What does it mean, when we use the broad term religion?

Gottfried de Purucker† (1874-1942), who was head of the Pasadena Theosophical Society from 1929-1942, had a good definition in his Occult Glossary (1933).

It follows on pages 148-9:

Religion. An operation of the human spiritual mind in its endeavor to understand not only the how and the why of things, but comprising in addition a yearning and striving towards self-conscious union with the divine All (…) One phase of a triform method of understanding (…) universal nature, and its multiform and multifold workings; and this phase cannot be separated from the other two phases (science and philosophy) if we wish to gain a true picture of things as they are in themselves.’

‘Human religion is the expression of that aspect of man’s consciousness which is intuitional, aspirational, and mystical, and which is often deformed and distorted in its lower forms by the emotional in man.’

It is usual among modern Europeans to derive the word religion from the Latin verb meaning “to bind back” – religare. But there is another derivation (…) from a Latin root meaning “to select,” “to choose” (…) [Derived] from the Latin religio, [religion] means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the higher or spiritual intellect, a faculty of intuitional judgment and understanding, and a consequent abiding by that selection, resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that have been arrived at. This is the religious spirit.” (G de. Purucker, Occult Glossary)

This is the key passage:

means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the higher or spiritual intellect, a faculty of intuitional judgment and understanding, and a consequent abiding by that selection, resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that have been arrived at.”

Gottfried de Purucker goes on to remark, that behind all the religions and philosophies of antiquity lies a secret or esoteric wisdom; and ‘this sublime system in fundamentals have been the same everywhere.’ The theosophical approach is that religion cannot essentially be separated from the fields of science and philosophy if we ought to get a full picture.

In the same work, the Occult Glossary, Purucker asserts:

‘The esoteric doctrine is the common property of mankind, and it has always been thus. In all the various great religions and philosophies of the world, the student will find fundamental principles in each which, when placed side by side and critically examined, are easily discovered to be identic (…) but usually expressed in exoteric form.’ (Purucker, 46)

Interestingly on pages 46-47, again we read:

However, no one of these world religions or world philosophies gives in clear and explicit shape or form the entirety of the body of teachings which are at its heart; some religions emphasize one or more of such fundamental principles; another religion or philosophy will emphasize others of these principles; in either case others again of the principles remaining in the background. This readily accounts for the fact that the various world religions and world philosophies vary among themselves and often, to the unreflecting mind, superficially seem to have little in common, and perhaps even to be contradictory. The cause of this is the varying manner in which each such religion or philosophy has been given to the world, the form that each took having been best for the period in which it was promulgated. Each such religion or philosophy, having its own racial sphere and period of time, represents the various human minds who have developed it (…)’ (ibid.)

The work of these ‘philosophers,’ and ‘revolutionaries,’ defined by their people as ‘prophets’ + state leaders, and others as ‘sages,’ are the products of their own nervous system. These would be evaluated as such, if esoteric methodology was known more widely. As the ideas of souls, variously muddled and confused, do involve psychosomatic factors in the Greek Theology. Helena Blavatsky suggests, that: “The multitudinous religious faiths that mankind, early and late, have professed, (…) have all been derived from one primitive source. It would seem as if they were all but different modes of expressing the yearning of the imprisoned human soul for intercourse with supernal spheres.“—Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2., pg. 639).

“These manners or mannerisms,” G. de Purucker adds, “of exoteric thinking we may discard if we wish; but it is the fundamental principles behind every great religion or great philosophy which in their aggregate are the universal esoteric doctrine. In this universal esoteric doctrine lies the mystery-field of each great religion or philosophy (…)’ ‘Exotericism – that is to say, the outward and popular formulation of religious and philosophic doctrines – reveils the truth; the self-assurance of ignorance, alas, always reviles the truth; whereas esotericism reveals the truth.” (Occult Glossary, 2nd ed., pg. 50; emphasis added)

The Wisdom tradition in its fullness, as known to us uninitiated descendants of this history, reveals the true nature and function of Religion.

Theosophy is not a religion, but a philosophy at once religious and scientific; and [seeks] to revive in each religion its own animating spirit, by encouraging and helping enquiry into the true significance of its doctrines and observances. Theosophists know that the deeper one penetrates into the meaning of the dogmas and ceremonies of all religions, the greater becomes their apparent underlying similarity, until finally a perception of their fundamental unity is reached. This common ground is no other than Theosophy – the Secret Doctrine of the ages; which, diluted and disguised to suit the capacity of the multitude, and the requirements of the time, has formed the living kernel of all religions.” (Helena P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, Vol. 8, pp. 268-9)

There is no more fertile source of hatred and strife than religious differences. When one party or another thinks himself the sole possessor of absolute truth, it becomes only natural that he should think his neighbor absolutely in the clutches of Error or the Devil. But once get a man to see that none of them has the whole truth, but that they are mutually complementary, that the complete truth can be found only in the combined views of all, after that which is false in each of them has been sifted out – then true brotherhood in religion will be established.. (…)” (Helena P. Blavatsky, Key to Theosophy)

“….so the great theologies that have appeared at different degrees of divergence from the original source, have been connected by minor schisms, schools, and off-shoots from the one side or the other. Combined, their aggregate represents one eternal truth; separate, they are but shades of human error and the signs of imperfection. (…) What has been contemptuously termed Paganism, was ancient wisdom replete with Deity; and Judaism, and its offspring, Christianity and Islamism, derived whatever of inspiration they contained from this ethnic parent. (…)” (Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. 2., pg. 639)

Gottfried de Purucker adds lastly, ‘In future times, a new and very beautiful Religion of Nature of a truly spiritual type will take the place of the present period of agnostic uncertainty, for it will not be a religion, but Religion, founded entirely (…) on the facts of the Spiritual Universe.’—Purucker, 1940, The Esoteric Tradition, pg. 470.

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