Originally printed in the July - August 2000 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Pym, Willamay. "Theosophy: Changeless Yet Always Changing." Quest 88.4 JULY - AUGUST 2000): pg 132-39, 149.
By Willamay Pym
A paradox is a statement that seems contradictory but is nonetheless true.
Our culture has trained us to see things as opposites: either right or wrong, good or bad, true or falseâ€”"either-or." But there is another way. The opposite of a truth need not be a falsehood but rather may be another truth. A simple example is the story of the five blind men who were trying to determine the shape of an elephant. One felt the trunk; one, an ear; one, a leg; one, the torso; and one, the tail. Each oneâ€™s description was quite different from all the others, yet all were in part true. The key is the phrase "in part." So Theosophy is in part changeless, and in part always changing. But which part is which?
Since the Oneness of all existence is the basis of the entire Theosophical view of life, this concept is clearly changeless. Knowledge of this truth has been possible as long as humanity has been around, although comparatively few people have "known" it in the sense of having its wisdom infuse their lives.
The timeless existence of such understanding is a theme in Helena P. Blavatskyâ€™s major book, The Secret Doctrine, based on the ancient "Stanzas of Dzyan," which begin:
"The eternal parent, wrapped in her ever-invisible robes, had slumbered once again for seven eternities.
Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration.
Universal mind was not, for there were no celestial beings to contain it.
The seven ways to bliss were not. The great causes of misery were not, for there was no one to produce and get ensnared by them.
Darkness alone filled the boundless all, for father, mother, and son were once more one, and the son had not awakened yet for the new wheel and his pilgrimage thereon."
As the Stanzas progress, we are taken from the One, through the development of a new manifestation, down to our present state of existence. To guide readers to an understanding of these Stanzas and the book based upon them, HPB wrote a "Proem," including three Fundamental Propositions, of which she said, "Reading the S.D. page by page as one reads any other book will only end in confusion. The first thing to do, even if it takes years, is to get some grasp of the â€˜Three Fundamental Propositionsâ€™."
Those propositions, which have a fair claim to being changeless aspects of Theosophy, can be summarized as follows:
The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions: (a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable Principle on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought, "unthinkable and unspeakable." . . .
Further, the secret doctrine affirms: (b) The Eternity of the Universe in toto as a boundless plane; periodically "the playground of numberless Universes incessantly manifesting and disappearing," . . . . "The appearance and disappearance of Worlds is like a regular tidal ebb, flux and reflux." . . .
Moreover, the secret doctrine teaches: (c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul, the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory pilgrimage for every Soul--a spark of the former--through the Cycle of Incarnation (or "Necessity") in accordance with Cyclic and Karmic law, during the whole term.
These Fundamental Propositions are the changeless aspects of Theosophy, from which all other important concepts can be derived. They are tenets that have been taught as long as humanity has been on the planet, to those who have been desirous of learning and whose minds have been open to all possibilities. They provide a framework within which to live our lives. It takes daily dedication and concentration to keep us focused on their importance to our growth. Of course, total success in following them is another matter. It would be nice to have conquered all the hurdles, but even without this accomplishment, it can be satisfying to be aware of what we are striving to achieve. We are told that our reach should always exceed our grasp.
Always Changing Theosophy
HPB agreed that the only thing that never changes is change itself. The truth of a changeless reality does not contradict the fact of ceaseless change. The Fundamental Propositions refer to laws of nature or rules of the game, which do not change and are not open to democratic voting for their validity. What do change are how we view these laws and apply themâ€”how we play the game of life governed by the rules. We need only look at all the external changes during our own lifetimes to know how full of alterations the process is.
Change in our lifetimes has been most apparent in technology, especially transportation and communication. That change, which has greatly enhanced our physical well-being, also has a downside. We become so overwhelmed with each new discovery that we lose sight of what its effect may be on the overall quality of life. The computer, for example, offers so many new possibilities for the performance of daily routines that we are totally enchanted with it. It is too early to know what effect it will have on our interrelationships with each other. Personal, face-to-face contact is basic to how we treat one another. A massive decline in this contact is bound to change our livesâ€”how, we do not yet know. The rules of the game for how humans develop have not changed, but how we apply them is in a constant state of flux.
At the time the Society was started, the powerful basic ideas of the Fundamental Propositions were largely unknown to Western cultures or were considered to be nonsense. For that reason and because a basic purpose of the Society was to integrate Eastern and Western philosophy, HPB decided at the outset that she needed to gain attention by producing phenomena. She and Henry Steel Olcott had been assigned the task of getting these ideas out to the Western world but were given no directions about how to proceed.
The challenge of leading a Theosophical life appeared early. We know what the goal was: awareness of the universal brotherhood of humanity, implicit in the first Fundamental Proposition; but the creativity and intuition to reach that goal had to be devised day by day. By producing phenomena to demonstrate the existence of nonphysical realities, HPB and her colleagues hoped to convince materialists that such realities needed consideration for their hidden implications and fundamental importance. Later in her life, however, she questioned the wisdom of their early procedure and regretted the practices she had employed. We will never know what would have happened had she not used her powers of clairvoyance, ability to materialize objects, and other parapsychological powers to show that everything is not necessarily what it seems.
Many of the ideas the Society presented in its early days were viewed as mysterious and esoteric, a view that was not necessarily a compliment then, any more than it is now. One of those was the existence of spiritually evolved teachers who sponsored the organization. The path by which such beings develop has been the subject of much Theosophical study, including the Olcott summer sessions of 1999, entitled "The Path--Rules of the Road." The existence of such adept teachers and the role they play in the ongoing evolutionary process is basic to Theosophical thought and is implicit in the concept of spiritual evolution alluded to in the third Fundamental Proposition.
In the early years of the Societyâ€™s history, when there was personal contact between those teachers and some Theosophists, their stature and its significance were integral to the Theosophical view of the goals of humanity, and individuals were concerned with how they could play a useful part in achieving those goals. As years went by, members tended to shift their attention to matters with which they felt more closely connected. Today most members seem more interested in applications of Theosophy to daily life than in how its concepts came to the modern world or how to serve the work of those sponsoring teachers.
Because our human family at present is experiencing so many problems, most of which seem to be a direct result of human behavior (how we are "playing the game"), maybe we Theosophists should realize that our time calls for extra consideration of the big picture and that assistance to prevent us from destroying our so-called civilization is badly needed. In this changing world, we seem to have forgotten how to link ourselves with a greater, more potent force, which we know is available. Maybe we need to develop a modern day version of spiritual practices that will restore this link. To help that restoration, we can offer our services directly to those beings who are continuously striving to help in the process. If we assume that we are not at the top of the evolutionary chain, beings or forces greater than we must exist and be available for our support. Many would say, "But I donâ€™t know how to do that. I canâ€™t contact them (if they do exist)!" We will never know, if we donâ€™t try.
I am not suggesting that we should seek personal contact, but that whatever energy we can contribute toward the alleviation of suffering can and should be offered for use by the great Teachers of humanity (Christ, Buddha, or whatever embodiments of Wisdom and Love we prefer to image). If we send positive energy freely for the good of humanity as a whole, it will be accepted and used. The power of thought is tremendous.
Undoubtedly we have all had the experience of entering a room where there is such a heavy, oppressive air that we want to turn and run or, on the other hand, where the atmosphere is so beautiful that we immediately wonder at its source. In both cases, the thoughts and emotions of those present are responsible, though often they do not realize the effect they produce. If unconscious acts have such results, think what we can accomplish by purposeful dedication.
Each day we can afford to devote a few minutes of meditation to this end. By taking the great Teachers of humanity into our daily thoughts and once more acknowledging them as the vital force in the life scheme, we can realize that the Society exists to carry on their work.
Another sort of change is implicit in the third Fundamental Proposition: "the obligatory pilgrimage for every soul . . . through the cycle of incarnation . . . during the whole term." We are all progressing, and progress requires change and cooperation. Many peopleâ€™s focus is on personal gain. They have been taught to ask, "Whatâ€™s in it for me?" Theosophy can show that there is often much deeper satisfaction from the accomplishment of a group than from that of an individual, the latter tending to isolate the achiever.
If we look carefully, we can see that it is betterâ€”and more funâ€”to share with others than to be alone. For the last few years, "team building" has been a well-touted management tool. Even business has acknowledged that the creative power of the group exceeds that of most individuals. As awareness of how interdependent we are on each other increases, the oneness of all life can be better understood. Modern scientific discoveries are reinforcing our awareness, for example, of what is happening on earth ecologically as a result of our destruction of the rain forests and pollution of the air.
Whatever change we experience is involved with karma: the law of action and reaction, of cause and effect, of spiritual dynamics, of compensation (as Emerson called it), of ethical causation (as The Secret Doctrine refers to it), or of balance. Sometimes we think of karma in a fatalistic way: "There is really nothing I can do about this circumstance, itâ€™s just my karma." All of our circumstances are really opportunities to plant seeds for future accomplishments, not retribution or reward for some past behavior. By learning from the experience, we alter the karma we are building for the future. Instead of saying, "Why did this happen to me?" or "I really donâ€™t deserve to suffer this way," a more positive approach would be, "What can I learn from this situation?â€™â€™ This is a very difficult attitude to take when we are hurting or angry, but the long-range result will be amazingly more productive.
A related concept is dharma. Its most common definition is "duty," but there is much more to it than that. Other definitions include "righteousness" (the ethical standards by which we live), "self-transformation" (the process of discovering ourselves), "religion" (reverence and awe of natural law and knowledge of the cosmic significance of moral law), and even "yoga" (the search for rejoining what is fragmented). Dharma is our duty in that it contains all of our potentialities for accomplishment, but it is also the entirety of our present life. If karma is what got us where we are, dharma is what we do about it.
How we make our choices and define our goals indicates how clearly we see all the possibilities of our actions and their effects on the world around us. Whether we fulfill our dharma or do not is a result of our understanding. As we continue to grow in awareness, we will more naturally live every day in line with our duty to humanity and thus be the most we can be. This is certainly a practical aspect of Theosophy, especially if we are looking for purpose in life. Every experience offers a learning opportunity, and our dharma will lead us to correct decisions if we continue with our quest for growth and understanding.
That quest has three aspects: study, meditation, and service. Study provides us with concepts for an understanding of life and its purpose. An important point in this aspect is discrimination. We need to learn what is most worthy of our attention and what is less important. This is not always easy, because each personâ€™s path is individual. We do not all learn the same things at the same time or with the same speed. But whatever we learn by study has to be absorbed and applied, and that takes us to the next two aspects.
Meditation is just as important as study. As with study, there is no single right way to meditate, so each individual must find the best approach through trial and, sometimes, error. The basic purpose of meditation is to change our center of awareness. Meditation is the path to self-awareness and self-understanding. It is a method of applying what we have learned in our study to ourselves and our roles in life. It is getting in touch with that aspect within each of us which is part of the Oneness of all manifestation. Some of us do well to devote ten or fifteen minutes a day to a concentrated effort; others manage at least two or three periods of complete quiet during their routines. One definition of the goal of meditation is to be completely aware at every moment of what we are doing and thinkingâ€”and why.
The third aspect, service, probably receives the least attention from most people. We are so busy with our own problems caused by lifeâ€™s complications that we tend to ignore what is happening to others. We may be full of sympathy but fail to see any need for direct involvement. Yet, if life is truly One, what happens to each of us is happening to all of us and involvement is essential. Obviously, we canâ€™t all be a Dalai Lama or a Mother Theresa, but every day presents us with chances to help someone or something, and, no matter how small the act of service may seem, it is important. H. P. Blavatsky said:
'True Theosophy is the "Great Renunciation of SELF" . . . It is ALTRUISM . . . "Not for himself, but for the world, he lives" . . . He who does not practice altruism . . . is no Theosophist!'
One final consideration of change is Krishnaâ€™s statement to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita: "However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine." Truth has many sides (remember the blind men and the elephant). Theosophy teaches that life is a continuous learning process, and to cease in our search for wisdom would be to deny our need for continuous striving and to assume that growth has been completed. Our philosophy has both changeless and changing aspects. We need to try to see what they are as we continue our journey on the Path.
Willamay Pym is a second-generation Theosophist who, at various times, has filled most of the offices of Seattle Lodge, worked at Camp Indralaya on Orcas Island (where as a child she saw its founding), served as National Secretary of the Theosophical Society, Director from the Northwest, Second and First Vice President, and is currently organizing the national archives. In her spare time, she worked as Registrar at Shoreline Community College for fifteen years