The term "Theosophy" comes from the Greek theosophia, which is composed of two words: theos ("god," "gods," or "divine") and sophia ("wisdom"). Theosophia, therefore, may be translated as the "wisdom of the gods," "wisdom in things divine," or "divine wisdom".
The word "theosophy" was first used in writing during the 3rd to the 6th century of our era by the Alexandrian Neo-Platonic philosophers. They used this term to denote an experiential knowledge that came through spiritual, not intellectual, means. In the course of time, several mystics and spiritual movements in the West (mainly Christian-based) adopted the word "theosophy" in their teachings. Among them we can find Meister Eckhart in the 14th century, Jacob Boehme in the 17th century, and Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century, and others. In the last quarter of the 19th century Mme. Blavatsky, Col. Olcott, and a group of like-minded people, founded the Theosophical Society, thus bringing the term back into light again. They claimed the work of the TS was a continuation of previous Theosophists, especially that of the Greek and Alexandrian philosophers.
In the modern Theosophical movement the word "Theosophy" has been used with several different meanings:
- It is frequently used to describe the body of teachings that were given through Mme. Blavatsky and other Theosophical writers. This body of knowledge is frequently called "modern Theosophy" (with capital T).
- It is also used to refer to the universal Ancient Wisdom underlying all religions, which can be found at their core when they are stripped of accretions, deletions, and superstitions. This is sometimes referred to as "ancient" or "timeless" theosophy.
These two usages refer to a body of teachings transmitted by different sages, in different parts of the world, and at different times.
- As we have seen, theosophia refers to a Divine Wisdom, that is, a state of consciousness in which the sage or mystic goes beyond his or her mind and gets a direct, supra-conceptual, perception of Truth. This is the primary meaning of Theosophy.
It is important to notice that the intellectual study and daily practice of Theosophy is only a means to reach the real theosophia, or inner enlightenment. As we become more mindful of this, we open the door to a flash of insight which comes from the part of us that is Divine. The process of becoming more and more receptive to these theosophical insights is the spiritual path.
Some Theosophical Ideas
Modern Theosophy postulates that the field of existence embraces more than this material and passing reality we perceive through our senses. In fact, the lack of knowledge about the higher aspects of reality makes us see things from a wrong perspective, which is the root cause of suffering. We can gain knowledge of the Real, both in the universe and in human beings, by means of a holistic spiritual practice that includes study, meditation, and service.
Below are some of the basic ideas the Theosophical literature offers for consideration. However, the Theosophical Society does not ask its members to adhere to any of these ideas in particular. Members are only expected to be in agreement with the Three Objects of our organization.
- Behind everything seen or unseen there is an eternal, boundless, and immutable absolute Reality, which is beyond the range of human thought. Both matter and consciousness (or spirit) are the two polar aspects of this Reality.
- Theosophy postulates a cyclic universe. A universe manifests, develops, and dissolves back into the absolute Reality. After a period of cosmic rest, a new universe appears again.
- Since everything proceeds from (or manifests within) this single Reality, there is only one common Life that pervades and sustains the whole universe. Every form of life is an expression of this Unity.
- The visible universe is only its densest part; the whole universe contains also invisible dimensions or planes of exceedingly tenuous kinds of matter-energy interpenetrating the physical.
- Theosophy postulates a universe of purpose. The entire system, visible and invisible, is the scene of a great scheme of evolution, in which life moves to ever more expressive form, more responsive awareness, and more unified consciousness.
- There are no mechanical laws. The universe is pervaded by a non-anthropomorphic intelligence, which is both immanent and transcendent. Therefore, intelligence is at the basis of all laws of nature. At the same time, no super-natural miracles are possible. As H. P. Blavatsky said, "Deity is Law."
- Human consciousness is in essence identical with the ultimate Reality, which Ralph Waldo Emerson called the "Oversoul." This one supreme Reality, being the root of our real Self, is shared by each of our particular beings, thus uniting us with one another.
- The gradual unfolding of this latent divine Reality within us takes place over a long period of time by the process of reincarnation, which is an aspect of the cyclic law seen everywhere in nature.
- The cycle of reincarnation is ruled by the law of cause and effect. As Saint Paul says--whatever we sow, we will inevitably reap. This is the law of karma by which we weave our own destiny through the ages. It is the great hope for humanity, for it gives us the opportunity to create our future by what we do in the present.
- The human pilgrimage takes us from the Source, where we are an unconscious part of the One, leading us through the experience of the many, to finally take us back into union with the One Divine Reality, but now in full awareness. Our goal is thus to complete the cosmic cycle of manifestation through which we attain a fully conscious realization of ourselves as an integral part of the One, no longer polarized between consciousness and matter, or divided into self and other. This realization is enlightenment.