This week I’ve been revisiting Thomas Troward’s writings – especially his book, “The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science”. As an inspiration to Ernest Holmes, founder of religious science as practiced in the Centers for Spiritual Living, Troward had insights that at first read seem other-worldly inspired. While I am not one to discount divine inspirations I am also a student of history.
In the early 1900’s the thinking world was agog over the expansion in scientific discovery. Just a few short years before Troward returned to England and began to speak on Mental Science, the world had learned new terms: electromagnetism (1873), X-rays (1895), and radioactivity (1898).
In 1900 Max Planck shared his discovery of the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a black body – the basis for what would become quantum theory, and in 1905 Albert Einstein introduced the world to his theory of special relativity, which deals with the relationship between space and time (not to be confused with his theory of general relativity which would come in 1915).
We can ascertain from Troward’s biography that he came from a family of some means as he was born in India, but sent back to England for his school years where he eventually landed in an English school with a significant French influence. He was a dedicated student and at age 18 he won the Helford College Gold Medal for Literature. After his schooling he returned to India as a British Civil Servant and is reported to have widely studied not only the Christian Bible and the writings of Emerson, but also Indian sacred texts, Hebrew scriptures and other ancient writings during his 25 years there.
In an age before radio and TV, it is not difficult to imagine an intellectually-curious individual seeking out counsel from locals with knowledge on the subjects in which he found great interest. This conflicts with what some that suggest – that Troward came to the conclusions he shared in “The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science” and other works “virtually on his own!”
I am not inclined to accept this perspective and here’s why:
- Troward was a thinking and reading person who was clearly interested in the world around him
- Given the excitement in the world about the scientific discoveries taking place in Europe and his British heritage and connections, it is hard to believe he had no knowledge of these – at least on some level – and that they did not have some influence on him
- Understanding Colonial India and the close (although inequitably stratified) relationships between the English and the Indian people, it is impossible to imagine his 25 years in India as years without extraordinary and in-depth interactions with the people, the culture, the religious and spiritual foundations (given his great interest in these)
I have no doubt that Thomas Troward was a gifted writer and thinker, with deep insights and much to share with the world about metaphysics. Indeed, New Thought adherents and practitioners have a great deal for which to be grateful vis-à-vis his contributions to the thoughts and writings of Ernest Holmes. However, to attribute Thomas Troward’s writings only to his own mind with uni-directed Divine Inspiration is to discount the rich contributions of the Indian people with whom we can be sure he spent a significant amount of time. Due to his interests, we can be almost certain that he specifically sought out opportunities to learn and further understand Vedanta (one of the 6 orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy) and other Vedic teachings, as well as other ancient knowledge.
I am grateful for the many writings of people like Troward, Emerson and others; but it is important that we don’t canonize them in ways that set them apart from mere mortals. If we believe that Jesus was the great example, and not the great exception we must also take care not to elevate early New Thought thinkers and writers to a status that blurs their humanity and suggests that all there is to learn has already been written. As we have seen in Christianity throughout the ages, this is a dangerous position to assume.
Emerson, Troward, Holmes and others had tremendous insights, were clearly enlightened and inspired in ways that the average among us may never achieve. But we risk repeating the mistakes of traditional religions (esp. Christianity) if we don’t take care to see clearly the men (and women!) they were, along with the influences that enchanted and inspired them.
Wayne Dyer left this planet last month, and while his departure is a great loss to his family, and his teaching will be missed by the rest of us; there will be other “Waynes” with their own unique gifts to share.
Similarly, there are 21st century Trowards, Emersons and Holmes; some we may know now, some that may be just emerging and still others are not even born yet. As we share the foundational New Thought writings with newcomers and the next generations, let’s take care not to create saints and divine beings that only lived, wrote and healed “back then“.
To remain open at the top, we must remain accessible at every level to those whose insights and inspirations can further enhance and expand our knowledge and understanding.
And so it is.