Thursday, 7 July 2016

10 Theosophical books that changed the 20th Century

Alexandra David-Neel

The first generation of theosophical writers generally had a powerful, erudite, original, and innovative quality about them, but the theosophical movement hit some major obstacles at the turn of the century. Nonetheless, the second generation of theosophists still had enough momentum to produce an impressive body of writings in their own right. Although not quite as innovative, they had considerable mainstream success and influence in twentieth century spiritual thinking.

1-GRS Mead – Fragments of a Faith Forgotten (1900) Before the Nag Hammadi texts launched a major revival in Gnosticism, Meads Fragments played a major role in promoting the study of gnosticism in the first half of the twentieth century, and is considered to be an important influence on Carl Jung.

2- Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe, Atal Bihari Ghose ) – The Serpent Power (1919) This is the book that put Tantric studies on the map and helped clear up a lot of misconceptions concerning tantra. Technically not a card-carrying theosophist (although his wife was), he has a very theosophy-friendly comparative approach, a major figure in bringing Tantra to the west.

3-Walter Evans-Wentz Lama –  Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup - The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1927) This book propulsed the Tibetan Book of the Dead to its status of a world spiritual classic and perennial best seller – and, prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet, did much to promote Tibetan culture to the West. Although Samdup deserves more credit for this landmark work, Wentz is underated as a scholar-his study of Padmasambhava's biography is a strong piece of comparative religion work.

4-Manly P. Hall – The Secret Teachings of All Ages – (1928) Again, not an official card-carrying theosophist, but he had close theosophical connections and was openly influenced by theosophy. This book put western esotericism on the map in the 20th century – and so a solid account of the western esoteric tradition was made popularly available in the mainstream public.

5-Alexandra David-Neel – Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1929) Her vivid travelogues and translations make her one of the pre-eminent western travellers in Tibet and her testimonies of the rich culture and mystical traditions of Tibet are valued as classics.

6-Dane Rudhyar, The Astrology of Personality (1936)  The theosophical influence on modern astrology has been tremendous, and Rudhyar’s seminal work stands out as the game-changing formulation that influenced virtually everyone. This obscure Alice Bailey-published book went on to become a landmark in the field.

7-Judith Tyberg – First Lessons in Sanskrit Grammar and Reading (1941) A classic pioneering work in Sanskrit studies, Tyberg did important work in presenting Indian pundits to the West and has done much to promote an appreciation of Indian literature.

8-Christmas Humphreys – Concentration and Meditation (1968) Humphreys was a  tireless promoter of Buddhism in the West and a prolific writer. This work offers a solid introduction to eastern meditation theory and practice without sacrificing the philosophical aspect, paving the way for the current mainstream mindfulness explosion.

9-Ernest Wood – Yoga (1959) A natural educator and scholar, Wood did much to present Advaita Vedanta, Yoga and Hindusim to the West. This popular paperback introduction to Ashtanga Yoga is simple and accessible without sacrificing the philosophical aspect.

10- Robert Ellwood, Barbara A. McGraw - Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in the World Religions (1976)  Ellwood had a solid career as scholar of comparative religion and this book stills holds its position as a popular textbook in the field, now in its tenth edition, with additional internet features included.

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