A little history of post world-war II esoterism and what we can learn from it

In 1996 I became aware of the existence of forms of esoterism in the West that are virtually unknown to the world at large, including theosophers. Thanks to the internet I hit on Vitvan, who formulated a Gnosis for the New Era, not to be confused with New-age teachings. More on him shortly. I also encountered the writings of Arthur Young, who was familiar with theosophy, as Vitvan was too. Arthur took the idea of an "arc of development", as formulated in the Mahatma letters, and mapped what he saw as the kingdoms of life and matter onto this arc. He was fascinated with the "quantum of action", a concept in quantum-physics, based on experiments. I wrote about his four level model in my e-book and am developing my own version of the four levels (spirit, soul,mind, body taken as essence, power, organization and formed substance). Anyway, Arthur envisaged a process-model of development pertaining to the kingdoms and ontological levels of life. Some of his students try to elaborate on his ideas.

Coming back to Vitvan, I can say that he may well be the first esoteric teacher in the world who saw the necessity of reformulating the ancient wisdom in a modern form. After all, much has happened in the world during the 20th century. New scientific discoveries, coupled to the formulation of quantum-mechanics, necessitate the reformulation of the ancient wisdom, in order to keep in touch with modern insights about the world we live in. Another important development has been the field of cybernetics. From the governor of the steam engine to the automated correction of firing equipment (anti-aircraft canons) to laser- and satellite-guided missiles, all has to do with cybernetics. More importantly here, however, is the development of higher order cybernetics (see here too) which include the biological domain and, to some extant, the psychological and social domain.

Vitvan understood the importance of building bridges between esoteric thought and scientific insights. He married Korzybski's general semantics with his teachings. This grounded or coupled terminology in or with referents to avoid meaningless abstractions. See my ebook. He saw that karma can be seen as a feedback "mechanism". One can easily expand that view, dealing with "negative feedback" as corrections on one's way of life, and "positive feedback" as things going out of control.
I consider this to be an important insight, which I have elaborated upon, in my statement that feeling involves a comparator, a term borrowed from cybernetics.
Many ideas from theosophy can be formulated in a (spiritualized) cybernetic terminology. This ties in with a process-oriented approach to esoterism. This also means that esoterism can be made more practical, bearing on daily life, especially on psychological issues. Terms as calibration and bias are easily applicable to philosophy as well. Bias in perception, recalibrating one's beliefs about the world and what really matters, to give some examples.

In the same vein, concepts from chaos theory can be used, such as attractors. This concept is easily applicable to the polarity working in the human mind: torn between selfish passions and lofty ideals, or the animalistic forces versus spiritual powers. Transformation of psychological structures shift the center or focus of consciousness towards the spiritual (strange) attractor. That represents a phase transition.

Arthur Young tried to formulate a philosophical meta-model for science in general. I do not claim that his model is very accurate; that remains to be seen, but the attempt to develop such models represents a big step forward for all philosophies that purport to be integrative. You see, theosophical societies have missed this point altogether: it is important to keep in touch with current developments. Otherwise this movement will be left behind as another sad example of a failed religion.

Gregory Bateson made some important observations about the connection between form and process in his book on "mind and nature". Study his work for the zig-zag connections between form and process. These make sense and can, in some form, also be found in the writings of theosophers like William Quan Judge (see Echoes of the Orient). In Kabbalah there is the concept of the "lightning flash", which has to do with the manifestation of life. Maybe more on that later.

Another advantage in these developments (Vitvan, Young, etc.) is the strict axiomatic approach one can use to build models of natural process. I want to make this point: using models, one does not say: "this is how it is", like a dogma. No, one says: "here are my axiomas. Next, I have formulated some hypotheses and deduce some conclusions from these, which can be tested in our psychological life (psyche) and in our relations with others, in society as a whole". This entails a re-orientation of mind from dogma to inquiry and seems more appropriate for the "age of Aquarius". It leaves room for a continuous reformulation and elaboration of a philosophy of life and deepening of one's understanding.
The process of discovery, understanding and application of understanding is infinitely more important than establishing some new "bible" or system of truth.

In the same vein we can look at the work of John Bennett, the formulator of systematics (ways of "slicing up reality"). He wrestled with eternal patterns, ableness-to-be, process, kinds of time, nature of space, realization and actualization, structure and laws of being. His insights are often profound, based on Gurdjieff, Sufism, and mathematics, albeit they are not very much integrated or practical. His writings on the human will and "the present moment" are important, because these open our minds to deeper insights in the human nature.

In most of the philosophical systems, that I am interested in, the notion of Powers (the shaktis in Vedanta) play an important or even central role (see: Proclus, Vitvan, Boehme, Subba Row, Bennett's scheme of energies). This is quite understandable: we see the effects of the workings of Powers (fundamental forces of physics are a subset of these) all over the place. The essence of things may be difficult or impossible to see, the powers that are manifested can be seen or felt in their effects they have on us and the world around us!

To conclude this note, I want to say that I consider all the above mentioned persons as fine examples of what I call "the integrative mindset". Their work is related and can be used to formulate a truly integrative philosophy of knowledge. Theosophy has some place in it, as have other philosophies and scientific discoveries. It is all about an organic, growing, alive philosophy. The old forms have worn out. Now all that is needed is to bring inquiring, knowledgeable minds together to help the seedling develop. Hopefully, this forum has such inquiring minds in their midst who want to work on such a project of new perspectives on life. One thing is certain: the work will go on, with or without theosophical societies.

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Addition: feelings are not to be confused with emotions, in this model.
Emotions are little "action-programs" (see Antonio Damasio on Youtube),
which express how we feel about things. As such, they come later in sequence than feelings.
Emotions contain information that moves us, quite literally, in facial expression, gesture, and physical action. They can affect others too by the quality inherent or expressed through them.
Another important figure in the 20th century in this respect was Paul Brunton.
He published many books, one of the most important being "The hidden teaching beyond yoga".
That was in 1941. He deals with many important points, especially the process of perception, and the three stages of yoga initiation. He goes beyond mental yoga, to point to the development of insight, where one expands one's outlook on life to include "the world problem" as one's own. In other words, this is akin to Sri Aurobindo's position towards yoga, to wit: escape from this world is not the purpose of life. Rather it is the acting as a channel for spiritual forces to help transmute this world, its mental sphere, and sphere of action.
Brunton acknowledges "the three stages of evolution through which the mind of man must pass": religion (faith-based); mysticism, controlled by feeling; philosophy (inclusive of science), disciplined by reason.
His work deserves more attention, I think.


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