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Purucker, Gottfried De

(1874-1942). Head of the THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY (Pasadena) with international headquarters currently at Pasadena, California, from 1929 to 1942. His greatest contribution to the theosophical movement is his elucidation of concepts underlying Helena P. BLAVATSKY’s writings.

Born in Suffern, New York, on January 15, 1874, Hobart Lorenz Gottfried von Purucker (later Gottfried de Purucker) was destined for the clergy by his father, an Anglican minister who in the late 1880s was appointed chaplain of the American church in Geneva, Switzerland. There Purucker’s education stressed Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and the writings of the early Church Fathers. He enrolled in the Collège de Genève, but at 18 knew he would not enter the church, much to his parents’ dismay. Instead, he left school and went to America, settling in San Diego County, where he worked on ranches and continued to search for a satisfying philosophy of life. There he read a translation of the UPANI±ADS and proceeded to teach himself Sanskrit. Soon afterwards he encountered a book on theosophy which profoundly moved him. In August 1893 he joined the San Diego Lodge of the Theosophical Society (TS), and soon was leading a class devoted to H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine.

He returned to Europe for several years, working on the editorial staff of the Paris Daily Messenger. In 1903 he joined the headquarters staff of the Theosophical Society to work closely with Leader Katherine TINGLEY, who in 1900 had moved the international headquarters from New York City to Point Loma, California. He worked in the editorial department, toured abroad with Tingley, took part in the dramas presented in the Greek Theater, and gave lectures on theosophy, both publicly and to her private students. He studied and taught at Theosophical University, where he received a doctorate in literature and held the Chair in Hebrew and Sanskrit.

Following Tingley’s death in 1929, Purucker assumed leadership of the Society, changing the emphasis from practical social action to study of the theosophical teachings and stimulation of the national sections. Promoting study of theosophical and Eastern philosophy, he lectured in the United States and abroad, spending considerable time in Europe. He also taught several groups of private students.

Under Purucker, the headquarters published periodicals, such as The Theosophical Forum and Junior Theosophist, and works by H. P. Blavatsky, William Q. JUDGE, Purucker, Mabel COLLINS, and others, along with selected Eastern philosophical classics. The Theosophical University and children’s work throughout the world continued, but the R€ja-Yoga schools were soon closed. The headquarters offered correspondence courses in theosophy and Sanskrit, and lodges were encouraged to sponsor study groups and lectures on theosophical philosophy.

Purucker also attempted to establish good will among members of the various theosophical organizations and to arrange discussions among theosophical officials of different societies, a program known as Fraternization. Shortly before his death on September 27, 1942, he moved the international headquarters to Covina, California, near Los Angeles.

The hallmark of Purucker’s writings is a coherent, panoramic presentation of the fundamental ideas of modern theosophy. His approach and terminology ease students’ efforts to arrive at their own evaluation and interpretation, not only of theosophic but of philosophic, religious, and scientific principles of all ages and cultures. Again and again he appeals to readers to break the molds of mind, to step beyond their limiting habits of thought. Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, edited from lectures delivered to esoteric students in the 1920s, offers an excellent introduction. Beginning with the three fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine, it carefully develops the basic concepts that underlie Blavatsky’s masterwork. Rejecting the standard academic style, yet upholding careful scholarship, Purucker unfolds his material in a way that stimulates the student’s intuition. The Esoteric Tradition, in two volumes, demonstrates the universality of past and present spiritual ideas, concentrating particularly on karma, reincarnation, death and rebirth, and theosophy’s relation to science, religion, and philosophy.

The Occult Glossary explains some 300 terms frequently met with in theosophical writings. Man in Evolution is a clear, detailed examination of theosophical ideas in relation to modern science, particularly the concepts of matter, life, and evolution. Golden Precepts discusses the wonder of life, spiritual growth, selfless love, old age and death, and compassion.

Perhaps Purucker’s most profound work is Fountain-Source of Occultism, prepared posthumously from booklets issued by him for his private students. Its in-depth presentation of the concepts in The Secret Doctrine deals with the path of compassion, space and m€y€, cosmogenesis, hierarchies, invisible worlds, buddhas and avat€ras, death and the circulations of the cosmos, and analogies between the human and cosmic. Additional material given to private students appears in the three-volume Dialogues of G. de Purucker. Other publications include Wind of The Spirit, Studies in Occult Philosophy, The Four Sacred Seasons, Messages to Conventions, and Questions We All Ask.

One of Purucker’s favorite grouping of teachings is the “seven jewels”: reimbodiment, karma, hierarchies, svabh€va or self-becoming, evolution, the two paths of growth, and €tma-vidy€ or self-knowledge, which includes the One and the many. His overriding theme is that the study of theosophical philosophy establishes personal ethics as a concrete expression and consequence of human and cosmic reality, rather than as rules imposed from outside — that essential oneness with divinity is the fundamental fact of existence. It can be difficult to steer a course between careless thinking and intellectual fascination with the intricacies of metaphysical thought. Purucker demanded both rigorous thought and spiritual discipline, maintaining that a balanced study of theosophy will lead to the union of heart and mind and to the cultivation of compassion, which arises naturally from a realization of our oneness with all that is.


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