Rudolf Steiner's article, "Theosophists" published in 1897 in his "Magazine for
Literature" Nr. 34, and reprinted in the collected edition "Steiner, Collected
Essays in Literature," pp. 194-96 . GA 32.
translated by Tom Mellett
A short time ago, Franz Hartmann published his translation of the profound Indian poem, the "Bhagavad Gita." This poem reveals the deepest experiences that the "chosen ones" had, those priest-like figures of a practical people living in extraordinary circumstances. As if in a dream, these priestly figures were granted solutions to whatever crucial questions might arise, and afterwards, any such answer would require their evaluation. Not by abstract thinking, which we Westerners are so dependent on now, but by means of mystical visions. It was indeed through intuition that these Eastern truth seekers sought to achieve their goals. It would be utter folly for us in the West if we wanted to imitate them. Our nature is different from theirs; and therefore we must find another way to reach the summit of knowledge, where we could enhance our style of life in freedom.
But the Theosophists don't think that way at all. They gaze upon the totality of European science and merely shrug their shoulders. They smile at the sobriety of reason and intellect, while they worship the Eastern way of seeking truth as the one and only way. Oh, it is really rich to observe the demeanor of superiority whenever you engage a Theosophist in conversation about the value of the more Western ways of knowing.
[The Theosophist says:] "All that is externality;" [or that such] "intellectuals circle round a thing, merely inspecting its surface"; or else: "we, however, live inside the object --- indeed, we even live inside God Himself; yes, we experience the divinity within us!" This is just a sampling of the expressions you get to hear. And you will hardly ever escape from them branding you as a "narrow-minded intellectual" if you, with only a few words, dare betray the fact that you might be able to think in the same way as they do by mean of [your] inferior Western science.
But, actually, it's not a good idea just to up and leave them as soon as they make such pronouncements. Rather, I advise anyone who meets with a Theosophist to stand fast, look him in the eye and with total sincerity, genuinely endeavor to glean something from the revelations of such a consummate "enlightened one" who radiates Eastern wisdom from "his inner being." You will of course hear absolutely nothing, nothing but hollow phrases lifted from the Eastern scriptures, without even a hint of content.
These "inner experiences" are nothing short of hypocrisy. After all, it's not much of a trick to pull phrases out of a profound literature and then use them to declare that the sum and substance of Western expertise is totally worthless. Yet, [in reality], how much depth, how much inwardness actually lies behind the supposedly superficial intellect, behind the external concepts of Western science, of which the Theosophists haven't the slightest idea!
But the way they speak of the highest knowledge --- which they do not possess --- the mystical way in which they assert incomprehensible foreign wisdom actually seduces a fair number of their contemporaries. Consider how the Theosophical Society has spread all over Europe, with adherents in every major city. And that the number of them who would rather indulge in abstruse gossip about their experience of the "divine within" than to acknowledge the clear, transparent conceptual knowledge of the West is not insignificant.
It also proves advantageous to the Theosophists that they are able to stay on good terms with the Spiritualists and other off-beat, like-minded seekers of the spirit. Oh, sure, they [the Theosophists] contend that these Spiritualists treat the phenomena of the spirit world as external; whereas, they themselves [the Theosophists] seek to experience such phenomena as strictly within as well as totally spiritual. But they are not above walking hand in hand with the Spiritualists when they deem such an alliance to help them wage war on the unfettered science, the straightforward science of the modern era, which is solely supported by reason and observation.