Theosophy is a spiritual concept that was formed in 1875 in New York, USA. It was founded by Helena Blavatsky who was a Russian and two Americans, Henry Olcott and William Quan Judge. It draws its teachings from Blavatsky’s writings and incorporates concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity. The term “theosophy” comes from the Greek word “theosophia”, which which means Divine Wisdom. In Theosophy, there is a belief that there exists an ancient and secretive brotherhood of saints known as the Masters. These Masters have supernatural powers and they are behind the formation of the modern Theosophical movement. They are attempting to revive knowledge of an ancient religion once found across the world and which will again come to eclipse the existing world religions. The most prominent Masters to appear in Theosophical literature are Kuthumi and Morya, with whom Blavatsky claimed to be in contact. Theosophy preaches the existence of a single, divine Absolute. Theosophy teaches that the purpose of human life is spiritual emancipation. It claims that the human soul undergoes reincarnation after death as per Law of Karma. It promotes values of universal brotherhood and social improvement. Theosophy played a significant role in bringing knowledge of South Asian religions to Western countries, as well as in encouraging cultural pride in various South Asian nations.
The Theosophical Society was formed by Blavatsky and Olcott to give an organisational impetus to Theosophy. According to Blavatsky’s teachings, many of the world’s religions have their origins in a universal ancient religion, a “secret doctrine” that was known to Plato and early Hindu sages and which continues to underpin the center of every religion. Theosophy tended to emphasize the importance of ancient texts over the popular ritual and custom found within various religious traditions. Blavatsky taught that Lord Maitreya would come to Earth as a messianic figure. Her ideas on this were expanded upon by two famous Theosophists, Annie Besant and Leadbeater. They claimed that Maitreya had previously incarnated onto the Earth as Krishna, a figure from Hindu mythology. Besant and Leadbeater claimed that Maitreya would again come to Earth by manifesting through an Indian boy named Jiddu Krishnamurti. They did find this boy and trained him as per principles of Theosophy. But eventually, Jiddu Krishnamurti separated himself from The Theosophical Society and went on to become a famous spiritual philosopher.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Theosophical Society appealed above all to an elite, educated, middle and upper-middle-class people. In India, it played an important role in the Indian independence movement and in the Buddhist revival. The Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi developed much of his interest in Hindu culture after being given a copy of the Bhagavad Gita by two Theosophists. Annie Besant gave full support for Indian home rule. She also supported home rule for Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.
Prominent scientists who had belonged to the Theosophical Society included the inventor Thomas Edison, the biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, and the chemist William Crookes. Also many writers, artists, painters were drawn towards Theosophy. A considerable amount of literature has been produced on the subject of Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. While many people look upon Theosophy and its works with doubt and credibility, we cannot deny the immense contribution Theosophy has given in influencing great people towards developing a better and humane world. Those interested in knowing more about Theosophy should read following books:
- The Secret Doctrine by Helena Blavatsky
- The Key to Theosophy by Helena Blavatsky
- The Ocean of Theosophy by William Quan Judge
- To Light a Thousand Lamps by Grace F. Knoche
- Exploring Theosophy, Published by The Theosophical Society