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Theosophy and Hinduism's Reaction to the West

Theosophy and Hinduism's Reaction to the West
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  • 0:01 Intro to Theosophy
  • 0:59 Brotherhood & Brahman
  • 1:52 Reincarnation & Samsara
  • 2:51 Mahatmas
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain the beliefs of the modern religious movement known as Theosophy. In doing so, it will highlight its link to Hinduism and its ties to the West.

Introduction to Theosophy

The study of the ancient faith of Hinduism usually includes mention of a modern religious movement known as Theosophy. Founded in New York City and not the Eastern World, Theosophy has at its center a unity among all people and can be loosely defined as a modern-day religious movement very closely tied to Hinduism.

With this unity in mind, Theosophy claims to have no special connection to one particular religion. Founded in the late 19th century by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, Theosophy seeks the unity of all people under what they term the Brotherhood.

However, Theosophy has Hinduism written all over it, leading some to classify it as a Western offshoot of the ancient faith. In today's lesson, we'll take a closer look at Theosophy. When we're finished, it'll be up to you to decide whether it stands alone or whether it's Hinduism merely Westernized and renamed.

Brotherhood & Brahman

For starters, the Brotherhood of Theosophy is believed to be established under an ancient wisdom or force that is eternal and unchangeable yet rather vague and rather unknowable. With this hazy definition, Theosophy maintains that all humans are actually a part of this mystical force. When compared to the Hindu belief in Brahman, or the divine force of which all reality is a part, the similarities between Theosophy and Hinduism become evident. They both believe all of reality, even humans, are merely parts of a divine and universal whole.

Adding to this, Theosophy's main belief system comes directly from the ancient Hindu philosophy known as the Vedanta. In light of these facts, it's not hard to see why some see this New York-born faith as merely Hinduism with a Western twist.

Reincarnation & Samsara

In addition, Theosophy holds to the ancient Hindu belief that all of us are in a continual cycle of death and rebirth. Called reincarnation in the Western world, Hinduism refers to this very belief as samsara. When you take into account that Theosophy also upholds the Hindu beliefs of idol worship and the Hindu caste, or social stratification, system, it's again rather easy to see why Theosophy shows up in most Hindu courses.

At this point you might find yourself asking, 'Well, what are the differences between Theosophy and Hinduism?' If you are, know for sure you're not alone! In fact, most of the differences are rather hard to spot. However, one huge one is that Theosophy makes no religious distinction between men and women. This is very unlike Hinduism that sees women as dependent upon men for their spiritual maturity and even salvation.

Apart from this, many scholars would say most other differences are rather minor.

Mahatmas

Rather than differences, a better thing to focus on is probably Theosophy's additions to Hinduism. The main one being the addition of a belief in powerful humans called Mahatmas.

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