The duty of the Theosophical Society is to keep alive in man his spiritual intuition. -- H. P. Blavatsky
This quotation from H. P. Blavatsky is chosen for a starting-point because it so aptly sums up her conception of the purpose of the Society she founded. The welfare of man is dependent on his recognition of the Divinity of his essential nature; and when he forgets this, he lapses into materialism. The Theosophical Society was founded for the express purpose of preventing materialism from proceeding to such lengths as to destroy civilization. Such movements have been initiated, with the same object, many other times in human history.
The word "spiritual" has unfortunately lost most of its meaning, through being used in a vague theological sense, and through being applied to things which are only psychic or astral. What it meant in the mind of H. P. Blavatsky is shown by the following:
From the Theosophist must radiate those higher spiritual forces which alone can regenerate his fellow-men. Great powers are often the impediments to spiritual and right conceptions.
This is enough to show that the spiritual intuition meant is not of the vague unpractical kind or of the vainglorious kind. And as to intuition:
Nature gives up her innermost secrets and imparts true wisdom only to him who seeks truth for its own sake and who craves knowledge in order to confer benefits on others, not on his own unimportant personality.
In short, it is clear that by "spiritual intuition" H. P. Blavatsky meant the will and the wisdom to do right and to live unselfishly. The relation between spiritual and other powers is shown here:
Through Theosophy man's mental and psychic growth will proceed in harmony with his moral improvement.
The order of words in this sentence unmistakably indicates that the moral improvement goes first; otherwise the order of the words would have been inverted. But in any case there is the most ample evidence throughout H. P. Blavatsky's writings that such was her meaning; upon no point is she more insistent. This indeed makes all the difference between Wisdom and false knowledge, or between the use and abuse of faculties. Man's whole life is a contest between right motives and the impulsive forces of selfish desire; and when the crisis comes, and he must choose definitely between these powers, as to which shall rule in the future, there is danger that he will choose wrongly and will make all his faculties subservient to desire. He thus enters upon a path which leads him ever further from the light, and he must either lose his Soul or painfully retrieve his steps. To guard against this possibility, it is essential to have a firm moral basis; or, in other words, to observe those Spiritual laws of nature which underlie all other laws.
The ancient doctrine, as thus stated, suggests a "heresy" -- namely, that mental and psychic development should be aimed at, in the hope, or under the plea, that moral improvement will be the logical sequel. This is proved both philosophically and by experience to be wrong. The history of people who have tried to follow this path is one of self-undoing and self-deception, ending in catastrophe. Perhaps the fault is licentiousness. Having failed to overcome this, yet loath to follow the beaten path of profligacy, seeking to gratify at once their desires and their self-respect, they at last take refuge in an unholy alliance of sanctity and indulgence, and deify their passions. Thus have been invented many profligate and licentious cults, since the world began, and instances of such we see in our day. Or perhaps the obstacle is love of approbation. This motive has, let us say, been lurking behind every thought and deed of the aspirant to knowledge; and instead of being rooted up, has been suffered to grow. At last it waxes strong enough to overthrow all better motives, and the aspirant forsakes the path of duty and enters on a career of self- glorification. But "The Devil drives a hard bargain," and the career is short-lived and full of tribulation. Desperate expedients are resorted to, in order to secure the coveted adulation, so necessary to life. Vanity, grown inordinate, warps the judgement and blinds the eyes to what otherwise would be obvious folly. In this way many wild and weird gospels have been preached, since time began; and such again are heard in our own day.
Theosophy is intended to benefit individuals and races; hence it teaches the eternal truth that moral principle always has the first place.
Important and excellent are the Spiritual powers in man, about which we have the following:
The Spirit in man -- the direct ray of the Universal Spirit -- has at last awakened. Let once man's immortal spirit take possession of the temple of his body, and his own divine humanity will redeem him. The Theosophist must himself be a center of spiritual action. The powers and forces of animal nature can be used by the selfish and revengeful, as much as by the unselfish and all- forgiving; the powers and forces of Spirit lend themselves only to the perfectly pure in heart -- and this is DIVINE MAGIC.
It has been said that sacrifice is the only real deed that man does. On such occasions the real Man comes forth and acts. The mind realizes that human nature contains something that is better than personal desire. And the deed is done in fulfillment of this higher incentive. We have had about enough of the doctrine that desire rules the world and is the final law of life. It is nothing of the sort; such a universal strife and struggle could but end in universal destruction. But it is easy to discern in nature the law of sacrifice, if we only look for it. Those who aspire to spiritual powers, said the Teacher, must be ready to recognize this fundamental law; otherwise their efforts will result merely in the intensification of their own weaknesses. The psychic, in alliance with the passional, is a terrible foe to man. Moreover, H. P. Blavatsky's message was for humanity; and the uprooting of selfishness is the only medicine for society. The development of psychic powers is no way to uproot selfishness.
To merit the honorable title of Theosophist, one must be an altruist above all, one ever ready to help equally foe or friend, to act rather than to speak, and to urge others to action while never losing an opportunity to work himself. Altruism is an integral part of self-development. The one terrible and only cause of the disturbance of Harmony is Selfishness. Theosophy gives to every sincere man or woman an ideal to live for. Theosophy is the quintessence of duty. Theosophy is the most serious movement of this age. Theosophy has to inculcate ethics. Theosophy leads to action -- enforced action, instead of mere intention and talk. Theosophy teaches self-abnegation, but does not teach rash and useless self-sacrifice, nor does it justify fanaticism. The Theosophical idea of charity means personal exertion for others.
The above quotations, which are but a few samples from an exhaustless mine, show beyond doubt H. P. Blavatsky's purpose, and also the source of her heroic strength. She surely was endowed with Spiritual powers. And these are the powers to be coveted by the aspirant to enlightenment. And what man or woman, who has felt the gloom and airlessness of self-satisfaction, the hopelessness of the pursuit of mere personal happiness, and who at times has glimpsed the nobler diviner possibilities of life, could be attracted by those ideals of self-development which only add to the burden of self-consciousness and shut the personality off more than ever from its unity with the race? The Divine Harmony is the only goal that will satisfy; and Duty, rather than pleasure, is the guide.
The Spiritual Intuition of humanity is indeed in need of being kept alive, if it is not to be strangled by the pursuit of false ideals.
We see individuals and nations losing all that is of real and lasting value, in order to grasp things which they cannot keep and whose value is fictitious and uncertain. Balzac said that the only things which gave life and vigor to individuals and to nations were great ideals, whereas nearly everybody was absorbed in himself and the age had become "utilitarian." It is a common enough saying, and we can hear it preached anywhere; but how about the remedy? Mere exhortations will not suffice. The Theosophical movement is a titanic force poured into modern society and it touches life at all points, awakening man to new activity on every plane. It is an intellectual force as well as a moral force -- and the two are really one, when each is sublimated.
The Theosophical Society will permeate the great mass of intelligent people with its noble ideals. The ethics of Theosophy are the essence and cream of the world's ethics. Theosophy alone can eradicate the selfishness ingrained in Western nations.
These quotations show what H. P. Blavatsky thought of the mission of Theosophy, and the following show how strongly she insisted on altruism as the indispensable quality of the aspirant to Wisdom.
Self-Knowledge is of loving deeds the child. We have never attained or even understood the powers of the human heart. Self-sacrifice is the highest standard of Theosophy. It is not by studying Occultism for selfish ends, for the gratification of ones personal ambition, pride, or vanity, that one can ever reach the true goal -- that of helping suffering humanity. Compassion is the Law of Laws -- eternal harmony. To feel "Compassion" without an adequate practical result is not Altruism. The first of the Theosophical duties is to do one's duty by all men. For every flower of love and charity you plant in your neighbor's garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from your own. There is no happiness for one who is ever thinking of self and forgetting all other selves. The duty -- let alone happiness -- of every Theosophist is certainly to help others to carry their burden. A Theosophist should gain the wisdom to help others effectually, not blindly. The human heart has not yet fully uttered itself. If unable to toil for humanity, work for the few who need your help. The principle of Brotherhood is one of the eternal truths that govern the world's progress. Step out of sunlight into shade to make more room for others.
The dynamic force that alone can move the world is Divine Compassion, with its twin, Divine Intelligence; and each one of these two evokes the other. Theosophy wages war against ignorance and mistaken beliefs, as well as against want of heart. Theosophy can stand by a man in that bitterness of soul when all life seems a cruel mockery -- a crisis that comes to every man of feeling, whatever his circumstances. This travail of the soul is like the pangs of a new birth; and though we may rebel, we can endure it and pass safely through it, if we know that back of the storm-clouds there shines the eternal light of the Spirit -- our very Self which is striving to reveal itself to the tottering mind.
Thus Theosophy is an invincible power, for it must touch men's hearts everywhere, and influence permanently even those who at first reject it. For the truth strikes home and is recognized. And Theosophy will survive all its counterfeits that are trying to live on it and exploit its benefits; for the latter are very mortal, while the truth is immortal. Finally let us give the following quotation from H. P. Blavatsky:
Do you not think there must be something very noble, very exalted, very true, behind the Society, when the leaders and the founders of the movement still continue to work for it with all their strength? They sacrifice to it all comfort, all worldly prosperity and success, even to their good name and reputation, to receive in return incessant and ceaseless obloquy, relentless persecution, untiring slander, constant ingratitude and misunderstanding of their best efforts, blows and buffets from all sides -- when by simply dropping their work they would find themselves immediately released from every responsibility, shielded from every further attack.
(From The Theosophical Path, March 1914, 6:145-49)