In Chapter I in the third part of "Anthropogenesis" on science, H.P. Blavatsky presented the "Essentialist" theosophical ideal.
(Chapter I). ARCHAIC, OR MODERN ANTHROPOLOGY: H.P. Blavatsky opened with a repudiation of Darwinism in The Secret Doctrine 2:652, "'Darwin puts in the place of a conscious creative force, building and arranging the organic bodies of animals and plants on a designed plan, a series of natural forces working blindly (or we say) without aim, without design.'" Rather, "Spirit" strives to "manifest itself in its fulness in purely organic forms." Theosophists are "Essentialists." Entities possess pre-existing inner attributes that are necessary to the construction of their identity. These pre-existing inner attributes are provided to humanity by the Dhyani-Chohanic energy of "FOHAT" that spirals through the Earth globe from the seven sacred planets at the beginning of the Maha-Manvantara. The spiritual Egoic identity endures in The Secret Doctrine 2:80, "The thread of radiance which is imperishable and dissolves only in Nirvana, re-emerges from it in its integrity on the day when the Great Law calls all things back into action." In contrast to Essentialists, there are Existentialists. The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is widely regarded as the founder of Existentialism. Writing from within a Biblical context, Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling (1843) introduced the premise that Abraham's existence, through the subjectivity of his own choices as the point of departure for determining moral action, becomes more powerful than God's essence. In the "Problemata" on page 65, he affirmed this role reversal as the "strength of the absurd." Abraham is what he makes himself, and so he can transcend God. In his 1945 Existentialism Is a Humanism on pages 20-23, Jean-Paul Sartre supported Kierkegaard's foundation stone of Existentialism: "Existence precedes essence." For example, "Man is not only that which he conceives himself to be, but that which he wills himself to be, and since he conceives of himself only after he exists, just as he wills himself to be after being thrown into existence, man is nothing other than what he makes of himself." Further, "Prior to that projection of the self, nothing exists, not even in divine intelligence, and man shall attain existence only when he is what he projects himself to be." Essence is only established as the side-effect or residue of a man's willing his own result into existence. Choosing to act in existence creates essence. Simone de Beauvoir, in her 1947 The Ethics of Ambiguity on page 43, remarked, "Moral choice is free, and therefore unforeseeable. The child does not contain the man he will become. Yet, it is always on the basis of what he has been [ed. how he has acted outwardly as opposed to what he is internally] that a man decides upon what he wants to be." This is why Albert Camus in his 1942 classic The Stranger depicted the killer-protagonist Meursault as completely empty inside, motivated by nothing more than what he wants to smoke, eat, and see. This is Existentialism; it switches the order of essence and existence.
If Existentialism is a humanism, then one must turn to Immanuel Kant for its origins since he instituted the modern humanist narrative. The modern humanist narrative establishes itself on reason and science, as opposed to supernatural or divine beliefs, in shaping one's own life to build a more humane society. In Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals in the "First Section" including 4.400-403, Kant laid out the rule that a man should improve his own life in such a way that "I could also will that my maxim [ed. conduct for the establishment of his future well-being and character] should become a universal law." The rules for benefitting one's own life must be applied equally and unselfishly to all human lives. Once this maxim has been established as a "universal law," it depends on the individual's subjective choices to frame his behavior on the principle of duty, where "duty is the necessity of an action from respect for the law." The problem is: it doesn't work. H.P. Blavatsky mused in Collected Writings 1:332, "Kant, Schopenhauer and Hartmann seem to have written to little effect." Mahatma K.H. reflected in Letter 28 to A.O. Hume in The Mahatma Letters on page 215, "We, who have studied a little Kant's moral teachings, analyzed them somewhat carefully, have come to the conclusion that even this great thinker's views on that form of duty (das Sollen) which defines the methods of moral action--notwithstanding his one-sided affirmation to the contrary--falls short of a full definition of an unconditional absolute principle of morality--as we understand it. And this Kantian note sounds throughout your letter." Mahatma K.H. then showed the irony of the situation, "You so love mankind, you say, that were not your generation to benefit by it, you would reject 'Knowledge' itself. And yet, this philanthropic feeling does not even seem to inspire you with charity." In hindsight, human nature, as it currently exists, cannot apply beneficial maxims universally. The individual falls short even with a romanticized sense of duty to a humanist ideal. Jean-Paul Sartre over-optimistically assumed that, without a spiritual ethics derived from the irradiating "essence" of a Dhyani-Chohan, a person's "existence" has the capability to determine on its own and follow through on its own what is best for himself and others. Paradoxically, Soren Kierkegaard in The Sickness unto Death (1849) sensed this shortcoming in human nature from the beginning. On page 59, he acknowledged, "The self is the conscious synthesis of infinitude and finitude." As such, he argued on pages 47-49 that a man cannot "consume himself, cannot be rid of himself, cannot become nothing." For a man, the impossibility of becoming "nothing" lives within him as a "something" in the "form of possibility" as an "aspect of spirit" that "has to do with the eternal in a person." The realm of future "possibility" belongs to essence, not existence. This is H.P. Blavatsky's "Spirit" trying to "manifest itself in its fulness in purely organic forms." In tribute to this "Spirit," it has been said that there are buddhic shards of light running around inside each human being that respond to the needs of humanity and are always there in every moment. They do poorly as a duty but flourish in love. This is the "Spirit." This is the Essentialist theosophical ideal.
A.T. Barker, comp., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett ( Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1975).
Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, Inc., 2018).
H.P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, Vol. 1 (Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1977).
H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 2019).
Albert Camus, The Stranger, trans. Matthew Ward (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin Books, 1985).
Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin Books, 2004).
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, trans. Carol Macomber (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2007).
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