The Right Approach to Knowledge

In this scientific age, many are apt to consider science to be more important than religion or philosophy. Even students of Theosophy sometimes forget that the Ancient Wisdom is not any one of these but is the synthesis of all three. Any one of these branches of knowledge is incomplete if divorced from the others, and the need to synthesize all three is what the world does not always appreciate. People are glamoured by the researches of science and by the discovery of knowledge pertaining to the physical world, knowledge that the ancients are supposed to have been ignorant of. Students of Theosophy must bear in mind that much that is unknown to us today or that we think has been newly invented was known in ancient times. Can we build today such structures as the great Pyramids although we believe ourselves to be much more advanced in the knowledge of architecture than were the ancients? Can we make the dyes that Egypt made, or embalm a form as they did their mummies? To avoid being glamoured by science today, let us pause and remember that, besides the need for a right approach to knowledge, there is also to be considered the use of the knowledge gained and the reason for acquiring knowledge, the goal towards which we are evolving, which should lead us to philosophy and religion.

Many writers of the day are drawing attention to the imbalance in the total view of life caused by the glamour of science. What has science done for us today? It has probed the mysteries of the material world and enlarged our vista and knowledge of other parts of the infinite universe. But it has brought its problems. In medicine, for instance, we find new "cures" keeping pace with new diseases. And let us remember that there is no limit to the knowledge that can be gained. What is being uncovered today may become the knowledge taught in the elementary schools of the future, while scientists will keep probing far greater mysteries. What is known today in the various branches of science may seem rudimentary in comparison with what will be known in the future. Even the greatest missiles and instruments of destruction of today might seem not so formidable compared to what might be discovered tomorrow. Whither are we tending?

A student of life should pause to think what help it is to life and to the evolution of man to send rockets to the moon and to the planets, or to orbit the Earth. When half the world is living in poverty, in famine conditions, without facilities for education, of what value is all this research? In space research, with all the expense it involves, really worth while? Does knowledge about the moon's surface mean as much to humanity as understanding life's purpose (religion), or how to progress to the goal of life (philosophy)? Could not the time and money spent on needless "research" in many fields be better utilized for true education, which is the unfolding of the capacities of mind and heart and body, that is, the gaining of the knowledge of how to live better, more useful, lives?

What is the cause of the unrest among the youth of today? Lack of the knowledge of life, its purpose and goal. Religion has ceased to attract the youth because it instils fear of the consequences of one's acts. Man, having grown to the state of responsibility, wants freedom, but the means to attain this freedom are not taught; all want to profit by the findings of science, to make physical life more easy, but the means to reach this condition are not taught.

Many writers are stressing the fact that science is but one of the ways to knowledge. What we sometimes fail to see is that this is changing knowledge. Each advance is treated as final by the ordinary person. Yet we have seen the theories of even the best of scientists disproved by further advances. Knowledge regarding the material universe is only a stepping-stone to further knowledge.

Students of Theosophy should remember that there are the great Scientists who for generations have tested and verified the traditions of old by their own observations and experiences. They are men who have developed and perfected their physical, mental, psychic and spiritual organizations to the utmost possible degree, and who, by the vision they have gained, have studied and recorded the true Science of the Universe. All that modern science is doing is to get nearer and nearer to this Knowledge. But that Knowledge already exists. Let us constantly remember that this ancient Knowledge can never change any more than pure mathematics can change, at least for our present earth-cycle. Modern science must be judged in the light of Theosophy, not Theosophy in the light of science, for science changes century by century, while Theosophy, being synonymous with Everlasting Truth, is changeless.

What is of real value to us is the scientific attitude, i.e., believing nothing unless it can be proved by us, either by logic and common sense, or has been proved by others in such a way that we, too, can prove it for ourselves when we have gained the necessary knowledge. In the mean time, we can accept such facts as axioms, practise them, and so prove them for ourselves.

But what shall we accept as axioms? Surely not the ever-changing scientific theories of today. It is in the realm of ethics that we find a more permanent body of knowledge available to all. Most people are not aware of the Ancient Wisdom's teachings as to the science of the universe, but everyone is or can be aware of the age-old knowledge of the laws of true ethics as they have been kept alive in the teachings of the Great World Teachers down the ages. Pseudo-ethics and morals have grown up in terms of material living, and these change from time to time, but the fundamental ethical principles taught by the Teachers remain unchanged, though their practice or non-practice varies from time to time and among different peoples. It is the scientific approach to all true ethical principles that has to be emphasized today, because thus alone can we prove the laws inherent in them. People will not follow these principles as long as they are bound up with the idea of "command" by a God. Taken as means of progress in evolution, which if followed will produce certain results and if not followed will produce other results, they will become more acceptable.

With regards to religion, true religion never alters; pseudo-religion constantly changes. We have before us today the strange anomaly of the Roman Catholic Church changing so many of its dogmas. If it changes its pronouncements now, then that is tantamount to admitting that what it has taught in the past had been wrong; and even now is it sure that what it is setting forth is right? How can people have faith in a Church that changes its doctrines? Can Truth ever change? The essence of true religion never alters, for it is based on Spiritual, Impersonal, Universal and Omnipresent principles, which lie at the core of everything, though in latency. The goal to be reached and the way to reach it constitute true religion, which inspires the heart and lifts man from the purely material or purely intellectual to the recognition of his own divinity.

Philosophy also is changeless at its root, for life in whatever century is fundamentally the same; the details alone alter. But a false philosophy, like false religion, can prove more dangerous than living by the partial truths of science. Neither true religion nor true philosophy can make war between man and man, or man and any part of the Whole; both are meant to be lived and experienced; neither can be forced on anyone. Religions, if traced to their source, can never create enmity between men, nor make man turn Nature to his selfish use. Science, though helping to ease the burden of life on the one hand, also has its evils. All scientific advances have both a good and a bad side. Therefore philosophy and religion must keep the balance and show how scientific advances are to be used. "Man shall not live by bread alone," said Jesus. Man must see that religious teachings, the philosophy of the good life, science and its uses on the physical plane, are all tools, instruments, physical, mental and moral. Man remains separate from all three, but only advances by the use of all three for the benefit of the Whole.

At whatsoever moment you catch yourself to persuade yourself that you are particularly humble, be assured that then you are farthest from humility.

The Theosophist, August 1880

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