The Essence by Harvey Tordoff

Notes from a talk presented at the Blavatsky Weekend, Tekels Park, 10 March 2001 (illustrated by readings from The Secret Doctrine & O Lanoo!).

"And with the loss of his third eye Man lost sight of the perfect harmony of the Universe" (O Lanoo! ~ Stanza X, Verse 42)

In the July 1999 edition of Insight our National President, in commenting on the forthcoming 125th Anniversary of the Society, says: "It is time to consider how we are going to communicate our message."

I understand that we have approximately 30,000 members. Given ten minutes on their local radio, I wonder how many would be able to get our message across? I wonder if there is a general acceptance within the Society as to what the message is? When Christian missionaries went to Africa they had a very simple two-fold message: God is love, and God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to save all who would accept Jesus into their heart. This was backed up with stories and parables, and the message was so simple that it crossed the most amazing cultural and ethnic divides. Today, long after the old empire-builders were sent packing, there are still millions of Christians in Africa.

Theosophy, as traditionally presented, is complex. I have heard members of long-standing blame themselves for their lack of understanding, but it is not their fault. If we could simplify theosophy for ourselves then we would have a better chance of communicating with others. Can we come up with a simple message?

In looking at 'essence' tonight I hope we can come up some pointers.

I want you to imagine a room in a building somewhere ~ perhaps like this room here ~ and a group of people discussing a book which suggests that all life is connected; that the earth is actually an eco-system, called Gaia, where every living being, and every inanimate object, are interconnected and interdependent; that the death of a butterfly in South America changes the eco-system and therefore our lives in Europe are altered in some subtle way.

"Wow, what a concept!"
"A bit like John Donne ~ For whom the Bell Tolls!"
"What kind of a butterfly do they mean?"
"Does it make a difference if the butterfly is killed or dies a natural death?"
"John Who? I thought it was Ernest Hemingway who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls."
"But what is the point of a butterfly anyway?"

And so it goes on.

In pursuing sidetracks that might increase their knowledge they lose sight of the essence ~ that all life is connected. We cannot have wisdom without knowledge, but the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is not going to help the individual or the world. It might help our understanding of the bigger picture to know the hierarchy of archangels, or the sequence of globes and monads, so by all means let's look at them. But let's not lose sight of the bigger picture, for without that we have no chance of discovering the essence, and without the essence we miss the point.

We could embark on a discussion on what we mean by 'Essence', but that would be no more helpful than searching for the point of a butterfly's existence. Let's settle for something like: "the substance of which something consists" or "the intrinsic nature or character of something".

In the Secret Doctrine HP Blavatsky uses the word with a capital E, as in Divine Essence, or on P273 (i) when she attempts to define "the central point from which all emerged ~ the One homogenous divine Substance-Principle" she says "The Universe is the periodic manifestation of this unknown Absolute Essence".

HPB also uses the word in several places without a capital E, and that is what I would like to talk about tonight.

As in:
'the essence of the Secret Doctrine'
and then trace that to:
'the essence of theosophy
and trace that to:
'the essence of the Society'
and trace that to:
'the essence of this weekend'
and perhaps even look at:
'the essence of our lives'.
The starting point, as it is for most things, is the SD!

Secret Doctrine
For me the essence of the SD can be found in the aim of the book, which HPB describes in her preface: "To show that Nature is not a fortuitous concurrence of atoms, and to assign to man his rightful place in the scheme of the Universe." Of course, being HPB she does not stop there, but that is enough to be going on with.

She shows this by means of the Book of Dzyan. In Cosmogenesis, Part l follows and explains the Stanzas; Part ll helps us understand the terms and symbols used in Part l; and in Part lll HPB defends her stance against the critics of her day and (dare I say it?) is now less relevant. Anthropogenesis has a similar construction.

Which means that to find the essence of the SD we have to look for the essence of the Book of Dzyan ~ without, of course, losing site of the bigger picture. What is the bigger picture of Dzyan? O Lanoo! ~ of course! Or less facetiously, the story of God, Mankind and the Universe. The original text, written in that ancient sacerdotal language older than Sanskrit, has layers of meaning. I'm not sure that HPB spells it out, but it seems likely that each stanza has seven meanings. Some of these subtle meanings are lost in the translation into English, which is why HPB spends so much time explaining and talking around each verse. In O Lanoo! I settled for the basic story, in plain English, and to present two or three levels I had to say the same thing two or three different ways.

So, we read the SD, or Dzyan, or OL! We learn our own history. Very interesting, but so what? So we look for the essence. Which for me is that: the concurrence of atoms in our bodies is part of an unfolding pattern in the evolution of the universe. And the universe is a manifestation of the Divine Essence.

Thus: you and me, in this room; the good people of Camberley, out there; and farther afield, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; the poor in Bangladesh; the rich and famous in Hollywood; the Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East. We are all part of the Divine Essence, the concurrence of atoms in our bodies part of an unfolding pattern in the evolution of the universe.

So can we take that 'essence' into Theosophy? Using its basic etymological meaning of 'Divine Wisdom' can we say that the essence of Theosophy is any different to that of the SD? Undoubtedly, the SD is not the sum total of all divine wisdom, but unless the SD misrepresents the truth the essence must be the same: we might not be able to understand the entire Cosmic Plan but: We are all of us connected, our lives part of the evolution of God.

Theosophical Society
How does that essence of the SD, of Theosophy itself, compare with the Society to which we belong? I should say, by the way, that although I have worked with the SD for thirty years, and feel I have something to say, I have only been a member of the Society for a few weeks, so on this I am not an authority. In fact, you might wish to ignore all that I am going to say on the subject!

But before I talk about the Society I want to tell you a little story. Sue and I both identify with the Tibetan cause. We have visited Tibet, and we support the relief work carried out by ROKPA. A few years ago Sue had the bright idea of raising funds by way of a Cloutie Tree. We nominated an alder with lots of low branches, just outside our gate on a popular path round Derwentwater. We put a notice on the gatepost, explaining what it was all about, and invited each person to make a wish or say a prayer as they tied on the ribbon. We provided ribbons, asked for donations and walkers tied ribbons to the tree and left £4800 in the money box. We had quite a few letters from people who were touched by the idea, including one from a Catholic nun from a near-by school who had brought her class of children to see the tree. She said how pleased she was to see the word 'prayer' being used outside a church. She thought it was a courageous thing to do 'in this day and age'.

I'll come back to that in a minute, but moving on to the Society:
The Rules of 1880 stated: "The object is further to establish a universal brotherhood founded on the general belief in the Great First Cause and in the Divine Son-ship of the spirit of man, and hence in the immortality of that spirit and the fundamental brotherhood of the human race."
The 'general belief' is undoubtedly the same as the essence of the SD, of Theosophy, but (it seems to me) the first part, the basic object is corrupted: "To establish a universal brotherhood". This wisdom sounds much more Human than Divine. We cannot 'establish' a universal brotherhood' ~ there is de facto a universal brotherhood. What this 'objective' seeks to do is to create a division: those who are members of the Society and those who are not. And divisions undermine the very essence of theosophy.

And there's more!
This fundamental objective has since been modified and we now seek:
"to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity,
to encourage the study of comparative religions, philosophy and science,
to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man."

Gone are the references to 'Great First Cause', 'Divine Son-ship', 'spirit of man', 'immortality of the spirit'. Perhaps we find it uncomfortable to talk about such things in polite society. In other words we have lost sight of the essence of theosophy, of the SD.

Annie Besant once said: "Never pretend to believe a truth which you are not willing to act out in the world . . . for truth is only truth when you have learned to live it."
Sue and I had the courage to invite strangers to say a prayer, although we didn't think of it as courage. But as a Society, it seems we no longer have the courage to talk about Spirit and Immortality.

Sadly, we have retained the division, although we now talk about a 'nucleus' of the brotherhood. We want to create an 'elite' within the universal brotherhood of humanity "to study and investigate". And the subject of our studies and investigations is not even theosophy. We are to study comparative religions, philosophy, science, the powers latent in man. This seems a far cry from HPB's statement in The Key to Theosophy: "The Society was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities."

I suggest that the Society should be less about 'we members' and more about humankind. I hold back from defining the essence of the Society ~ that should come from someone who has been a member for more than six weeks ~ but perhaps it should be based on the aim: "To facilitate and encourage more general awareness of the doctrine of theosophy."

This Weekend
We all of us have some knowledge and understanding of theosophy. Strangely, in studying the SD in more depth we do not seem to be conforming with the objects of the Society (which do not mention the study of theosophy!) but surely what we are doing is making each and everyone of us a better receptacle for Divine Wisdom. And that has to be worthwhile. But is that enough? Is that the essence of a SD weekend?

I suggest that we need to look further; that we are here to deepen our understanding so that we might do something with it: tomorrow, next week, all of our lives. Our deepened understanding is not an end in itself, merely a means to an end. What should we do with it? As HPB said: "Assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists".

Our Lives
Which brings us to the essence of our lives. Day after day we become bogged down with the mundane grind of living. Some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy a vocation, in which case we might see the essence as helping patients in Intensive Care, or discovering the grooming habits of Tyrannosaurus Rex, or whatever. Most of us would settle for being a good citizen, a good partner, a good parent. It is not easy to distance ourselves sufficiently to be objective and identify the essence. But I think the answer lies in Dzyan. Or more readily accessibly, in O Lanoo!

That unknowable, omnipresent nothingness of the timelessness before big bang transformed into the manifested universe. One day the manifested universe will return to unknowable, omnipresent nothingness. Perhaps it will be different. In human terms, it would seem pointless were it not to be different, but this is beyond human terms, so let's leave that for the academics. What we do know is that within that manifested universe Spirit travels in our lives through Time, Space and Matter to gain self-awareness and wisdom through experience. We, our lives, are part of that spiritual journey.

The essence of our lives is spiritual growth.
And because we in this room are not separated from each other, or from the people of Camberley, or Northern Ireland, or Bangladesh, or the Middle East, we could extend this definition of the essence of our lives: "To nurture spiritual growth in self whilst encouraging and facilitating spiritual growth in others."