Let’s start off by defining some terms.
According to Google, Theosophy is “any of a number of philosophies maintaining that a knowledge of God may be achieved through spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition, or special individual relations, especially the movement founded in 1875 as the Theosophical Society by Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907).”
Theravada means, “School of the Elders,” the conservative form of Buddhism that follows the oldest teachings of Siddhattha Gotama, also known as the Buddha. This tradition primarily relies on the Pali Canon.
Buddhism: The teachings of the Buddhas, a fully enlightened being. There have been many past Buddhas and will be many future Buddhas.
It seems that nowadays, very few people are familiar with theosophy and even less with the connection between Buddhism and Theosophy. Therefore, for those who don’t, I’ll start off with a little history. The Theosophical movement was started by Helena Blavatsky. It’s a perennial movement set on discovering the esoteric teachings which are the essence of true science, philosophy and religion. It claims that there is but one reality and that throughout time the Truth of this reality has been discovered by various cultures and often times kept secret due to protecting those following it and the lack of people capable of understanding its depths.
In 1880, Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott (also a founder of the Theosophical Society) converted to Buddhism in Sri Lanka, taking Pancasila, also known as the five precepts in Buddhism. This made them one of the first public figures to convert to Buddhism in the United States. Blavatsky claimed that the teachings of Theosophy came from Buddhist ascended masters, so converting in such a public way in Sri Lanka was quite understandable. They believed that Siddhattha Gotama was a “Master-Adept” and instead of fitting into the traditional Theravada view, they incorporated an esoteric doctrine which, in my view, was very much lacking in traditional Theravada.
This conversion led to a revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, taking what was two Buddhist schools in the entire country, to 205 schools in 1907. Olcott also helped get Buddhism established after the British left. This was a critical time in Sri Lanka’s history because they had been under a devastating Christian missionary effort since the British had taken control. Theosophy then went on to help unify all the different sects of Buddhism, which helped establish Buddhism as a whole as a powerful global religion. The last little point I will add here is the Theosophy also established Bodh Gaya (which is said to be where the Buddha became enlightened) and was a huge influence on Alan Watts (he joined the Buddhist Theosophical Lodge at 15).
Now that we’ve gone through all that, as some of you may have already noticed, I’m not a traditional Theravada Buddhist. I believe in a number of esoteric teachings such as subtle bodies and a more expansive view of karma, which has led a number of people to believe I’m a Mahayana Buddhist. Theosophy unites Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Science, Philosophy, religion and many other traditions into one system. In the West, these things are so disintegrated that to have one overlapping the other is seen as blasphemy. However, what I believe is that there is one reality and that true science, philosophy and religion should be united in explaining this one reality. For this reason alone, I think calling myself a Mahayana Buddhist doesn’t make much sense.
Even though Theosophy did help establish Theravada Buddhism in the west and Sri Lanka, there are a lot of things where these two philosophies seem to be at odds. In response, I will just say that I reject most of the commentary of the Pali Cannon and have not found any contradictions when looking at the text at face value that I feel could not be reinterpreted in the light of Theosophy. One of the common arguments against this is that the Buddha taught with “an open hand,” meaning that there were no secret esoteric teachings. However, it is clearly stated that the Buddha taught according to what the student needed and I believe that what was spread out to the general population in the Pali Cannon was meant for the average level of consciousness at the time of the Buddha, which I don’t believe was very high.
This doesn’t mean that these teachings are less valuable as all spiritual practice is built on a strong foundation, which Theravada Buddhism provides, but teaching about subtle bodies or detailed instructions on karma would have just been more of a distraction than anything else and I believe it was left out for this reason. I really do believe that the True teaching of Gotama the Buddha was lost after 500 years like the Pali Cannon itself states, and yet, what remains is still of immense value, especially when understood in the light of Theosophy. Down the line, I plan on writing more about how I think Theosophy, Buddhism, Science, Psychology and so many other things all interact, but I think I’ll just leave this to a future date.
One last point before we leave, I reject what the Theosophical Society became after Blavatsky died. I believe it didn’t take long before the whole organization became corrupt and it’s for this reason that I only follow the original Theosophical teaching set by the Theosophical Lodge. With that said, may you all be happy, peaceful and liberated.