Setting the Stage
An introduction to the "Body of Knowledge" known as Theosophy
Part 24 - Problems Of Students
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 17, No. 3, January, 1929
(Pages 106-108; Size: 8K)
HUNDREDS of books have been written during the past few years carrying the titular or implied announcement that they are "Theosophical." More are appearing all the time. Yet the authentic texts of the teachings, as set forth in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky and W. Q. Judge, were published between 1877 and 1896: books available today, and as fresh and vital and consistent as ever. What to do when asked about this, that or the other "Theosophical" book that is known to deflect the lines of the true teachings?
This is a question that comes before almost every student again and again. Inquirers are forever asking, not for information about Theosophy, but where to secure some particular book -- which the student knows to be the output of some writer whose "Theosophy" is perverted, and whose influence is disintegrating and degrading to a susceptible reader without firm foundation in the fundamentals of Theosophy itself. The student asked does not want to appear "dogmatic;" also, he often fears that the enthusiastic and newly interested inquirer may be turned away from examination of the true teachings if the "doctored" Theosophy of the book in question is slightingly referred to -- just as children sometimes will have something they are told may be harmful. Yet the utter necessity of a timely word of warning is felt; there is a responsibility that cannot be gainsaid. To exhibit a flabby "tolerance" is to avoid the issue. What to say? What to do? The inquirer, it should be noted, has not asked for Theosophical information, but only for a certain book.
As for an exact answer to the question, "What to say," and to the related question, "What to do?" -- it all depends. "Circumstances alter cases" is a true and occult saying. Some natures are such that a direct "I do not know" is the only possible answer to their query; otherwise they will think their informant has an axe to grind. Others resent well meant and perchance valuable information; to try to give it is merely to commit offence in their eyes, and throw them off the track farther than ever. It is evident that wisdom and depth of perception are called for, in order to be able to help others, although the fact need not discourage anybody nor prevent him from trying to help. How else shall one learn than by practice? And if he is observant, calm and steady, and refuses to let himself become upset by success or failure, he shall learn in the progress of time to deal effectively and helpfully even with the crass, the obtuse, the suspicious -- even with the vicious.
But the average inquirer will not be unready to consider well meant and reasonably tactful information. It need not be advanced as a warning. It can be that, though put in quite another guise. One way to do this when asked about some book known to be of the "new" order, is to counter, "Why not go to the source teachings of Theosophy, and thus get at what the philosophy really is? Experience has shown that thus only can one secure a basis by which to judge it for oneself." This will call for some sort of response that provides a natural opening for further talk, and in itself cannot create opposition. Thereupon the student can feel his way along, to speak without dogmatism of the real Teachers and teachings. To a simple mind an illustrative phrase such as the following is sometimes helpful: "If you want pure water, you will not care to drink way down in the stream somewhere, but will prefer to go to the spring at the source, before contamination can have set in." This sounds reasonable, because it is reasonable.
One requirement that cannot be too often emphasized is the necessity of self control, of dealing calmly and patiently with inquirers. It is but natural for the true student to feel indignant at the way some "Theosophical" writers have perverted the teachings, and that this indignation should rise to the surface even at the mention of such authors names. But the inquirer seldom knows anything of the implications aroused by his questions, and his reaction to half suppressed but apparent ill feeling will be: "These Theosophists are no better than the Christians; how they love one another!"
The facts being what they are, and the student himself acquainted with them, the problem always is, how best to present them. This will never be solved under stress of feeling, nor by condemnation. Furthermore, a quiet confidence in the true line, and a reliance upon it that removes obstacles and melts opposition, will not be had so long as a student can be upset and unbalanced by mere mention of the false line. The pairs of opposites exist throughout nature, and must be viewed dispassionately to be understood and effectively dealt with.
Sometimes it is helpful to call the attention of the inquirer to the fact that sectarianism has arisen in Theosophical circles, just as it always does in the religions. What is the cause of its rise? Honest differences of opinion at times; but more often the aberrations of some person, or an irrepressible desire to lead. The great desideratum is to get behind the sectarian divisions to the religion or philosophy itself as originally stated. Then one can form his own opinions upon its truth and value, without regard to sectarian interpretations or the beliefs or speculations of any person or persons. The student of religions finds it difficult, even impossible, to do this as the original impulse is seldom committed to writing. Not so in the case of Theosophy: the Teachers own presentation as published during her lifetime is available to present day students in authentic texts -- he can go to the Source teachings. This can be quietly pointed out.
The list of true books is a small one -- not over a dozen volumes. Of false, misleading or unnecessary volumes there are hundreds. Some "Theosophical" publishers are continually issuing new books, for business reasons, or to keep their leader owners in the public eye. To the thoughtful mind this should tell its own story; and when an inquirer begins to understand what Theosophy really is, it does tell the story -- a sorry story indeed!
The inquirer, then, cannot be effectively "handled" in any cut and dried fashion. Flexibility of treatment, within certain general lines that experience has proven sound is necessary. But more than that, let every true student remember that he is dealing with human hearts as well as heads, and that only a compassionate and brotherly heart can speak with power to another. With this deep truth energized and persistently held in mind and life, together with practical common sense experience in trying to help others, the student must in time develop the faculty of working with and for the inquirer full heartedly and confidently. Law rules, and Law is beneficent; it can be trusted.
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