The Theosophist Jan 1965

Belief in God

Hugh Shearman

Among some members of the Theosophical Society the idea seems to have been current over many years that to believe in God is in some fashion to commit an impropriety. To believe in a "Divine Plenum" or "absolute and abstract Ens" or some other metaphysical expression is felt to be permissible, but not a belief in "God". The reason for this dismissal of one term in favor of another is probably based largely upon certain passages which can be found in The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett and elsewhere.

In Letter 10 of that volume there appears the frequently quoted passage:" Neither our philosophy nor ourselves believe in a God, least of all in one whose pronoun necessitates a capital H". The letter explains clearly the philosophical absurdity of an infinite and unchangeable God being at the same time an agent in human events. Later the letter refers to evil and says,

"I will point out the greatest, the chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that purpose humanity ever since that cause became a power. It is religion under what ever form and in whatsoever nation. It is the sacerdotal caste, the priesthood and the churches; it is in those illusions that man looks upon as sacred, that he has to search out the source of that multitude of evils which is the great curse of humanity and that almost overwhelms mankind. Ignorance created Gods and cunning took advantage of the opportunity."

The writer then goes to claim, rather implausibly and, some may feel, rather smugly, that the lamas of Tibet were altogether an exception to the adversely critical things he has to say about the priesthoods of other lands and religions, that they never accumulate wealth or exploit anybody.

Most of this letter was also published by C Jinarajadasa in his book The Early Teaching of the Master 18981- 1883, which appeared actually slightly before Barker's edition of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett. We have not, of course, got the original script of this letter which presumably once existed. All we have is a transcript in the handwriting of A. P. Sinnett, how accurate we do not know. This transcript is moreover healed with the word “Abridged”.

Another passage to the same effect is published in The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett as letter 134. It contains much the same repudiation of “faith in the gods and God and other superstitions,” “the gods the Hindus and Christians and Mahomed (ans) and all others of bigoted religious and sects worship” and appears to imply that to earn the writer's approbation one would have to become a Buddhist.

But Letter 134 is not really a Mahatma Letter at all, though sometimes quoted as such. The editors of the volume indicate that it is a letter written by Madame Blavatsky and never did exist in one of the well-known Mahatma scripts. It was first published by WQ Judge in 1893, and was repudiated by Colonel Olcott as not authentic. In the supplement to The Theosophist for April, 1895, Colonel Olcott said that this message was “a false one” and one which “grossly violates that basic principle of neutrality and eclecticism on which the T. S has built itself from the beginning”.

As against these two passages, which cannot be authenticated as coming from holograph Mahatma scripts, there are extant at Adyar the original Serapis letters addressed to Colonel Olcott; and a high proportion of these piously invoke the name of God. They also advocate prayer. They are reproduced in Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom (Second Series), edited by C Jinarajadasa.

To complete the confusion of anybody who seeks in these early writings the authority of a Master of the Wisdom for belief or unbelief in God, Madame Blavatsky herself repudiated the accuracy and authority of much that appeared in the Mahatma letters, because they were normally written or precipitated by persons other than the Masters whose names were signed to them and whose handwriting was reproduced in them. In 1886 she wrote about the letters of the Masters M. and K. H,

“How many a time was I (no Mahatma ) shocked and startled, burning with shame, when shown notes written in Their two handwritings - exhibiting mistakes in science, grammar and thoughts, expressed in such language that it perverted entirely the meaning originally intended”.

What she wrote is reproduced in the introduction to The Early Teaching of the Masters, 1881- 1883, and in The Theosophist for August, 1931. And in 1888 she declared in print in Lucifer (vol.iii, p.93) that

“It is hardly one out of hundred occult letters that is ever written by the hand of the Master in whose name and on whose behalf they are sent”.

Members of the Theosophical Society many thus feel free to dismiss the notion that in the Mahatma letters there is in the Society some ancient deposit of obligatory doctrine which they must consult before believing or disbelieving in anything. All this is not to say that the Mahatma letters do not contain illuminating passages on this subject as on many others, whatever the real provenance of the individual letters may be. On this subject of belief in God, there is the following most suggestive passage in Letter 22 of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett:

“Did you ever suspect that Universal, like finite human mind, might have two attributes or a dual power, one the voluntary and conscious and the other the involuntary and unconscious or the mechanical power? To reconcile the difficulty of many theistic and anti-theistic propositions, both these powers are a philosophical necessity”.

The writer identifies the unconscious attributes of Universal Mind with nature but says of its conscious aspect that

“the highest Planetary Spirit is as ignorant of [it] as we are, and the hypothesis will remain one even in Nirvana, as it is a mere inferential possibility, whether there or here”.

In effect and theologically speaking, one might say that, while the Masters encountered everywhere through nature evidence of the Immanence, they never, of course, came face to face with the Transcendance. And this may evoke some stirring speculations as to the role of man dwelling within this unconscious aspect of Universal Mind, which we venture here to refer to theologically as the Immanence. Can it be that it is somehow in and through us that the Transcendance, the conscious aspect of Universal Mind, achieves a certain kind of expression of Itself or of Himself? Vain as a question, no doubt; but perhaps not vain at some poetic level of thought.

We are told in The Voice of the Silence that mind is “the slayer of the Real”. In fact the “occult”, the hidden reality which underlies all that wee perceive, belongs to a higher and entirely different order of experience from that with which our personal and analytical minds are concerned. It is not such that it can be dealt with in terms of “either-or “.

The sage Kapila declared that Īshvara cannot be proved. In saying this, he pointed to the basic defect in all dogmatic theologies. Proof, as the human mind knows it, is concerned with things; and God is not by definition a thing or a personality among personalities. Again, our methods of proof are comparative and eliminative, but with what shall we compare the Incomparable, or how shall we reach by elimination That which is said to contain all?

Thus the idea of God is not a logical necessity of the discursive and argumentative mind, but rather a compelling poetic necessity of the life or “heart” or supra-rational side of human nature. It arises from an attempt to communicate experience but not from reason.

Of course the word God means something different to each person and it often stands for something limited and unreal. People tend to build their image of God according to their own stage of growth, cannot indeed do otherwise, a fact recorded in Colonel Ingersoll's wittily inverted aphorism “An honest God's the noblest work of man”. Often the image a projection of something in one's own unconscious make-up, and its cultivation is part of an effort to achieve some kind of psychological adjustment. Philosophical consistency is really beside the point in such a connection. A church or temple service or ceremony, in which the participants adjust their own relationship to their God image, can be psychologically creative in its effects and can lead towards the ultimate dissipations of the image through a growing appreciations of the real.

Of those whose hesitatingly concede a belief in God, many go on to explain that, of course, they do not mean an anthropomorphic God, a God made in the human image. But will not the occultist ask, “Why not?” If we have any sympathy with the notion, so often proposed to us in The Secret Doctrine, and elsewhere, that “Man is the microcosm of the Universe”, is it so unthinkable that anybody should hold, in effect, that the Universe, the One Life, may in some fashion be a “chap” like himself?

In the Jewish tradition, God created man in His own image. So man has naturally se about creating God in his. What else could one expect him to do? Some of the creations are not altogether pleasing, since they are the “poetic” creations of very unevolved people, not by any means our taste in poetry. But fundamentally it is a matter of taste. Experience is always relative to the experiencing individual, and the forms that people use to express it are secondary and indeed also relative in their turn.

A mere denial or disapproval of those images which are the normal human means of growth does not justify us in thinking that we can jump to the end of somebody else' train of thought or experience. Those who have outpassed a particular phase or limitation and become free of it do not disapprove of it, for they know that it was a necessary step upon the way that they went. Indeed compulsive disapproval and rejection often indicate a condition of bondage; and those who vigorously denounce a particular God image are psychologically unfree in relation to it. If we deny a certain kind of freedom to others, we ourselves may find that freedom is denied to us when we seem most to need it.

In an early statement, issued in 1876, to explain the character of the Theosophical Society, it was said that the Society is opposed to “every form of dogmatic theology”, thus repudiating any verbal finality about ultimates. But at the same time it expects its members to exemplify “the highest religious aspiration”.

The support of the religious principle, which the Society has always professed to offer, needs to be given with a fully sympathetic appreciations of the varied forms which religion takes, and this in turn requires some degree of commitment. To be wrapped up too carefully and too anxiously in refined negative definitions of one's own philosophical position can reduce one's religion to something metaphysical, etiolated and unreal, and can cut one off from an understanding of the religious life and experiences of other people. If we are concerned with the universal brotherhood of humanity and can feel that humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us, the religious attitudes and hopes of the common man down the ages, incompletely evolved though he be, have to be discovered through a certain sympathetic participation in them rather than through withdrawal to an ivory tower of negative definition.

Images are dissipated by growth from within not by attack or repudiation from without. It is only by living our beliefs and our disbeliefs, fully and now, that we can find their real value and significance. But belief is not just a mental matter. Its roots are deep in the psyche, in non- rational parts of our being. The mental denial of a particular image does not mean that its essential qualities and motivating power have been ended. Often, with the old image denied, these underlying psychological forces only embody themselves in new, subtler and less easily recognizable forms.

In the end our goal is Theosophy, which is surely a condition of neither believing nor disbelieving but of experiencing. In that experience authorities are ended. When we ourselves have experience - or perhaps we should say, when experience possesses us - it is no longer necessary for us to credit or discredit the reported experience of somebody else. When we have access to the Real, we do not need to go on making images of it.


More Hugh Shearman

A commentary on this interpratation of the history of the Mahatma Letters, Daniel Caldwell