The Test of Theosophic Interest
The Path, January, 1889
The test of Theosophic interest is precisely the test of every other kind of interest,—What one will do to promote it. And here, obviously, two considerations arise.
The first is that no act which is superficial, or perfunctory, or for personal benefit, can at all gauge devotion to a cause which is both impersonal and deep-reaching. It is easy to descant on the glory of a system so elevated as the Wisdom-Religion. It is as easy to proclaim one’s own appreciation of its tenets. It is not difficult to attend punctiliously the meetings of a Theosophical Society, and to absorb with readiness, perhaps with profit, whatever of truth may be there disclosed. It may not be easy, but it is entirely possible, to read every Theosophical work of repute, to extract its main thought, and to digest well the learning acquired. And yet, very evidently, the first two are exercises only of the voice, the last two only of the mind. If Theosophy was a matter of, the breath or the brains, this participation in it would not only be salutary but ample.
In truth, however, Theosophy gives but a light benediction to either the mere talker or the mere student. It by no means undervalues sincere homage or zealous inquiry, but it is so intent on the work of transferring interest from the lower to the higher levels of being, so eager to excite the unselfish enthusiasm for others’ good which, subordinating its own advancement, shall be most thrilled at the chance to advance Humanity, that its ideal is the man who is exerting himself to help others, rather than the man who is exerting himself to get ahead. And, as it believes that the present most efficacious agency for extending truth, vivifying motive, and elevating the race is the Theosophical Society, Theosophy regards as its best expositors, those who are working most for, the Society it has founded.
Some man with more impetuosity than perception will at once cry, “But this is only the Church and its motive over again!” Not at all. There is no question of doctrinal triumphs, of sect growth, of rival temples, of missionary comparisons. The elements of social distinction, of clerical rank, of legislative influence are all absent. There is not even the ambition to push the Society into the area of recognized religious organizations, for it not only disclaims competition with Churches, but is disqualified for such competition by its lack of creed, its slight coherency of organism, and its vigorous assertion of individualism in opinion and in training.
Moreover, before assuming the danger of possible ecclesiasticism, one must remember that the standard applied to the Theosophical Society is exactly the same as that applied to a Theosophist,—self-forgetfulness in work for others. If the individual member is held to the doctrine that he best realizes Theosophical aims through the obliteration of ambition and the substitution therefore of an altruistic life, similarly as to the Society. Self-aggrandizement, as a pursuit, might evolve a Black Magician; it might even evolve a Church; but it never could evolve a Theosophical Society.
Of the three objects contemplated in the establishment of the T.S., the first and greatest is the promotion of Universal Brotherhood. But this does not mean merely a sentimental recognition of a general human fraternity; it means an active beneficence towards the rest of the family. And if correct views, loftier ideals, richer motives, finer principles, healthier aspirations are more attainable through the Theosophic system than through other systems of faith or morals, the Theosophist is best serving the interests of his brother-men by giving that system all the publicity he can. And if, still further, he accepts the fact that the Masters have adopted the Society as their channel for conveying and distributing Truth to the human family, he reaches the conclusion that in laboring for the Society he is conforming most closely to their desires, benefiting most efficiently the race of which he is a part, using most hopefully the best agency for spiritual good. Practically, therefore,—the truest Theosophist at the present day is he who is most interested in the Theosophical Society.
And now has been reached the point where the test of Theosophic interest may be applied to a Theosophist. What is he doing to sustain the Society? Not how many times does he place F.T.S. after his surname; not how loud his voice in benediction on the Founders; not how warm in praise his letters to active members; not how many meetings he attends, or books he reads, or intricate problems in Occultism he explores; not what food he eats, or clothes he wears, or opinions he proclaims; but what is he doing to help? He may be copious in phrases and efflorescent in gracious speech, or, as are some, mysteriously mournful over the faults of others which so impede their own progression; he may fold hands before the needs of the Cause, and piously avow trust in the interposition of Mahatmas, or he may paint out that the time is unpropitious, or that a spiritual system has no claim for cash, or that it degrades Theosophy to make a collection; he may suggest that in giving his name he does better than give funds, or that there seems as yet no opening for the expression of his zeal, or that his sympathies are with us and his one aspiration is to be upon the path, And yet the inexorable test, inexorable because in the nature of things and therefore not amenable to cajolery or humbug, stands before him,—What is he doing to help?
The second consideration referred to at the outset is that the test of Theosophic interest is not the absolute amount of help given, but that amount as related to the capacity of the giver. Five cents, five hours, constitute a far larger proportion of one man’s available means or time, than five thousand dollars or five months do of another’s. Hence it is not the figures, but their fractional value, which determines the extent of the interest. Just so is it in every other human interest. How much one cares for a relation, for a friend, for a philanthropic cause, for a public object, is unerringly shown by the proportion of outlay he devotes thereto. And this does not mean a careless profusion with superfluous goods, but the cutting-off of personal indulgences, cherished but dispensable, for the better sustentation of a cause,—in other words, self-sacrifice. Nor does self-sacrifice mean the sacrifice of other people, as some think; the bearing with great fortitude privations one does not share, the consecration of money or time or effort which really belongs to one’s family or entourage. It means the sacrifice of yourself, of your own habits and enjoyments and expenses, in order to build up a cause you profess to love. And the extent to which this is done gauges the proportion of your love for that cause to your love for yourself.
Now Theosophy is not unreasonable or captious. It does not advise any man to starve himself, or to wear rags, or to scout at the conditions of life in the Civilization wherein he was born and which express the laws of sociology. It does not enjoin monasticism, or seclusion, or parsimony, or want of public spirit, or abnegation of social amenities, or one-sidedness, or bigotry, or folly under any name. We are to be men, rational men, civilized men, cultivated men, and we promote no noble cause, least of all the noblest, if we are unsocial, unpractical, or fantastic. But while all this is true, it is equally true that in one’s own private affairs, in that sphere of personal belongings outside the claims of others and wherein absolute freedom is unquestioned, the test of Theosophic interest is directly applicable. It is, as has been shown, the proportion of time, money, literary or other effort, one is willing to give up for the Theosophical Society.
Not a few sincere readers may honestly ask, What is there for me to do? The answer to this is the showing what there is to be done, and then each may inquire within himself how and to what extent he can aid. First, there is the support of the Theosophical Society itself, its organic action and work. Hardly anyone is too poor to become a member-at-large and aid to the extent of $1.00 a year. If able to contribute more, he can do so with the certainty that its growing needs in printing, postage, circulation of documents, advertising, the occasional schemes for Theosophic advance, for which direct help is asked, constitute an ample channel for any donation. Then there is Theosophic Literature. Its periodicals need to be sustained, sustained by the subscriptions of those who believe them useful, sustained by those who both take them for their own reading ,and order them sent to points where they may do good. Pamphlets, tracts, documents may be bought by the zealous and sent to individuals where budding interest is suspected, thus aiding to make possible new ones and giving circulation to, those now printed. Theosophical books may be presented to Public Libraries, and, as current facts show, with the certainty that they will be read. In private conversations a Theosophical idea or phrase may be dropped, enough to provoke inquiry, possibly investigation. Openings for the impartation of truth may be judiciously used. Then there is the establishment of a Branch. Every member of the Society in a town without a Branch may well judge its foundation his special mission. In many ways and in many hearts the seed may be sown, confident that time, possibly short time, will bring that harvest. If a member of a Branch, he has before him work in strengthening it, enlarging its Library, enlivening its meetings, helping to feed and not merely feeding, thinking out schemes by which its existence may be known through the community and it be recognized as a distributing centre of light. If having, access to the press, he can secure the insertion of brief items or clippings which will keep the topic before the public. If competent to write, he can present some truth he finds potent or correct some mistake he sees popular.
What is there for me to do? Everything that you can do. A word, a hint, a tract, a volume, a subscription. If it costs you nothing, your interest is nothing. If it costs you little, your interest is little. If it costs till you feel it, then it is that you feel your interest. And when you yourself, body, soul, and spirit, are devoted, to the doing, when you thrill with that topic as with no other topic, when your pleasure is in self-sacrificing efforts for its promotion, when you forget yourself, have lost yourself, in it, then will you brave become In measure what are the Founders,—may one not even say, what are the Masters Themselves.