a follower of Jesus Christ, after being born a Hindu, and studying many religions. Fair play’s a jewel. All I ask is reason and light and fair play. Colonel Olcott has emphatically declared at Utacamund that he is a friend of radical Christianity, and of radical and essential truth. Past and Present, and in all directions. So far, I agree with him, and Mr. Sinnett.”
We extract this letter from the pen of the Revd. Mr. Dall—the cousin of one of our good members at Simla, of the “Himalayan Theosophical Society”—for two reasons. First, to thank him for the fairness of opinion expressed; secondly,—to correct a few erroneous impressions he seems to be labouring under.
Yes; Theosophy is the science of all that is divine in man and nature. It is the study and the analysis, within the known and the knowable, of the unknown, and the otherwise Unknowable.
“In its practical application it certainly means—freedom (of thought), self-trust and self-control, courage and independence.” And if, all this, how can our revd. well-wisher “fear its narrowness, as a plan of life”? Nor, is it easy to comprehend how can “Nirvana” which, in our benevolent critic’s estimation, means “Lost in God,” “Rest in God, rest in the Infinite,” suggest to him at the same time, the picture of “association with Him and with kindred spirits. . . the fellowship with the Infinite and Eternal Worker, Thinker, Lover, Life-giver”? Could we, for one moment, anthropomorphize the Infinite; imagine a thinking brain in Absolute thought, etc., we would yet express our idea otherwise. We would not say “fellowship” and “association” (which words mean in every language mutual association or relationship of persons on equal terms); but rather assimilation or identity with, and absorption in, the Absolute. Where there is absolute and final blending and identity of a part with the whole there can be no fellowship. There is a vast difference between a separate drop of water thrown back or attracted into the ocean, and two drops of oil and water. The former is a drop “lost in,” absorbed by and assimilated with the Parent Source; there results no “fellowship” or “association” but actual identity in this case. While the drop of oil and the drop of water are two distinct compounds, and though made to associate, in their finiteness, they can never be said to be lost in each other. Therefore, we must take exception to this definition of Nirvana, lowering both man and “God,” by mutual dwarfing. If the definition of Nirvana is “lost in God”—and we accept it, only replacing the latter name by Parabrahm—the Universal Divine Essence—then Mr. Dall’s further addition to programme of Nirvana, i.e., personal fellowship and association with “kindred spirits,” is unphilosophical. It is indeed difficult to understand what he means when we find him saying, “I think Hinduism and Buddhism err in bidding me lose myself in God”; and then informing us in the same breath that the “patriarchal Debendro Nath Tagore” liked his, the revd. Dall’s definition, saying:—“Lost in God; you have it exactly.”
Whatever may be the occult meaning of this evident contradiction, in everything else our critic comprehends Theosophy rightly in his letters. “Radical” Christianity is as welcome in its ranks as radical Buddhism, Judaism, or Hinduism. For, all religions divested of their man-made theologies and superlatively human ecclesiasticism rest on one and the same foundation, converge towards one focus: an ineradicable, congenital belief in an inner Nature reflected in the inner man, its microcosm; on this our earth, we can know of but one Light—the one we see. The Divine Principle, the whole can be manifested to our consciousness, but through Nature and its highest tabernacle—man, in the words of Jesus, the only “temple of God.” Hence, the true theosophist, of whatever religion, rejecting acceptance of, and belief in, an extra-cosmic God, yet accepts this actual existence of a Logos, whether in the Buddhist, Adwaitee, Christian Gnostic or Neo-Platonic esoteric sense, but will bow to no ecclesiastical, orthodox and dogmatic interpretation. Theosophy fights every anthropomorphic conception of the great Unknowable, and would impress upon the growing world, that its days of babyhood and even adolescence are over and gone by to return no more. Theosophy would teach its adherents that animal man, the finite, having been studied for ages and found wanting in everything but animalism—he being the moral as well as physical synthesis of all the forms and beings through which he has evoluted, hence beyond correction and something that must be left to time and the work of evolution—it is more profitable to turn our attention to the spiritual or inner man, the infinite and the immortal. In its higher aspect, Theosophy pities and would help every living sentient creature, not man alone. He is a “good Theosophist,” and so far as exotericism goes, a grand Theosophist who said, and says, to “all nations” and to “all religions” “I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me,” meaning by “I,” the human Logos––spiritual mankind collectively, the spiritual whole manifested in its parts and atoms or—if so preferred, “God manifested in Humanity.” He is a better one who realizing deeply the profound esoteric meaning of this exoteric parable, feeds and clothes all nations and all religions unconditionally: one ever ready to trace back the personified pronoun “I” not to Jesus only, or even to any of the respective Christs and Gods manifested at different ages and to various nations, but to the universal Logos or divine Ego; one, in fine, who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked irrespective of their creed or nationality—as even the good king Asoka did.
A “personal God” says the true Theosophist, is the creation of the ephemeral and animal, though intellectual man. Therefore, the Rev. gentleman is wrong in querying whether David could be a Theosophist. A man who murders another to deprive him of his wife and thus satisfy his lust may be the “friend” of an anthropomorphic God; he cannot be a Theosophist. He is right, when asking whether Jesus was a Theosophist for “the Son of Man” and the “Man of Sorrow” was one in the full acceptation of the term, and this, perchance, is the very reason why so few have understood and appreciated him and why he was crucified. He was a lover of Truth Divine. No Theosophist, whether Heathen or Christian, Jew or Gentile would ever think of rejecting the ideal Jesus, or refusing reverence to one who during life was one of the noblest and grandest of men, only to suffer the post-mortem degradation of being niched with the pettiest and smallest of gods in the world’s pantheon of deities. The Theosophist only refuses to accept the Jesus Christ of the misinterpreted and grossly disfigured, ecclesiastical gospels. True to the colours of Universal Brotherhood, the Theosophist is always ready to accept undisguised truth; to bow before the man of whatever race or creed, who, being but mortal has struggled onward, and achieving purification through his own exertions, risen to the eminence of the imaginary personal God. But he will ever refuse worship or even recognition, to the virtue and righteousness of that extra cosmic deity. For if he is all that the Theist and Christian maintain him to be, he has no personal merit whatever. If he is, the “god” from, and in, eternity, the culmination of every perfection in heaven and on earth, perfection therefore is his inherent attribute; and what personal merit can there be in a Being that can neither be tempted nor commit sin? Instead of offering to such god worship, the true Theosophist, who rejects supernaturalism and miracle would fed inclined on the contrary, to take such a deity to task and ask him why—Essence of Bliss and Perfection as he is, he yet made man, “nominally” in his own image yet so helpless and so miserable, so sinful and so imperfect. As Buchanan says:—
“Almighty Fiend! who will judge Thee on Thy judgment day?”
This, of course, will be set down as “blasphemy.” But it seems to us that there can be no more blasphemy in analyzing a personal God, which, we maintain to be the creation of man’s mind alone, than, in dissecting morally and physically the creature of God—man, made by him in his own physical image for we trust that the likeness can apply still less to the spiritual “image” when one thinks of the average sinful man of this, our humanity?
Thus, a Theosophist will always respect and admire, if not follow a true “servant of Christ.” And he will always openly despise a professing Christian, with not one of the Christ-like virtues; such, for instance as we find mirrored retrospectively in the great light thrown upon some soi-disant Christian teachers, by the recent trial of “Pigot vs. Hastie.” Shall we, Theosophists, feel anything but scorn for the Christians, big and small fishes, who figured in this most disgraceful, legal tragi-comedy? Avaunt, such Christians. They may be fit for the front ranks of the pseudo-christians but not, we hope, even for the background of the Theosophical Society.