“Applied Theosophy by H.S. Olcott
Reprinted from The Theosophist June 1889
Published in 1930
Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Chennai [Madras] India The Theosophist Office, Adyar, Madras. India
PEOPLE speak of pure mathematics and applied mathematics; the former belong properly to the region of the ideal, not of the ideal in the sense of the fanciful, for there is nothing less fanciful than mathematics, but the ideal in the sense of the metaphysical, which is the really real; the latter is the very imperfect expression of the former in terms of matter, and roughly utilized for the purposes of this mundane existence. Now it is a question which demands the very serious attention of the Fellows of this Society, whether there does not exist something which bears the same relation to “pure Theosophy” that applied mathematics bear to pure. If “applied Theosophy” expresses any real idea, what is implied in the term? Can the Fellows of the Theosophical Society apply their knowledge to the affairs of our mundane existence? Is it possible to materialize, however imperfectly, the great mass of high aspirations and altruistic sentiments that have accumulated in the literature of Theosophy and in the souls of Theosophists, and which at present, for want of an outlet, seem to threaten us with a congestion of spirituality?
The first question that naturally arises is, whether the action of the Theosophical Society in every respect should be limited to its declared Objects. On the general principle that every one should mind his own business, the presumption is in favor of this view. No one on joining our Society relinquishes his right to take a personal part in any other movement for the benefit of his fellow men, nor escapes his duty of doing so. But every “Cause” has its special organization and organs, and pre-empted field of work, and if the Objects of the Theosophical Society are taken seriously by its Fellows, are they not enough to occupy very fully all the time and energy these are likely to be able to spare from the routine business of life? Of the three Objects, two are distinctly separated from everything else. The study of Eastern philosophies, religions and sciences, and the investigation of the obscure forces in Nature and powers in man, are specialties, which have little or no direct connection with the altruism which it is the peculiar function of Theosophy as an ethical system to publish to the world; more than this, they may be said to be both of them unsocial in their nature, since their tendency is to isolate anyone who seriously occupies himself with them from sympathetic intercourse with his neighbors. The first Object is altogether different. To “form the nucleus of Universal Brotherhood,” so far from conducing to retirement and concentration, is a purpose so high, so deep, so broad, so universally sympathetic, so distant of realization, that it becomes vague and confused when the attention is directed to it, and to most Fellows this Object is about equivalent in practice to the formation of a nucleus for the recurrence of the Golden Age, or for the re-establishment of the Garden of Eden.
Now, experience proves, what reason might have foreseen, that a comparatively small proportion of the Fellows of the Society take up seriously either of the two contracting Objects, and that only an exceptionally enthusiastic Brother is moved to action by the expanding one; from which it follows that as far as concerns any activity or good influence in the practical affairs of life, the Fellows as a corporate body might as well be shut up in a little community like the Shakers, from whom the world hears once in
every ten years or so.
If this, however, were all there were in the Theosophical Society, it would never have become the well- known, by many much esteemed, and, in certain quarters, roundly abused, institution that it is. The fact is that those who join the Society bring into it their knowledge and their activity, and the reputation of the Society has been built up by the individual efforts of its Fellows. Take away Isis Unveiled; The Secret Doctrine; Light on the Path; Esoteric Buddhism; Theosophy, Religion, and the Occult Science, and half a dozen other works, together with Theosophical magazines — all of them distinctly due to personal effort — and what would be left of the renown or notoriety of the Society? Since, however, the Theosophical Society is composed of its Fellows, and is what its Fellows make it, to say all that is in no way to disparage the Society, any more than it would detract from the beauty or utility of a Coral Island in the South Seas, to say that it owed its existence to the individual labors of the little lives that raised it from the bottom of the ocean. It is a mass of coral cells certainly, but it is something more it is a coral Island, with an added individuality of its own. …..cont’d here: