The Meaning of a Pledge
An Esoteric Document, Valid
For the Present Century and Beyond
One Who Is Pledged
An Editorial Note
The following article was first printed
by H. P. Blavatsky in her Lucifer magazine for
September, 1888. It was published in “Theosophy”
magazine, Los Angeles, in the editions of November
1914 (pp. 25-29) and December 1953 (pp. 53-58);
and by “The Aquarian Theosophist”, in January 2013.
“The Meaning of a Pledge” describes, in general
but clear and fundamental lines, the real commitment
of “The Few” who, in each new generation, sustain
the Theosophical Effort. To them the work “The Voice
of the Silence” was dedicated by Helena P. Blavatsky.
As Life is regulated by the Law of Cycles,
there is no granted continuity at the visible level
for any efforts made under karma. A few years
after H. P. Blavatsky’s death in 1891, Annie Besant
presided over The Great Betrayal, as Alice Cleather
correctly diagnosed. This original Pledge was then
changed and distorted, while the Besantian Society
adopted the aspect and the methods of a church.
In the present century, there are individuals in the
theosophical movement - inside and outside the Adyar
Society - who are loyal to the original commitment to an
honest search for truth, and for lay chelaship. These sectors
may grow as time passes and falsehoods lose strength.
If made with sincerity, perseverance and a long term
view of life, this original pledge of Helena Blavatsky’s
Esoteric School remains as valid now as ever. It is an
implicit yet effective source of true probationary tests
and higher inspiration, as anyone who takes it can
directly check and verify. Regardless of “occult
corporations” and “esoteric bureaucracies”, this
original pledge – if made in a non-mechanistic way
before one’s own conscience - may play a key role
in the next phases of theosophical history.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
It has been thought advisable that members of a certain Occult Lodge of the T. S. should have the meaning of the Pledge they are about to take laid before them as plainly as possible. At any rate, that those who have previously signed the Pledge shall lay before those who are about to do so all that they understand this Pledge to mean and what its signature involves.
The Pledge runs as follows:
1. I pledge myself to endeavour to make Theosophy a living factor in my life.
2. I pledge myself to support, before the world, the Theosophical movement, its leaders and its members.
3. I pledge myself never to listen without protest to any evil thing spoken of a Brother Theosophist and to abstain from condemning others.
4. I pledge myself to maintain a constant struggle against my lower nature, and to be charitable to the weaknesses of others.
5. I pledge myself to do all in my power, by study or otherwise, to fit myself to help and teach others.
6. I pledge myself to give what support I can to the movement in time, money, and work.
“So Help Me, My Higher Self.”
It is at once plain that this is not a general Pledge like that which is taken so lightly by members of the Theosophical Society; but that it is a specific undertaking to do and to endeavour to do certain things. Also that it is given under an invocation:
“So help me my Higher Self.”
The term “Higher Self” has recently come into considerable use - at any rate so far as the Theosophical Society is concerned. To those who have studied the meaning of the words it is at once evident that to “take an oath” in the ordinary fashion of Christians is much less serious than a Pledge in presence of the “Higher Self”.
The “Higher Self”, moreover, is not a sort of sublimated essence of any one man; a sort of spiritualised “personality”. It is universal and secondless and in such a sense the term “my Higher Self” seems misplaced. But every man, however dimly, is a manifestation of the Higher Self, and it is by the connection of the Jiva, the Monad, with the secondless “Higher Self” that it is possible to use the term. What then does the invocation mean?
The man who takes this Pledge in the right spirit calls upon It, and calls every help and blessing from It to his assistance. By an intense desire to be under Its protection he (though It per se is latent and passive) places himself under the protection of the active and beneficent powers that are the direct rays of the Absolute Higher Secondless Self.
But if a man takes this Pledge and betrays his Higher Self, he risks every evil and brings it upon himself. Thus then, he who remains true to the Pledge has nothing to fear; but he who has no confidence in himself to keep the Pledge when taken, had better leave it and, much more, leave Occultism alone.
Breaking this Pledge cannot, then, involve penalty on the “Higher Self”, but it can affect the individual man. The “Higher Self” is immortal, but the Monad exists as a separate individual only during the Manvantaras, and around it various personalities are formed. This incarnates at every new birth, and not only can be, but is, punished if such a Pledge is broken. Once that is has progressed far enough to recognise the glorious light of the Higher Self and desire to live in it, the breaking of the Pledge tends towards a condition which would preclude the possibility of that light not only benefitting the Monad, but even reaching it.
Thus all men are in the presence of two forces in nature. One of them active and beneficent, whose aid and assistance is directly invoked by the Pledge; the other active, but maleficent, which is represented by beings who have a distinct interest in preventing the operation of the Pledge, and in hindering the work of the Theosophical Society. We see this more clearly when we know that we Pledge ourselves to be active, and not merely to endeavour to be.
Further, there are powers on the earth and in the flesh, as well as in the astral light, who desire to prevent and hinder the Pledge from taking effect. Some of these act consciously in this manner, and others because they are driven to such conscious action, but without any knowledge of the reason or force which drives them thereto.
We are to endeavour to “make Theosophy a living factor in our lives”. Before we can endeavour to do this, much less do it effectually, we must first understand what Theosophy is, and actually define to ourselves what we individually mean by Theosophy. Now it is exactly this definition, its want, and our ignorance generally which hitherto has prevented us from carrying out this endeavour. Nothing need here be said of the Theosophical Society and the benefit which would come to it by even a small section of its members actually making Theosophy the living factor in their lives.
Very few do so, and it is only too true that a member of the Theosophical Society is not necessarily a Theosophist. But those who take this Pledge are not content to remain nominally members of the Society, but aspire to be Theosophists indeed. And therefore it is so necessary that all should learn what a Theosophist is, and what any man must do to make Theosophy a living factor in his life.
As a negative definition nothing could be better than the definition in LUCIFER No. 3:
“He who does not practise altruism; he who is not prepared to share his last morsel with a weaker or poorer than himself; he who neglects to help his brother man, of whatever race, nation, or creed, whenever and wherever he meets suffering, and who turns a deaf ear to the cry of human misery; he who hears an innocent person slandered, whether a brother Theosophist or not, and does not undertake his defence as he would undertake his own - is no Theosophist.”
But this definition also contains the positive side. It is not sufficient merely to abstain from doing that which is condemned in this definition. The negative side alone is useless to those who take this Pledge - and not merely useless, for it involves practically the breaking of the Pledge. The Pledge demands not only that the man who takes it shall abstain from evil doing but, more, that he shall positively work altruistically and defend any innocent person as he would himself.
Many men may be so colorless as not to offend against the negative clauses of the Pledge and definition; but few are they who are sufficiently positive in their own character as not only not to offend against these clauses but also work in the opposite direction. For the greatest importance does not consist in “I will not” but in the “I will do”. Thus some strength is needed for impersonality. This impersonality is of two kinds, negative and positive. For the negative, strength is needed to fight against the forces of heredity and education, and prevent obedience to the instincts and acquired habits of this and other incarnations. But greater strength is needed to cross the zero-point and create new instincts and habits in the midst of conditions of life and habits of thought which are violently opposed to the new creation. And it would seem that strength is required so that it would be possible to conquer the tendencies of a devil and grow up into divinity. And if we regard the Pledge generally it would seem to be an admirable instrument, in view of the above quoted definition, for finding out and assailing everybody on their weak points. As men and women the Pledge compels us to refrain from acting and thinking in our daily life as our education has hitherto compelled us to do. If we do not so refrain, we do not make Theosophy a living factor in our lives. And more, while we are engaged in this difficult task, the positive side appears and we are told that we have to do other things as difficult - otherwise we are not Theosophists.
The second clause of the Pledge will prove a stumbling block to many lukewarm members of the Theosophical Society. Many may be in complete accord with the objects of the Theosophical Society, so far as they understand them, but also be in complete disagreement with the leaders of the Society and their method of work. Not only may they disagree but also be in either open or concealed hostility to those leaders and many of the members. It is of no use to disguise from ourselves the fact that this has been the case, and unfortunately may be so again. We work for “Universal Brotherhood” and we are at enmity with our immediate neighbours. This then we pledge ourselves to put a stop to, and to excise the tendency from our natures. Thus Clause 2 has a special reference to certain persons arising out of the general circumstances.
The question naturally arises: “Of what use is a Theosophical Society with such aims, when it is composed of such diverse elements?” And again: “Has the Society any coherence and purpose which shall make it a living power in the society by which it is surrounded?” For an analogy exists; and the Society is an individual among societies, just as men and women are individuals. And it may here be emphatically stated that the power and force of any given body is not the total force of its component units, but that the body has an individual force and power of its own apart from them. One has but to turn to the chemistry of “alloys” to see that this is true. If then we regard the Society, it does not seem that any of its strength is due to the united purpose and action of its individual members. But it has a great purpose, and to this a certain number of devoted individuals have sacrificed all that lay in their power. Among these the founders and present leaders of the Society are notable examples. The result is that the Society continues to exist exoterically. But the continued existence of the Society is not due to these few individual efforts alone but to the underlying influence of those under whose direction the Society was founded by its present leaders, and to the fostering care of those Masters in Wisdom, after it was founded.
Clause 3 opens out to many, as the Society is at present constituted, a good deal of casuistical reasoning. It has been said, and it would seem truly said, that it is perfectly open to those who are true Theosophist to condemn an act but not the actor. But this will be found to be a distinction which is very subtle and difficult to make in life. “Light on the Path”, too, warns the aspirant against self-righteousness of a like character, “for the soiled garment you shrink from touching may have been yours yesterday, may be yours to-morrow”. Thus those who take this Pledge are about to meet a very subtle difficulty (for in life the act and the actor are indissolubly connected), unless they have attained the power of observing and reading on a plane which is at present beyond the reach of the majority of mankind. However, even if this power is beyond reach at present, it is at all events right for those who aspire to be Theosophists to try. We can at least put a bridle on our physical lips and endeavour to do so on our mind, and thus abstain from “condemning others”. For the silent condemnation of the mind would seem more “vicious” than physical speech, for, at any rate in the “judge”, it is a form of moral cowardice. And herein lies the casuistry. For apart from the definition in LUCIFER, No. 3, it has been open to those who take the Pledge to consider that their human brothers are not “Brother Theosophists”, and therefore that it is legal to judge and condemn. Thus if it could be clearly proven that any man or woman has erred against the said definition it might be possible to receive absolution from the pledge “never to listen without protest to any evil thing spoken” of them. But the definition stops this with its “whether a brother Theosophist or not”, and agrees with the legal maxim which is so seldom acted upon - always to consider a man innocent until proved guilty. Suspicion is a dangerous guest to harbour, and we are finally brought back to the fact that it is best to “judge not that ye be not judged”.
Clauses 4 and 5 are the completion of resolutions which go straight to the centre of all that militates against Theosophy and against its forming a living factor in men’s lives. In this sense Clause 6 is a completion also. But the power to help and teach others can only be found in the united spirit of life, which is a spirit of absolute equality and in the sense that to the Theosophist every man is a teacher.
Clause 6 is a ratification of all that has gone before, but places it in more definite terms.
Thus then before this Pledge is taken it is necessary for all who aspire to take it to carefully ascertain, before pledging themselves to work and activity for Theosophy, what Theosophy really is. Is Theosophy identical with the practice of the Theosophical Society? If it is not, ought it to be? Shall I endeavour to make it so? In pledging myself to work for it, am I in the near or distant future, in this or in some succeeding incarnation, looking for a reward? It would then seem that one of the first requisites is to endeavour to “Know Thyself”.
Such a Pledge must not be taken lightly nor in a spirit of mere emotionalism. It has to be taken with a stern resolution to ever and ever more fully carry out its requirements, even at all costs to the man who takes it. It is taken at the risk of the man who takes it in a thoughtless spirit without examining what it really means and without the intention of making its fulfilment the supreme object of his life.
It is necessary “to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the truths which exist in Theosophy and then perhaps there may dawn upon the world the day when all men shall be as brothers, and Universal Brotherhood shall be a reality and the guide of all existence.
ONE WHO IS PLEDGED.
The Meaning of a Pledge
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).