From the archives of some theosophical e-mail lists.English
Date: Fri, 4 Aug 2000 09:59:18 -0500
Why Do We Need to Interpret?
Recent discussion about Tsong-ka-pa reminded me of something he says in his Essence of Eloquence. He says that some sutras can be taken literally while others must be interpreted. He states that those sutras wherein the Buddha discusses emptiness can be taken in a literal sense while those sutras that omit mention of emptiness (and discuss Absolutes instead) must be interpreted. In saying this, he is repeating Nagarjuna and his followers like Chandrakirti.
When we look at Christianity we see that there are fundamentalists who try to take the entire Bible literally, and others who insist that certain passages must be interpreted. The same is true for all of the world's religions.
It seems to me that Blavatsky and even the MLs are in the same boat - they too have passages that need to be interpreted and should not be taken too literally.
A long time ago some Rosicrusian friends told me how their lore was given out in stages or grades. Later I discovered that the Golden Dawn and OTO also worked that way. In fact, all occult schools work that way, as did the ancient mystery schools. Most of the basic knowledge is given out in the lower grades. The higher grades do not gain new knowledge as much as they teach new ways to directly experience the knowledge already given out. The grades are a sliding scale from the exoteric to the esoteric. This same graduated scale can be found in Theosophy via Judge's metaphor of the ocean. Judge points out that Theosophy can be shallow enough for children to understand it while being profoundly deep enough for mystics and occultists.
Wherever Theosophical doctrine seems to conflict, something needs to be interpreted. The exoteric doctrine of karma as an eternal endless wheel of causality, for example, conflicts with the teaching of the jivamukti which insists that all of one's past karma can be consumed in an instant of spiritual enlightenment. If we interpret causality as existing together with something acausal, like synchronicity in a psychological sense or chaos in a scientific sense, then the conflict is resolved. The conflict between atma and anatma can be resolved in a similar manner by interpreting HPB's use of the term "monad" as something close to a monad but not quite. A monad is, by definition, something that cannot be divided into parts (i.e., not an aggregate). Her use of such terms as "human monad" and "animal monad" conflicts with the basic definition of a monad, and thus needs to be interpreted rather than taken literally. The word "monad" implies an eternal changeless thing, which conflicts with the anatma doctrine of Buddhism. To avoid conflict, I would suggest viewing only the "divine Monad" as truly monadic while interpreting all others as being relatively monadic.
By interpreting certain passages of Blavatsky and the MLs, rather than taking everything literally, we can not only resolve logical conflicts, but we can also learn to differentiate the shallows from the depths.