Theosophy and Some of the Vital Problems of the Day

By Katherine Tingley

Address Number Three -- January 24, 1915


One of the vital problems of today is the European war, and I shall touch on this question in the course of my talk tonight, and endeavor to answer a few of the many queries which have been sent in to me since my last Sunday night's address here at the Isis Theater, because not a few of these inquirers desire that I give my views on this subject, from my standpoint as a Theosophist.

The following quotation, from an ancient book which all Theosophists value, has its application in my remarks tonight, since all I shall say here will be from a theosophical standpoint: "The senses and organs are esteemed great, but the thinking self is greater than they. The discriminating principle is greater than the thinking self, and that which is greater than the discriminating principle is He -- 'the Knower.'"

I appeal to the American people, to the real soul-life of this country, that all may be aroused to the dangers that menace us through our own neglect, and also to the sufferings of the unfortunate people across the water. The whole of Europe, in its dire distress, is looking towards America for help; and will we sit passive, "waiting for something to turn up"? Our inertia and seeming indifference is a great reflection on us as a people. We are depending too much upon our government to act and not enough on ourselves. But does the government know the voice of the people? Have they declared themselves in a protest against war? And cannot they sustain the government in new measures for the abolishment of war?


Have we today the spirit that moved our forefathers -- the pioneers of America -- in their splendid effort to make it the greatest country in the world, a light to all nations? Well may we be proud of their heroic efforts. When I think of the difficulties under which they labored, and of their unfamiliarity with the higher qualities of their own natures -- with their essential divinity -- I wonder that they accomplished as much as they did. From my study of the lives of the pioneers and of the conditions surrounding them preceding their coming to these shores, I know that the restrictions and the limitations of dogmas and creeds, both religious and political, were the compelling force, the urge, that moved them to the strenuous efforts they made to find a new home where they could fashion their lives for a larger liberty.

There is no question that their minds were touched at times by an urge from the "Knower," pressing towards liberation from the thraldom of creeds and dogmas. We know that they left their homes imbued with a spirit of love and devotion to principle. But they were only half equipped for the great struggles that were to be theirs. Theosophy was then unknown, save to a few -- a very few. What did these people know of the potential qualities of their own being? What did they know of that part of their nature which was "greater than the thinking self" and even "greater than the discriminating principle" -- of that which really was the "Knower"? Nothing. They had faith in God and believed they could do His will once they had the opportunity; but there still lingered in their blood and in the inner chambers of their minds the old fever of the theological and political dogmatism. In spite of their generous impulses there were still with them the prejudices and the misconceptions which bigotry had implanted.

And so these, with much of true nobility in them, with a disposition to sacrifice their lives for a larger liberty, suffered unnecessarily and did but one-half of what they might have done if they had had the living inspiration of their higher natures, of their own essential divinity, to guide them. Rare and heroic courage did these pioneers show in their first efforts after landing in America -- a courage born of their heart-life, of their determination to build for better things. But it was not long before they established churches, both religious and political, with as many limitations -- although perhaps of a different kind -- as they had had in their former home. It is true that they cried out for liberty, for the establishment of a government on more liberal and grander principle; yet they were themselves still fettered with the old intolerance, and this soon began to manifest itself. The picture of the Salem witchcraft trials is before me as I speak.

The American Revolution

Let us recall the history of those early days, and also of the Revolution later. When our forefathers felt the oppression of the English government, they thought that their only resource was to battle and defend their rights by sword and gun. This was a mistake; if they had had the inner knowledge which was their heritage, not a battle need have been fought, not a gun fired; for within each one there were those higher powers of reason and persuasion and logic that could have adjusted the differences on the basis of a peaceful consideration for each other's rights. Our forefathers were unacquainted with these latent powers, alas! for they were the children of old limitations and of the errors that have been creeping into the life of humanity for ages.

On the other hand, read the Constitution of the United States, as it was framed by our forefathers; in spite of the absence of that higher knowledge needed to make it a perfect instrument, the whole of it is teeming with the spirit of earnest endeavor, with a great love for liberty and humanity. Now the query that comes to my mind is this: Have we, as Americans, held to the true spirit of that Constitution? Have we not lost some of the spirit of courage and self-sacrifice that characterized those pioneer days? Have we not drifted away from the greater possibilities, and are we not to a great degree neglecting our duty in the present crisis? If our noble ancestors were to stand before us today, would they not rebuke us? Are we exhibiting in our lives, in our individual support of civic and national life, a real understanding of their great plan for liberty?

I wonder if we realize that we have disintegrating forces in America, menacing this liberty promised, and that these forces are so subtle and insidious that we can with difficulty trace them back to their original source. Dimly discerning these causes, we have failed as yet to apply the remedy. For while our Constitution distinctly forbids the enactment of any law that would create a union of church and state, yet the subtle influence referred to is affecting our home life and our body politic more than we dream, and there is danger that we shall not realize our real condition of weakness in this connection, until it is too late.

In the true sense, have we, as a people, interpreted the true meaning of liberty? Is it not evident that if we had done so, we should be living more in the spirit of it? We have evidence on every hand of the material progress of our country; of increase in population, of increase in wealth, and of general advancement on other lines; but I find little evidence that we as Americans have advanced spiritually since the early days; and further I have found that we have failed both in thought and act to build up to that higher expression of patriotism which the pioneers exhibited in their lives and hoped to see growing in this country they loved so well.

There is no question that there are men and women who have been, from generation to generation, making superb efforts for the progress of our country, in the truest sense. But they have been so few, and even these have suffered and have been able to do but half of their appointed work, owing to the indifference and sometimes even to the persecution of their own countrymen.

 Thomas Paine

Let us for instance take one of the early workers in this country, one who had left his own land to serve America -- I speak of Tom Paine, an Englishman from a little provincial town -- a Quaker, educated under the very shadow of the scaffold and the church. It is said that when he was a mere child he used to go with his father to Quaker meetings, and on one occasion as he was about to enter the little meeting-house he was horrified to hear the screams and groans of those who were being carried to the scaffold. Another time it is said that he was on his way to school one morning, just after having parted from his mother, who had impressed upon his check a kiss and upon his mind the idea that he must study and learn to be a good man that he might help his fellows, when he saw a young woman being led to the scaffold -- a mere girl about sixteen years of age -- who was to be put to death. Her face was besmeared with tar, and also her clothing, and in her agony she was raising her hands and imploring God for mercy. Later he heard that this woman was strangled and afterwards set fire to and burned for an hour.

It was such sights as these that affected Tom Paine even in his early boyhood and created in his heart an urge to do something to lift the burdens of humanity and to give them an opportunity to lead a larger life, to have a better understanding of the real meaning of liberty. He felt himself impelled to come to America and serve. From whence came his power? Theosophy tells us that it was from the "Knower," from the higher self. The protest in his nature against these horrors right under the shadow of the churches, created an exceptional love for his fellows and a pity and compassion that aroused the immortal self into action.

We find in the history of Tom Paine's life that he made many efforts to free himself from conditions that bound him, when in England, in order that he might embark upon his mission of working for humanity; but for years he was confronted with well-nigh insurmountable obstacles. Every time he took a step forward towards the work he hoped to do, new difficulties would arise to throw him back; yet in spite of all his disappointments and trying experiences, and the delay, he ultimately found himself in America. He knew nothing about this country being an old country -- its inner atmosphere still holding imprints of an ancient civilization. He thought it was new; yet that inner power that I have dwelt upon must have given him some glimpses of great possibilities here in our land, greater perhaps than he ever spoke of.

He showed the spirit of brotherly love when he joined the Americans and helped them in their efforts for freedom. At that time perhaps he had not the light nor the power to do anything more. Even the worst enemies that he had -- those who later sought to destroy his influence for good -- have nothing derogatory to say of his splendid service in helping America in her many difficulties. He was a marked man among the best of that time, and if you will read Moncure Conway's work, which gives the real life of Thomas Paine, you will find that he was a light even among the most eminent of that day, and a power who was respected by them.

I recall one occasion when President Jefferson, shortly after he had consummated the purchase of Louisiana, put the question to Thomas Paine as to what place religion was to play in America, and Paine wrote Jefferson a letter in which he said: "Creeds and dogmas have no place in America, but all religions have civic rights, and the American people should be accorded the greatest tolerance in all matters of belief." Here was a flash of the "Knower" -- of the higher self. His unselfish life and determined effort to work for the highest possibilities of this country brought him into closer touch with his immortal self, the higher ego, and it manifested at this time; and again and again did Paine in his writings and public speech, and in his association with the pioneers of that day, give evidence of the soul-life within, in his efforts to impress upon them the larger interpretation of liberty and the rights of man.

While he was not accorded the privilege of being a signer of the Constitution or of the Declaration of Independence, there is no question in the unprejudiced minds who have studied his life and who know of his association with his fellows in building for better things for this country, that he influenced to a very large degree the splendid and liberal thought manifested in these great documents.

Later, in France and in England, in public and private life, he worked to create a love for America among the people of those countries, and he dignified his efforts by his own life. Finally he returned to his adopted country, and just at the time when he was most needed, and when he could have served even better than before, his persecution began. There is no time now to go into it in detail, but this man, a close friend and associate of our revered George Washington, was defeated in his unselfish purposes for America by that sort of unjust treatment which has so often been the melancholy reward of some of the greatest lights of past and present epochs.

He was hunted down and almost mobbed because he dared to think away from the limitations of dogmas and creeds, and to point out a broader and more enlightened path for young America to follow. His treatment was strikingly similar to that accorded to H. P. Blavatsky, the Foundress of the Theosophical Society, when she came to this country in 1875 to bring a spiritual light that would help break the growing influence of materialism. Yes, she too was persecuted.

One of the greatest proofs of Paine's pure, strong, and noble life was the way he retained his dignity all through those unhappy years of loneliness here in America. It is said that up to the time of his death he ever showed his devotion to his adopted country. It is this spirit of Tom Paine's and others like him that we need today.

The American Spirit Reborn

If we are to advance as a people, if we are to make America the desire of the world, the enlightened land of all lands, we must, I repeat it, have a deeper understanding of the meaning of liberty. We must live more in consonance with the inspiration of true patriotism, of higher knowledge and of larger sympathies, if we are to reach that point of understanding which the "inner self," the "Knower," gives to each human soul. Then we shall enter the field of thought and effort in our private and national life with a new courage, and fashion for ourselves and our country a new destiny. We would inevitably make an advance spiritually, not alone for ourselves, but also for those to follow us.

True it is, that from the early days down to the present time, men and women have arisen in America at different periods and have stepped forth and served in a right splendid way. But as I have said before, in spite of all their efforts they have only half served in comparison with what they might have done, because they were unacquainted with their higher natures. Yes, we have had our great statesmen, our great humanitarians, educators, philanthropists, authors and artists, yet greater would they have been, and more enduring their influence, had they held within themselves that knowledge that can only come from following the path of the true teachings, from finding the eternal self within. Our poor humanity is calling for a more positive accentuation of the true spirit of liberty, for more enlightenment, and for a greater strength.

Our Treatment of the Indians

Let us turn to our treatment of the Indians. Have we not evidences throughout the history of our warfares with them that there was an absence of the real knowledge of how to treat them justly? Bloodshed could have been averted, impossible as it may seem to some, if our people, in dealing with the Indians, could have then known of the resources men hold within themselves to make peace without warfare. Do you believe that if Christ or any others of the great teachers who preceded him, had been identified with our country's affairs at that time, death-dealing force would have been used with the American Indians?

We must remember that this great country was their territory and that they were fighting to protect their lands, their wives, their children, and their homes; and their brothers, the white men, were finally looked upon by them as demons who were robbing them of all their rights. If charity, or sympathy, or consideration is to be accorded to either side -- to the whites or to the Indians -- should it not be to the latter? Thus the Indians, who are an integral part of the human family, and who are our brothers in fact, have lost great opportunities to gain from us a knowledge which is needed for their spiritual and material progress; and I fear that karma will yet bring home to us bitter lessons for our unbrotherly acts in this connection, and that these lessons will compel us to feel the meaning of the fateful words: "As ye sow, so must ye also reap." Surely we are not proud of this record in our history, for we know we have failed in our dealings with the native Americans to live up to Christ's simple teaching, "Love ye one another."

The American Civil War

And then we come to our great Civil War -- where brothers were pitted against brothers, and the soil of our fair land reddened with the blood of a terrible conflict. If we look carefully into the history of this war, we shall find that those who were in positions of influence at that time, having the power to stay the hand of disintegration, went to church as usual on Sunday and prayed to their God to lift the sins of the people; yet on week days they preached war as the only means to rectify a mistake among their countrymen. We see here plainly that in spite of their churches, they failed to recognize the essential divinity in all men, that they ignored those inner powers which could have been evoked to bring about the desired results peacefully, and which would have freed the slaves under conditions of permanent benefit to all. It is true that the slaves were indeed freed on the material plane, but have they had that help and life that was their heritage as men? Have they received from us the education needed by them? In conducting this war did we not sacrifice thousands and thousands of men, who were the flower of their country -- the very men who today are needed to guide the best interests of our Republic, and who might be living more spiritually than we?

The Spanish-American War

In the Spanish-American War, have you ever thought how long we waited before we acted? Is it not easy to see that if the teachings of Theosophy, which open the mind to its great possibilities, had been universally accepted, even this war might have been closed at an early date, through the efforts of American peacemakers, or even that there might have been no war at all? For surely, if real knowledge had been ours as a people, we should have had the power to evoke the qualities of the higher self, and to step forth and command the situation peacefully.

The American people have not only been drifting away from their possibilities, but also through their acts of omission and commission and their ignorance of their power to do better things, they have permitted forces to take root in our country which are placing serious obstacles, not only in our paths, but in the paths of the coming generations. Note the different "isms" and fads that are presented to us today by ignorant minds in the name of religion, with the "dollar-and-cent" label tacked on to them. Note also the many kinds of unwholesome literature published and sent broadcast -- literature which should never be allowed entrance into any home. And note the fantastic teachings of all kinds that are introduced by self-styled teachers, bewildering the minds of men and turning them away from the true path of knowledge and the practical life. No country is as cursed as ours is in this respect. To me, this is license, not liberty.

America's Role in International Affairs

Another problem that comes to my mind tonight is the attitude of the American people as regards the Oriental question. What strains we put upon our country and upon the Japanese people, by this agitation, and what injustice has been done by a certain class of our fellow men, who to me seem to have lost sight of that quality of impartial justice which should be held as a principle of ethics by every true citizen of America!

And what are we now doing in connection with the European War? Are we not, in a very true sense, active factors in this great struggle? Are we not permitting the exportation of millions of dollars worth of war equipments and ammunition to the warring nations every week? What for? To bring about peace? To help mankind? To establish peace on earth and good will to men? Nay, I say. But we, the American people, for the sake of gain and through our love of the almighty dollar, are aiding in the warfare of those European countries and are indirectly active factors in the daily slaughter. Instead of insisting that our government shall prohibit the exportation of war material to any country, we are working contrary to all the principles of justice, peace, and true brotherhood by our passivity, and we are increasing that separateness in the human family which all true-hearted men deplore.

Let us remember that every bullet that is made in America under our flag and is sent over to Europe, may mean death to some human being, and that the word "Death" is written on every rifle and on every gun and in every bit of powder that is exported.

To him who views this word-picture of mine from one angle only, it may not seem so appalling, but let us look at it from all sides, and then we cannot conscientiously sit still and wait longer without protesting. We cannot really pride ourselves on being liberty-loving people, can we? Oh, the shame of it! This insanity of the age! That such a travesty on justice and brotherhood should exist!

Diplomats and politicians may see no virtue in my statements or pleadings. They may even sneer at the possibility of anyone believing that the American people have the power to stay the hand of the demon of war. But let us hold the future of our fair country in our own hands more wisely. Tonight we have been challenged in a new way with some telling truths, which Theosophy has enabled me to place before you, and the question is, how are we going to meet the challenge? Does not the responsibility rest with us all?

Let me assure you that America has the power to call a halt on the warring countries, and to demand that calmer counsels shall prevail, counsels that would bring about an equitable adjustment before it is too late. Yes, let us rise in protest and call on our American government to demand that this abominable war cease.

The American people, in my opinion, should not depend so much upon prayer for peace, as action. They must work for it. One cannot conscientiously give all his time to his personal interests when this awful condition of war remains as it is.

Have we as a people so lost faith in ourselves that we do not believe that the spirit of brotherly love and a higher expression of knowledge could be ours? If this is so, let us turn to the next means at hand that may possibly arouse us, and depend upon the old theological idea of fear, if we cannot look higher. Let me remind you that your human interests are at stake, and that the law of karma will not overlook you in any acts of omission at this time. Individually and collectively we must balance our acts of neglect with the laws of justice. If the law of love cannot evoke our protest, fear may. For we are yet quite human and yet very selfish, and karma demands that we must take our medicine whether we will it or not.

Surely it is not possible for any of my listeners tonight to say that in my short discourse I have lost sight of the positive human constructive elements in our country which have been working from its first settlement, and will continue so to work; or that I have overlooked many of the excellent virtues of our American people. But because our country and our people have the possibilities of so much greater achievements, I have presented some of these unpleasant word-pictures for your consideration, that you may see, ere too late, that it is time for us to turn about and to cultivate a new and higher ideal in our American life -- an ideal in time to become a powerful international factor, not merely national, for the readjustment of the many deplorable conditions that the great human family has to meet.

America with its ancient prehistoric glory urging it forward in the silences, the experiences we have gained through past lessons, and with its great territory and its promising people, is the center of attraction for the world today; and the despairing people of all countries are waiting for it to act on some high line of effort towards lifting the burden of war from Europe -- our motherland. May I ask you, dare we wait longer, while thousands of our brothers across the water are being sacrificed for the love of territory, or power, or both? Can we not see that it will take only a few months more of this terrible warfare to have the greater part of Europe desolate? Does it not seem as if few of the people will be left to protect their homes or to rebuild the foundation of their life? There will be lunatics and cripples, and homeless widows and orphans, and the helpless aged -- but where will be the flower? The heart-life of the world must indeed be shut out from us all, if we continue to permit conditions to exist as they do today.

I am enthused with the picture of one superb and telling protest by the American people in this connection, which would arouse higher purposes in all walks of life, and a new element of hope and correction would be born to meet the unrest, the despair, the crime, and the vice of our present age. Yes, all people are looking upon America as the world's hope. Heretofore they have been imbued with the idea that ours was a great country to get rich in, and the emigration that has come to our shores has been adding a force, we will admit, to the material interests of America, but alas! is there any evidence that our spiritual life and a higher refinement are ours through their coming, or that we have inspired people to come to America because of our spiritual life and light?

The truth is that the whole world, in a sense, is psychologized with the love of the all-powerful dollar, and this love has bred a selfishness and a cold indifference among us that hold us fettered. The dollar is the great psychological agent of the twentieth century. It has stood between man and his higher interests and has become such a part of the lives of the people that it has separated them from their greatest opportunities, and from each other.

"Now what can we do?" I hear you say. "We desire to bring about a change for the good of our country and our people, and to help our unfortunate brothers across the water." My answer is, Take a step forward. Do not lose a moment in writing, each of you, your protest to our government and insisting that some action be taken to prevent the exportation of ammunition and of war equipment to aid in the European conflict. And you should endeavor to influence others to do the same. This will prove to be a stepping-stone to a new order of effort.

Yes, what we need today is a united effort to evoke the discriminating power. This light is the power of "The Knower," the higher self, that light which lighteth every man. Yes, let us bring this inner strength and glory into everyday affairs, and inaugurate a new effort for the establishment of the beginning of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Let us not falter, but let us with determined will move on unafraid. Let us remember that the teachers of old declared that we had godlike powers, and that it is our highest duty to use them in the service of our fellows. With more courage than ever before, let us then bestir ourselves to think in a new way and evoke the essential divinity within us that, in truth, we may serve in a new way. Thus we shall live to make our America the fairest of all lands, the land of true liberty.


Cast your eyes around. You will behold a Christian civilization in which a frantic and merciless battle of man against man is not only the distinguishing feature, but the acknowledged principle for the survival of the fittest. -- H. P. Blavatsky

Address No. 4