A Treasury of Great Ideas

By Raymond Rugland

The Esoteric Tradition by G. de Purucker, published in 1935, is my favorite book. I will try to share with you the value it has for me. When I entered college at age 17, I decided to take theosophy seriously enough to enroll in the correspondence course sponsored by the Theosophical Society. After many months I was introduced to the ET and its author. Dr. de Purucker was an enthusiast when it came to the matter of sharing theosophy with the world. This revealed itself in his eyes, his handshake, and in his utter trust in the concept of universal brotherhood. He had been leader about eighteen months when he told an audience:

A Theosophical lecturer speaks under difficulties always. A great many people don't know what Theosophy really is. They think that it is some strange, outlandish, possibly even weird, form of belief; instead of being, as it truly is, a philosophy-religion-science giving in reasoned formulation truths about the structure, the operations, the physiology, and the psychology, of the Universe. In other words, it answers the great questions which all thinking men put, not only to their own souls, but in the silences ask of that encompassing Spirit of Truth which some men call 'God' and others 'Nature,' and to which others give no name at all. -- Questions We All Ask 2:338

Men and women, for the most part, however, have only faint adumbrations of their sublime destiny.

In the "Dedication" of The Esoteric Tradition we are touched by a profound sense of depth and mystery:

To those who have bestowed the Priceless,
who have given immeasurably,
and to their Sublime Cause,
these volumes are offered with measureless
reverence and devotion.

Dr. de Purucker then opens with "To the Reader," which makes clear what the book is about. Above all, he asks the reader to assume the responsibility of thinking for himself and abiding by those results. He reminds us that all grows and changes, that countless are the beings that precede and follow us on the ladder of evolution. On this ladder every learner is a teacher and every teacher is a learner. He ends this section with:

Iti maya srutam -- "Thus have I heard." "I pass on what has been given to me and in the manner I have received it. Not otherwise." -- 1:x

The esoteric tradition itself -- also known as the wisdom-religion, the secret doctrine, the God-religion -- is based on a living and intelligent universe which is our home and within which our destiny is fulfilled. By expansion of our awareness and consciousness we can, in time, become universal in our understanding and fulfill our responsibility. Dr. de Purucker starts his main presentation with easy to understand teachings and leads into the more difficult and complex, appealing not only to reason but also to intuition. He encourages the student to "look within" where true enlightenment abides. No lesson is ever completely mastered until thought becomes action and we become what we seek to know.

The subjects covered in depth here are many: theosophy, the mother of religions, philosophies, and esoteric sciences; allegory and mystical symbolism; the secret doctrine of Gautama Buddha; worlds visible and invisible; the evolutionary pathway to the gods; behind the veils with science; heavens and hells; reimbodiment; the astral light; death and after, a study of consciousness; circulations of the cosmos; mysteries of man's inner nature; great seers versus visionaries; and the esoteric schools.

Thinking back to the "Dedication": Among those who have bestowed the Priceless, who have given immeasurably, are those some call our Elder Brothers. Two living human beings who fit this description sent H. P. Blavatsky as their messenger. In her introductory work to the public, Isis Unveiled (1877), she makes reference to these gentlemen in her first sentence: "The work now submitted to public judgment is the fruit of a somewhat intimate acquaintance with Eastern adepts and study of their science." A number of their letters written between 1880 and 1884 were published in 1923 as The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. Dr. de Purucker makes an extract from one of these to reveal part of the original impetus behind what has been called "the greatest Movement of the Age":

The truths and mysteries of occultism constitute, indeed, a body of the highest spiritual importance, at once profound and practical for the world at large. Yet, it is not as a mere addition to the tangled mass of theory or speculation in the world of science that they are being given to you, but for their practical bearing on the interests of mankind. The terms "unscientific," "impossible," "hallucination," "impostor," have hitherto been used in a very loose, careless way, as implying in the occult phenomena something either mysterious and abnormal, or a premeditated imposture. And this is why our chiefs have determined to shed upon a few recipient minds more light upon the subject, . . . The wiseacres say: "The age of miracles is past," but we answer, "it never existed!" . . . [These truths] have to prove both destructive and constructive -- destructive in the pernicious errors of the past, in the old creeds and superstitions which suffocate in their poisonous embrace like the Mexican weed nigh all mankind; but constructive of new institutions of a genuine, practical Brotherhood of Humanity where all will become co-workers of nature, will work for the good of mankind with and through the higher planetary Spirits -- the only "Spirits" we believe in. . . . "Ideas rule the world"; and as men's minds receive new ideas, laying aside the old and effete the world (will) advance; mighty revolutions (will) spring from them; institutions (aye, and even creeds and powers, they may add) -- will crumble before their onward march. . . . these ideas touch upon the most momentous subjects. -- quoted in The Esoteric Tradition 1:ix

Dr. de Purucker sums up well the effort of the Theosophical Society since its founding in publishing books and magazines and in holding public lectures and study groups: "Verily, it is these 'universal ideas' that all should study, and which by their influence over human minds will bring about the change in human consciousness that all true Theosophists work for and aspire towards, thus helping in the bringing about of that which the Theosophical Society was originally founded in 1875 to introduce" (ibid.).

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)

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