Discussion on The
Theosophical Community launched by Juan Guillermo Vieira with participation
of Katinka Hesselink, Janeth Murillo, Joe Fulton, Dan Noga and Anton Rozman
now summarized and edited by the latter.
Work in progress.
* * *
I have read many mails about this “controversy” on the bylaws changes, but I have not seen any discussion on the nature of the T.S. What kind of organization are we? Are we like a country? Are we like The Royal Society? Do we want to be like them? Why do some members want to transform T.S. in a “normal” organization?
Instead of that paramount discussion I have seen many mails members attacking one another, especially on Theos-talk, and others threatening to leave if the Society does not work like they think.
All the important characteristics of our Society emerge of his nature. For example when we speak of Trust we implicitly accept a special feature of our Society. When we speak among theosophists we normally trust one another. I really do. I do trust the leaders of our Society. I do trust majority of members.
In a supposed democratic country to get to be elected costs
too much money. If we are observant will note that all the money spent on that
election does not come from the “pocket” of one person, neither the wage of
the elected President covers the money inverted on the campaign, on the contrary
many, especially economical interests are represented, all those interests
have to be paid when one is elected. This is no an example of confidence or
trust. The T.S. must not work like that.
We have been relying on our leaders by 133 years. The Presidents and Vice-Presidents always have tried to do their best, that’s why we still have a Theosophical Society. Few the organizations like T.S. that has kept its “spirit” for such a time so long, and “pure”. In 133 years only one big “split” (Crosbie was not a split of Adyar). We have to trust one another, like members of a “spiritual” organization.
Please, brothers be cautious. Think, think and rethink your motivations. Don’t be in a hurry with the eagerness (hurry) of the times. The T.S. for me is not a normal organization. Think in its uniqueness. It is not just for discussion, it is not just for publication, it is not just for erudition, it is not just for historical subjects, it is not for minds only. If we believe Mrs. Burnier is for Human Regeneration, regeneration of the mind, i.e. to clean the mind. If we believe One of “our Masters” who said that the human consciousness has not changed significantly by one million of years, why our hurry?
* * *
Actually Aryel Sanat has addressed the issue of ‘what kind of organization is this’. So have a few others. It has been used as an argument mostly on the question of how many years a person should be president. The seven year stretch isn’t just tradition - the founders felt it had to do with the nature of the TS. I agree that motivation is an important point. Unfortunately, however, it takes clairvoyance to know what another’s motivation is.
* * *
I think Mr. Sanat’s statements on his mail ILLEGAL CHANGES are offensive of Mr. Algeo. To be analytical it must not be a sin. Neither being an academician. Implicitly, it seems to me, that Mr. Sanat accuse Mr. Algeo not to have a pure heart. Analysis and synthesis are integral parts of the process of knowledge, they are both united, that is why we humans have some trends to generalize our conclusions. Paraphrasing the statement that MAN IS THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS, I think Theosophical Society can’t be the measure of what each one of us want it be.
Thanks “God” in The Theosophical Society (Adyar) we can be analytical, synthetical, emotional, intellectual, besides we can be blavatskyan, leadbeterian, Besantian, Burnerian etc; read and speak only of Hodgson, Roso de Luna, Taimni, etc; we can be crhistian, budhist, shinto, mormon etc; we can be positivist, idealist, neo-structuralist, humanist, etc. Even we can be nothing, just stay. We are united for a intrinsic brotherhood that we are trying to actualize, we are united for a trascendental quest of “true”, and we do that with respect of each other and with tolerance, and accepting our relativity and limitation like imperfect beings on evolution. I think we must bear this in mind, take into account this to try to understand what kind of organization must be the T.S. The reforms must be considered in this light.
I think the main problem of the T.S. now is the lack of mystics, spiritualized members, maybe to be all day in front of a computer or reading does not help in that line.
* * *
I agree that being analytical is in itself not a negative
trait. But I do think Aryal Sanat has a point in that we have to assume John
Algeo knows he is not addressing the real issue, when he isn’t.
In a sense I see the TS as “special”. The world as going through some really profound changes (See "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" - Wired Magazine - April, 2000). The philosophy given in Theosophy has some important things which need to be said. The world is in a state where it is vital to bring our views to the table of public discourse and debate them as vigorously as possible. In another sense, there is nothing “special” about the T.S. It is an organization. It is an organization with a membership at its base and with limited means (more so with the current economic crisis). I really hate to say this, but, by any measure, the TS is not very successful right now at doing the basic job that healthy, membership based organizations do. What do good organizations do?
A) They actively seek to understand what it takes to meet the needs of the current membership and of potential members.
B) They deliver a message which stays in sync with the culture in order to remain relevant. Or as the Sufi’s say; “time, place and circumstance”.
C) They continually improve their processes and maintain a deep understanding of those items which are critical to success. Sometimes this means doing a few things extremely well vs. doing a lot of things in a mediocre manner.
In the not-for-profit world, there are different measures for success than what exists in the corporate (for-profit) world, but many methods are still the same. For those who frown upon looking at what we do as a business, keep in mind that HPB was notable for instituting various actions in publishing “The Theosophist” which helped the TS remain solvent after moving to India. There is nothing wrong whatsoever in being “on message”, understanding your audience, delivering a good product, and fostering an atmosphere of continual improvement.
The T.S. really needs to become “rabid” in seeking to understand its membership and act on those learnings. It needs to hone a public message which is succinct, accurate and easily understood. It needs to unlock the wisdom of the crowds and develop the ability to utilize this “wisdom” to champion the viewpoints which are inherent in the Theosophical view. The function of leadership is to clearly state the message and act in a manner which motivates people into wanting to become stakeholders in the outcome.
In no way do I see this as a direct reflection on the current leadership of the T.S. in America or the leadership internationally. Rather, I see this as an institutional problem which has existed since Krishnamurti left in 1927. Something really took the wind out of the T.S.’ sails when The Coming went. As Krishnaji was wont to say “We choose our leaders out of our confusion, therefore the leaders are also confused”.
What HPB told all aspirants is still true, even after all this time ... “TRY”.
* * *
You have opened, in my opinion, the key question which should
be addressed in this “critical” time of the Theosophical Society: what is the
nature of our organization? We would probably have as many answers to this
question as there are members in the Society what implies that there is absent
some basic common vision which is crucial for the successful functioning of
If we would try to collect answers to the above question from the members around the world we would probably receive very different views depending on prevalently of the kind of activities in which they are involved in personally and collectively in their lodges. And these activities are really many and diverse. But is there any common denominator on which we should all meet to have “normal” but at the same time “spiritual” organization?
Namely, I find that these two aspects do not exclude each other, on the contrary, that they are complementary. In my view it is not a type of activity, either individual or collective, which makes it “spiritual” per se but the motive, the way, the spirit in which this activity is actually performed.
Now, what kind of organization is the Theosophical Society? When we do not have straight answer to this question, and I think that we do not, then it would be wise to check the source information, to see what Founders of our Society thought when they establish it. So, maybe words of H. S. Olcott can help us find the answer:
“The secret of the persistent vigor of the Society is that its platform is so drafted as to exclude all dogmas, all social contests, all causes of strife and dissension such as are begotten of questions of sex, color, religion, and fortune, and make altruism, tolerance, peace and brotherliness the cornerstones upon which it rests. … It is the Constitution and proclaimed ideals of the Society; it is the elastic tie that binds the parts together; and the platform which gives standing room to all men of all creeds and races. The simplicity of our aims attracts all good, broad-minded, philanthropic people alike. …”
As far as I understand these words it is our constitutional frame (Constitution itself along with the Objects) realized in the spirit of altruism, tolerance, peace and brotherliness which should make our organization “special”.
It seems to me that with the passage of time we have somehow begin to neglect this neutral and at the same time all-inclusive constitutional frame and activities related to our Objects and begin to develop many activities which covered some special interests within the Society, so that now we have serious problems how to reconcile them with our constitutional platform. And I am afraid that it is impossible to reconcile two things which in essence exclude each other - neutrality and bias - and that we will need a lot of wisdom and patience to find adequate solutions if we want that our Society and “our doctrines to practically react on the so-called moral code, or the ideas of truthfulness, purity, self-denial, charity,” in the society at large.
* * *
This subject of organization’s nature must be discussed looking for comprehension of the nature of the Theosophical Society. As you say, balancing the “normal” and the “spiritual” aspects is the big question. Of course I do not deny that we are a material organization, with buildings and material business, that needs money and specialized people to manage different affairs; but we are no only that, all this material organization have some, for us, very important aims, all related with that, we call “spiritual”. Maybe related with the questions you have raised, I would ask: What would be the best way to structure our organization so that we fulfill our important “spiritual” objectives? But maybe we do not have clarity about those “spiritual” objectives. I understand you when call attention about the difficulties we have now, being one the lack of clarity about our organization, normal and spiritual in what sense.
It may be of interest to mention the discussion about the nature of the organizations that Political Science and Public Administration have been carrying out due of the emergence of the New Public Management model in public organizations since 80’s. Here the center of the discussion is the nature of public and private organizations. Some say that these are equal in the main items; others say that the differences are really meaningful. If we accept that these are the same we accept that the way to manage them is similar. If we accept that these are different we accept that the way to manage them must be different too. Remember that we are speaking of public and private organizations. I quote here Wallace Sayre, one important theorist of Public Administration who said: “Business and public administration are alike only in all unimportant respects.” This is known like the Sayre’s aphorism.
What about the Theosophical Society? Is it Public or is it private or what? Who are the owners? What are its aims? What is the best way to reach them according to his nature?
Who are the owners of The T.S.? Can somebody or a group sell it? Or close it? Are the members of the General Council the owners? Are we, all the members owners of it?
What are the aims of the T. S.? What implies to spread Theosophy? What Theosophy are we spreading? We have been told that the kind of life of members is the best way to transmit Theosophy. Is it? Can we improve the way the material organization works, towards where? How to balance the need for a “spiritual”, inner life of members with an active, external life dedicated for communicate theosophy and trying to affect the culture of the world, using the modern possibilities? Do we need to chance the way we present theosophy? Again, what theosophy? The Theosophy of our hearts or the theosophy of our books?
We accept that the T.S. is an NGO ruled by governments and laws. According to human laws can be classified in that denomination. We have a structure, a President, officials, General Council, General Secretaries, etc. We have buildings, copyrights, bookstores etc. We have activities on many dimensions. All this need administrative functions, and this could always be better.
But many of us could accept that the T.S. was established like part of a big project directed by a Very Special Kind of Beings. Although some say that They are no more part of the T.S. others say that They continue inspiring in His own ways. Could we think all this in as a whole?
* * *
The Theosophical Society is a Private Not-for-Profit Educational
Organization. In the American Section, this is organized under IRS Code, Section
The Theosophical Society has as its Objects:
1) To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
2) To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
3) To investigate the Unexplained Laws of Nature and Powers latent in Man.
The owners of the TS are its members.
The TS can be closed by the General Council. In addition, since not-for-profit status is conferred by various national governmental entities, the disposition of assets is controlled per national laws.
The governance of the TS takes place with the President at the head of the organization, with the advice of the General Council. Each Section (national entity) is autonomous, responsible for its own governance, and is headed up by a “General Secretary” (known locally as the National President). Each section has representative membership, each according to its local rules.
The aims of the TS are expressed in its Objects, above.
The method of spreading is inherent in the Objects.
Although there are various Theosophical “traditions”, the only “Theosophy” which is officially recognized is that acknowledged in our Objects.
Please see: http://www.ts-adyar.org/society.html
Those are the facts. Now, regarding specific traditions, it’s very much like Hinduism, in the sense that there are many ways available for each member, to pursue as they see fit. This places a great deal of personal responsibility for each member to follow in a manner which contributes to the execution of the Objects above.
* * *
I would like to call your attention to some constitutional
differences between the TS and its Sections.
The Theosophical Society is a Private Not-for-Profit Educational Organization. In the American Section, this is organized under IRS Code, Section 501(c)3.
The Theosophical Society was incorporated under the India’s Societies Registration Act 1860 - Act for the registration of literary, scientific and charitable societies. And it is not not-for-profit organization but a society.
The problem is that the Theosophical Society is not registered in its Sections’ countries as international society and therefore Rules and Regulations of the Theosophical Society are not implemented in its Sections. Sections have their own by-laws and are incorporated under various forms of societies or non-for-profit organizations under national laws.
The owners of the TS are its members.
This is probably the case with the Theosophical Society in USA but it is not the case with the Theosophical Society.
The TS is indeed private organization as it was formed (as established by the Act) by private persons, but these private persons - now members - do not own it as the property of the Society can not be distributed among them upon possible dissolution (again as established by the Act).
The TS can be closed by the General Council. In addition, since not-for-profit status is conferred by various national governmental entities, the disposition of assets is controlled per national laws.
According to the Societies Registration Act: “Any number not less than three-fifths of the members of any society may determine that it shall be dissolved, and thereupon it shall be dissolved forthwith, or at the time then agreed upon, …”
The governance of the TS takes place with the President at the head of the organization, with the advice of the General Council.
According to the TS Rules and Regulations the Governing body of the TS is General Council while the President is its Executive Officer but directly elected by members and therefore in possession of corresponding powers.
* * *
I just want to add that the hard part about the TS organization
is that it is an international body - but each section has to abide by local
rules. Some of the international rules for sections go against the local laws
even. For instance the Dutch section is a ‘vereniging’ - which means it’s a
democratic organization in which the members are in control. This also includes
(I think) that it’s not for profit.
However: the fact that it is a Vereniging implies in Dutch law that ALL the members have a right to vote, while internationally I don’t think they want members to vote till they have been members for several years.
Local sections have to find their way negotiating between local law and international guidelines. In the Dutch case the members of the section felt that all members should be allowed to vote, so the compromise was made that while everybody could vote, only those who had been members over 3 years could be elected to the executive committee.
* * *
Indeed, one of the major problems is international character
of the Society but not legally implemented, so that local acts on societies
or non-for-profit organizations which grew out of local traditions impose different
The solution is quite simple (T.S. registration as international society in sections’ countries) but it would bring many side problems which should be solved simultaneously and above all it would require mutual trust which seems that is now lacking - not without reasons.
In the case you mention it is the same here in Slovenia; when a person joins whatever society s/he has to have full rights, so voting and being elected rights can not be limited. To somehow apply to international rules the TS in Slovenia is now using preparation period of two years for candidates during which they go through definite preparation course. The problem is that this course is not intended to inform candidates about the structure and functioning of the Society but it represents definite indoctrination in the theosophy as interpreted by those who are leading courses.
* * *
What implies to spread Theosophy? What Theosophy are we
spreading? We have been told that the kind of life of members is the best
way to transmit Theosophy. Is it? How to balance the need for a “spiritual”,
inner life of members with an active, external life dedicated for communicate
theosophy and trying to affect the culture of the world, using the modern
possibilities? Do we need to chance the way we present theosophy? Again,
what theosophy? The Theosophy of our hearts or the theosophy of our books?
Great questions, but hard to answer? But maybe not necessarily so!
You said: “We have been told that the kind of life of members is the best way to transmit Theosophy. Is it?”
That is what all is about! Until we individually and collectively, do not embody the philosophy we are preaching no one will take as seriously. Until we, as a society or even as a theosophical movement at large, will not display spirit of altruism, tolerance, peace and brotherliness reflecting in our everyday life, no one will believe that our philosophy is working, maybe neither we ourselves. We do not need to be perfect. That goal is long ahead. But we have to show genuine desire and intent expressed in everyday life that we are prepared to improve and that we are indeed improving, moving towards perfection. That is enough to convince people and ourselves that we are serious on what we are talking about.
“How to balance the need for a “spiritual”, inner life of members with an active, external life dedicated for communicate theosophy and trying to affect the culture of the world, using the modern possibilities? Do we need to chance the way we present theosophy?”
Let’s say that we decide that we would like to present theosophy to the teenagers in a definite country. We will begin to prepare material studying and comparing that country’s religious traditions and culture, how they affect young people’s everyday life, then we will continue to examine the conditions in which teenagers live there, what are the consequences of modern life they face, how they react, to what they are susceptible to, and so on, and so on. Finally, we will choose methods and media which will help us to directly deliver our message to them. In doing so, we will engage ourselves in a creative process motivated by care for others. And if our work will have some impact, there is no, in my view, higher spiritual experience one can reach - it will reflects in the eyes of those young people.
“Again, what theosophy? The Theosophy of our hearts or the theosophy of our books?”
Again, if we will choose to engage ourselves in a similar as above mentioned creative process we will discover that we are conditioned by our theosophical tradition, by our acquired knowledge, maybe by our less fortunate characteristics as for instance prejudices, etc. and that this is necessarily our equipment we are starting with. In studying and collecting material we will possibly learn that to address the issue properly we have to acquire new information, what our founders have had to say, what members of other theosophical traditions have contributed, that we have to broaden our perspective and understanding. And when we will start to ponder how we will properly present all those valuable views to modern people we will discover that we must use our creative imagination to make them vital in modern circumstances, adapted to that place and time. In that way theosophy from our books will pour outward through our hearts.
At the end I would like to draw your attention to an inspiring lecture KEEPING THE LINK UNBROKEN delivered by our theosophical friend Erica Letzerich Georgiades at her mother lodge Hypatia in Greece and to one of my favorite speeches given by John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) before the Supreme Court of the United States of America as represented in the movie AMISTAD directed by Steven Spielberg.
* * *
The T.S. seems to me to be extremely steeped in tradition,
which many longtime members simply take for granted, but which many newcomers
may be totally unaware of. That sense of tradition is great for developing
fraternity among existing members, but at times can make newer members feel
One issue that I have not seen addressed quite so directly here is that of culture. The T.S.’ international nature has been addressed from a legal/regulatory standpoint, but culture is a relevant issue too. The cultures in America and India, for instance, are quite different from each other and I think the culture of a country plays a powerful role in how the TS might organize or what activities might prevail. For example:
The owners of the TS are its members.
This is probably the case with the Theosophical Society in USA but it is not the case with the Theosophical Society.
I know that reflects the way the T.S. is organized as a legal consequence, but the laws of a given country are shaped by their culture, and the viewpoint that a membership organization should be “owned” by its members is a highly democratic, egalitarian sentiment, very characteristic of the American ethos. Working in Member Services, I do get the sense that some members do feel that sense of ownership over the Society (I am not judging that as “right” or “wrong,” simply describing a pattern that I notice).
I get the impression that the general attitude of members in India is to rally around their leader, Radha, whereas there is a marked tendency in America to be more critical of our leaders. That, too, seems to reflect our democratic ideals. Maybe that has to do with the quality of leadership itself, but I also think that speaks to a difference in culture. I think such differences may play a quiet role in certain issues, such as the recent controversies; people of different cultures have different expectations, both of their leaders and of the other members. In an international Society, this can complicate things. For this reason, awareness of how we communicate and with whom we are communicating can be crucial.
I also want to comment on mentioning that the Thee Objects are the guiding principles of the T.S. I must confess, my emphatic sympathy with the Three Objects is the very reason that I joined. At the time that I did so, I knew nothing about Theosophy. I was under the impression that Theosophy was simply a general worldview that attempts to synthesize science, religion and philosophy. I have since learned that that may be taken to be the “lowercase” meaning of the term, but I have also now discovered “uppercase” Theosophy, which is a specific set of teachings that seems to often crystallize into an outright dogma among some TS members. Unofficially, it does seem that Theosophy is another guiding principle of the Society. If I may be frank, the objective of “dissemination of Theosophy” (otherwise known as “The Ancient Wisdom”) is often stated and used at an administrative level, at least in the American section. I suppose that is fitting, since it is the Theosophical Society after all, but to the lay person, the Three Objects can be taken in a much broader spirit than the one in which they seem to be practiced by the Society. The Object says nothing about Theosophy itself. However, while the Society is not only tolerant but encouraging of the integration of different religious and idealistic viewpoints, it seems biased towards doing so within the framework of Theosophy itself, which is only one way of doing it.
Another member of the Community has started the thread Why Are Theosophists So Hostile Against Astral Projection, which to me, seems to be an example of some of the problems that arise when people come to the T.S. with one idea about what the organization is all about, and wind up disappointed or disillusioned. He cites an instance in which he was allegedly talked down to quite harshly by a Theosophical leader, having the Theosophical viewpoint rubbed in his face. While that is not acceptable, knowing what I now know about the Society and about Theosophy, I would not have even brought up the discussion of astral projection at a T.S. function - simply because I would not want to start an argument. The problem is, most newcomers aren’t clued into that subtlety. We talk about Masters and the astral and mental planes, and hold books in our library about Invisible Helpers, yet we discourage such activity? That is very confusing and indicative of some loose ends that need to be tied up, organizationally.
This is another reason that it would behoove us, as an organization, to bring some more clarity to the issue of what we are about - in order to effectively communicate our message and goals to the public, we need to have them straightened out for ourselves.
It’s a tricky line to walk - personal freedom is one of the tenets of the organization, but at the same time, too little definition can turn an organization into a dis-organization.
* * *
I have to admit that my basic guiding principle of being in
the T.S. and attempting to “do Theosophy” is the Objects. Everything else is
pretty much cultural window dressing. It is the Objects that make the organization
relevant, even as certain writings rise and fall in popularity with time. They
are what give us the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and maintain
a state of continuous improvement. They also provide the framework for an honest
exploration of many topics. I do not see truly honest experimentation with
anything as being contrary to the Objects. In fact, that the very methodology
of what HPB and the Mahatmas had originally intended for the public organization
are inherent in the Objects. In some ways it seems that the dogmatic accretions
that have taken place over the years are imnimical to our Objects and need
to be openly and honestly examined.
People sometimes tend to take tradition and mistake it for an eternal truth. Most of what we call “truth” is applicable to certain times, places, and circumstances. This does not stop many people from blindly observing rituals and performing acts whose utility may have passed a hundred years ago. Everyone who knows me well knows that my favorite writing in the Theosophical tradition is the “Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett”. However, much of what is in the letters is open to a wide range of interpretations, some at variance with our “traditions” (See ML #10 in particular). A good example of this is the work “The Masters Revealed” by Paul Johnson. Paul presents alternative theories on the identities of the Mahatmas based on historical documents. The conclusions he reaches may affect how people perceive the traditions, but does not have any bearing whatsoever on the Objects. That’s the beauty of using our objectives as our guidepost. They are timeless in nature and dynamic in character.
The role of the T.S. should be primarily investigatory and that of the eternal inquirer, who is in a never-ending quest for the truth, in any form. Our power lies in the ability to ask questions, and in using our unique perspectives (we have some great stuff!!!) and truly outside the box thinking to steer our culture into a safer future.
* * *
I have to admit that my basic guiding principle of being
in the TS and attempting to "do Theosophy" is the Objects.
That brings up an issue for clarification: Are the Objects meant as a vehicle to serve the promulgation of Theosophy, or is Theosophy a vessel meant to serve the causes voiced in the Three Objects?
Based on the way the Society works, to me it looks as though, in practice, Theosophy is the “prime directive.” The Objects serve as guidelines for the way the Society actualizes Theosophical teachings, rather than the other way around. Signs of this abound. The Society seems to put the majority of its energy into those expressions of the Three Objects which also promote Theosophy. Other potential expressions that do not necessarily promote Theosophy or are considered “un-Theosophical” are usually set aside in favor of those that accentuate Theosophy’s role in the world, even if they do not conflict with the Three Objects in the purest sense. Some practices are shunned as “black magic” even if there is no ill intent inherent in them and they don't really hurt anybody, and in general there is a near-superstitious adherence to set codes of conduct that holds a powerful influence, even if it hasn’t managed to completely swallow the Society.
Why is this question important? Well, what if I proposed a reversal in priority? That is, what if I suggested that the Society pursue the Three Objects first and Theosophy second? I know that suggestion would be controversial. Some would be disgusted by it, as it would turn tradition on its head. Some would perceive it as an affront to the Theosophical work being done today and the work done by the founders - even an affront to the founders themselves. Due to the flavor of inversion inherent in the idea, I am sure that some would go so far as to opine that only a dugpa would propose such a thing - an enemy of Theosophy, seeking to put it all asunder.
Would such a re-orientation necessarily be to the detriment
of Theosophy? For example, does it mean abandoning Lodges, Study Centers and
Theosophical discourse in general? Would it necessarily dilute Theosophical
teachings? I think not. I think it could actually strengthen Theosophy’s core
message, bringing more exposure by getting the ideas out a greater number of
people. But let’s look beyond Theosophy itself for a minute; is it possible
that by compromising somewhat, as an organization, on our conformity
with Theosophical principles, we might actually manage to widen the scope of
the work we do, thus serving the world more effectively?
I admit the bias of my viewpoint, being that of someone who was drawn in by the Objects themselves and also being a person who has never taken part in a Theosophical Lodge - but from the outside looking in, it seems as though we may be reaching a point at which the Society’s clinging to tradition may be diminishing its relevance and effectiveness in the world at large. While we are hanging on the words and intentions of the founders and Masters, let us not forget that the Society was intended to serve the world and the world is changing. I am not badmouthing the tradition, as it is beautiful and has served the Society very well during its early period; we should never forget our roots. At the same time, the world is in a critical period, and we may be able to get the spiritual, healing, unifying essence of the Theosophical message out to more people, putting it into greater practice, by loosening our grip on the past and boldly stepping into the future. The big buzzword now, all over the world, is “change,” and we see paradigm shifts everywhere we look. The world itself is in transition. Is the Society immune to this sweeping force? The Society has always been progressive, but is it so progressive that what we were doing 100 years ago should necessarily suffice today?
* * *
Maybe the answer to your dilemma is that actually there is
The history of man’s development and progress in true spiritual insight has proven time and again that the moment we put our beliefs in ‘capitals’ we specialize and become static; the moment we specialize, we limit; and when we limit we begin to lose the very essence of that which we are seeking. In physical or administrative matters, we must of necessity define a problem in order to focus our attention on this or that specific area of interest. But when we treat of “divine things” that pertain to the growing inner constitution of man and of the cosmos, we are dealing with non-static developing principles of truth, whether we call them Buddhism or Christianity, Neo-platonism or theosophy. (Theosophia - Knowledge of Things Divine, Roundtable with James A. Long.)
In my view, this is the reason why word “theosophy” is not mentioned in the Society’s Constitution but it finds its necessary outer concretization in the Society’s Objects. When we pursue the Objects we perform theosophical approach to the problems that exist in the society at large. Objects are therefore necessarily limited extension or aspects of theosophy in physical life that somehow determines the frame within which we, as a Society, have to move.
With how much of the Nature-searching, God-seeking science of the ancient Aryan and Greek mystics and of the powers of modern spiritual mediumship, does the Theosophical Society agree? Our answer is: - With it all. But if asked what it believes in, the reply will be: - “As a body - Nothing”. The society, as a body, has no creed [Official Theosophy - my addition], for creeds are but the shells of unspiritual knowledge; and Theosophy in its fruition is spiritual knowledge itself - the very essence of philosophical and theistic enquiry. Visible representative of Universal Theosophy, it can be no more sectarian than a Geographical Society, which represents universal geographic exploration without caring whether the explorers be of one creed or another. The religion of the Society is an algebraical equation, in which, so long as the sign of equality is not omitted, each member is free to substitute quantities of his own, which accord better with climatic and other exigencies of his native land, with the idiosyncrasies of his people, or even with his own. Having no accepted creed, our Society is very ready to give and take, to learn and teach, by practical experimentation, as opposed to mere passive and credulous acceptance of enforced dogma. It is willing to accept every result claimed by any school or system that can be logically and experimentally demonstrated. Conversely, it can take nothing on mere faith, no matter by whom the demand may be made.
Born in the United States of America, the Society was constituted on the model of its Mother-land. The latter, omitting the name of God from its constitution, lest it should one day afford a pretext to make a State religion, gives absolute equality to all religions in its laws. All support and each is in turn protected by the State. The Society modeled upon this constitution may fairly be termed “a republic of Conscience”.
Our members, as individuals, are free to stay outside or inside any creed they please, provided they do not pretend that none but themselves shall enjoy the privilege of conscience, and try to force their opinions upon the others. The Theosophical Society tries to act upon the wisdom of the old Buddhistic axiom: - “Honour thine own faith, and do not slander that of others”.
Broader and far more universal in its views than any existing mere scientific Society, it has, plus science, its belief in every possibility and the determined will to penetrate into those unknown spiritual regions which exact science proclaims that its votaries have no business to explore. And it has one quality more than any religion in that it makes no difference between Gentile, Jew or Christian. It is in this spirit that the Society has been established upon the footing of a Universal Brotherhood. (Anonymous, What are Theosophists? - Theosophical Siftings, Volume 1.)
* * *
To be clear, most of what I see is what goes on here at the
National Center. Theosophy-specific ideas have an influence on what goes on
here that, I admit, may not reach most members. I suppose I wonder to myself:
To what extent does the Theosophy-centered policymaking reach out into the
greater Theosophical world? As a Theosophist myself, aware of the interconnectedness
of things and the fact that even the smallest ripple can create tidal waves
farther out to sea, I may over-estimate the extent to which that influence
is felt in the larger Theosophical world.
One concrete example of what I’m talking about is that the kitchen here at Olcott is totally vegetarian and in fact no meat or alcohol are allowed on the grounds at all. I am of the understanding that the policy is derived directly from Theosophical teaching. Now, that only effects people here at Olcott in any noticeable way, but it is only one example. Similar influences govern what gets published by TPH, what goes into The Quest magazine, what lectures we hold here and thus which ones we webcast to the world, etc.
I recognize that it is also the stated policy of the TS to allow members their freedom of thought, expression and development, as your well-chosen excerpts illustrate, but the kind of examples I have described above have subtle effects that can operate in more "unofficial" or perhaps even unconscious channels. We can emphasize over and over in our writings and in our speech that the TS welcomes freedom of expression, but when one particular ideology constitutes the near totality of what is officially promoted by an organization, it can send the unconscious signal, especially to newcomers, that other ideas will only ever hold a secondary interest to the Society.
These things are hard to quantify, it’s hard to come up with concrete examples of what I’m trying to get at - this is more something that I pick up just under the surface of consciousness, in subtle ways. What also complicates things is that I myself believe very much in Theosophical ideals, I find it a great framework for the Objects and for positively transformative action - but at the same time, I can see in different ways how a subtle over-emphasis on Theosophical doctrine is turning some people off (especially young people) at a time when we propose to be looking for ways to increase membership (especially among young people.)
Ever since I joined, I have felt a subtle push to conform to Theosophical ideals and “learn the ropes” - there is a quiet sense that in order to be taken seriously in the widest array of discussions, I must be well-versed in certain key theosophical texts, for all the quoting of them that seems to take the place of honest, open discussion. So many figures in the TS seem more apt to open a book and quote other Theosophical sources than to use their own words, their own insights. It is oh-so-much like a hard-line religious fundamentalist quoting scripture, except the person doing it can simply fall back on a quote about how Theosophy is so open and accepting in order to deflect any confrontation on the issue.
* * *
Now, what pushed me out of the National Society here is that
the Objects of the Society are actually not pursued, that there is actually
an “Official Theosophy” discussed with no other purpose than for the personal
interests of members.
What I am presenting here is my understanding of how our Constitution should be understood and implemented to make the theosophy vital force in our Society and in the society at large.
Therefore it is normal that young members feel alienated as the Society in general is somehow isolated in its own world and almost self-sufficient. The only thing which finds response in young people is active life around them while other things are just boring. And there is in my view practically only one solution: look around, see what is the greatest need which should be met or at least that one which could be to some extend satisfied and launch a creative learning and exploring process of finding solutions according to the theosophical philosophy and experience brotherhood. Make the Objects operational! Theosophy has to be a living experience otherwise it is just some more sophisticated amusement.
* * *
Your words here are both wise and inspiring. As it happens, minutes after I made my previous post, I attended a meeting called to address the issue of getting young people involved in Theosophy. My post was probably charged with some of my pent-up frustration. It is difficult to describe, and to articulate to others, the feelings that arise, and the thing that I am speaking about is more a force or trend than a specific set of policies or actions. It would probably be much more effective to address that force directly by taking such creative, constructive action as you have here described, and we came up with some good ideas in that meeting we had. I have some projects to put my energy into now and it is good.
* * *
And what is really important is that the Society should have
to be in contact with the pressing needs of the world and address them - With
respect, I disagree with your assessment.
If more human beings would be more open minded and would even try to understand other teachings beyond their limited point of view, the world would be better, but to do this one has to dare to go outside the box, so to speak; of feeling comfortable; of being selfish; of saying, among other things, that is not my problem.
The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which Buddha taught was “life is suffering” - The Road Less TRAVELED.
When a person is willing to get outside the box, that person, while doing so of his own free will, has lovingly and humbly accepted suffering as part of moving a step up the ladder that will lead him/her to nirvana; and to do that requires an unselfish and generous soul; it requires a sound mind; it requires a soft heart.
With respect, gentlemen, Theosophy is not for everyone. Theosophy is what it is and it is there for whomever is ready to receive it. It does not have to accommodate to the needs of anyone; it is we who have to understand it and practice it.
At a conference held in 1993, Dr. Radha Burnier said: “to be a person who can live without a feeling of distinction is a regenerated person”.
Regenerated persons is what the world needs, and a person
who is ready to study and receive the teachings of Theosophy could regenerate
himself/herself thus help make the world a better place.
It is not Theosophy who has to adjust to the World; it is the opposite, we human beings need to prepare ourselves and get to the level of understanding that would open our minds, ears and eyes to Theosophy.
From the same recording Radhaji says: “... a remark which my father made many years ago when this question was asked: why don’t we have many more members? He said: ‘Suppose we had a million selfish members, would the world be better? A small number (members) with the right kind of energy can do what a large number (members) who don’t have that energy cannot do’.”
We need persons, students of Theosophy, theosophists with the right kind of energy. Unfortunately for the world to have the right kind of energy it requires a lot of work, self-sacrifice, diligence, consistency, discipline, daring, altruism, and above all DIVINE LOVE and HUMILITY. How many human beings are there willing to do this? Sadly, not many. In a world of more than two billion persons, I do not think there are even a million.
ENQUIRER: Is moral elevation, then, the principal thing insisted upon in your Society?
THEOSOPHIST: Undoubtedly! He who would be a
true Theosophist must bring himself to live as one.
ENQUIRER: If so, then, as I remarked before, the behavior of some members strangely belies this fundamental rule.
THEOSOPHIST: Indeed it does. But this cannot
be helped among us, any more than amongst those who call themselves Christians
and act like fiends. This is no fault of our statutes and rules, but that of
human nature. Even in some exoteric public branches, the members pledge themselves
on their "Higher Self" to live the life prescribed by Theosophy.
They have to bring their Divine Self to guide their every thought and action,
every day and at every moment of their lives. A true Theosophist ought “to
deal justly and walk humbly”.
ENQUIRER: What do you mean by this?
THEOSOPHIST: Simply this: the one self has
to forget itself for the many selves. Let me answer you in the words of a true
Philaletheian, and F.T.S., who has beautifully expressed it in the Theosophist:
“What every man needs first if to find himself, and then take an honest inventory
of his subjective possessions, and, bad or bankrupt as it may be, it is not
beyond redemption if we set about it in earnest.” But how many do? All are
willing to work for their own development and progress; very few for those
of others. To quote the same writer again: "Men have been deceived and
deluded long enough; they must break their idols, put away their shams, and
go to work for themselves-nay, there is one little word too much or too many,
for he who works for himself had better not work at all; rather let him work
himself for others, for all. For every flower of love and charity he plants
in his neighbor’s garden, a loathsome weed will disappear from his own, and
so this garden of the gods-Humanity-shall blossom as a rose. In all Bibles,
all religions, this is plainly set forth-but designing men have at first misinterpreted
and finally emasculated, materialized, besotted them. It does not require a
new revelation. Let every man be a revelation unto himself. Let once man’s
immortal spirit take possession of the temple of his body, drive out the money-changers
and every unclean thing, and his own divine humanity will redeem him, for when
he is thus at one with himself he will know the ‘builder of the Temple’.”
ENQUIRER: This is pure Altruism, I confess.
THEOSOPHIST: It is. And if only one Fellow
of the T.S. out of ten would practice it ours would be a body of elect indeed.
But there are those among the outsiders who will always refuse to see the essential
difference between Theosophy and the Theosophical Society, the idea and its
imperfect embodiment. Such would visit every sin and shortcoming of the vehicle,
the human body, on the pure spirit which sheds thereon its divine light. Is
this just to either? They throw stones at an association that tries to work
up to, and for the propagation of, its ideal with most tremendous odds against
it. Some vilify the Theosophical Society only because it presumes to attempt
to do that in which other systems - Church and State Christianity preeminently
- have failed most egregiously; others because they would fain preserve the
existing state of things: Pharisees and Sadducees in the seat of Moses, and
publicans and sinners reveling in high places, as under the Roman Empire during
its decadence. Fair-minded people, at any rate, ought to remember that the
man who does all he can, does as much as he who has achieved the most, in this
world of relative possibilities. This is a simple truism, an axiom supported
for believers in the Gospels by the parable of the talents given by their Master:
the servant who doubled his two talents was rewarded as much as that other
fellow-servant who had received five. To every man it is given “according to
his several ability.” - The Key To Theosophy.
“In Hindustan, as in England, there are doctrines for the learned, and dogmas for the unlearned; strong meat for men, and milk for babes; facts for the few, and fictions for the many; realities for the wise, and romances for the simple; esoteric truth for the philosopher, and exoteric fable for the fool.” - Theosophical Articles, H.P.B. - NY, Jan. 20th, 1877; Spiritualist, Feb. 8, 1878
* * *
I am not suggesting that Theosophy changes to
accommodate anyone, or the world; I am suggesting that The Theosophical
Society changes to accommodate a changing world. Theosophy and The
Theosophical Society are not one and the same. In fact, that is the very problem
I am describing: The fact that so often, people do think in terms of "Theosophy
= The Theosophical Society.
You made two statements at different points in that post which, to me, seem contradictory. Here is the first:
If more human beings would be more open minded and would even try to understand other teachings beyond their limited point of view, the world would be better, but to do this one has to dare to go outside the box, so to speak.
Then, later on:
We need persons, students of Theosophy, theosophists with the right kind of energy.
It seems as though, after acknowledging the importance of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and thinking outside the box, you go on to suggest that the Theosophical Society only needs people who fit into a box - a “Theosophical box,” so to speak. Why must a person be a Theosophist in order to serve the Society? Can’t anybody, Theosophist or not, offer their time and energy as a volunteer? Do Theosophists have the monopoly on selflessness, service, and spiritual growth?
Ideas such as those seem, to me, to reflect an elitism that has developed in certain circles within the Society - leaders decry the shrinking membership numbers, while people say things like “We only want Theosophists with the right kind of energy.” Is that reflective of compassion and Brotherhood?
You support these ideas with a quote from Radha’s father:
Suppose we had a million selfish members, would the world be better? A small number (members) with the right kind of energy can do what a large number (members) who don't have that energy cannot do.
What could that small number of members with “the right energy” do if they had more money? Let me elaborate: Did you know that membership dues do not even come close to financially supporting the TSA? Did you know that money is a form of energy? It is “economic energy.”
The TSA has about 3900 members. Annual dues are currently $45.00. Some are life members, some on full or partial waivers, some pay several years in advance and get discounts, but to simplify my example I will assume the 3900 members each pay $45.00 in dues, every year. That is $175,000.00 per year going to the TSA.
What if we had a million members? Selfish or not, they pay dues. 1,000,000 members, each paying $45.00 in dues, would bring $45,000,000.00 into the TSA.
Radha’s father seemed to be looking only at the work done by each member - assuming that “selfish” members may not make a very valuable personal contribution of effort to the TSA. Still, if we had a million members, we would still have all of the same dedicated, selfless people with “the right energy,” working hard for the TS. Imagine what those talented, hard-working, selfless people could do with an annual budget of $45 million. So what if many of those 1 million people are selfish? They are not the ones deciding how the money gets spent, and meanwhile, they are paying their dues. Besides, if they are selfish, they can only benefit from being associated with the Theosophical message - by being members they are tapping into that current that will encourage spiritual growth. We are all growing.
* * *
You have opened a really important issue. The words you comment
have to be seen in the light of citations of Olcott’s views on the aims of
the Society and the passage from the Mahachohan’s letter.
As we all know, to become a member of the Theosophical Society one don’t need to be a theosophist but just to accept the Objects of the Society and, I would add, to respect and behave according to the Memorandum and Rules and Regulations of the TS. To become a theosophist it is an ideal towards which each individual member of the TS “should” strive but there is no obligation on her/him whatsoever to do so; s/he is “good enough” if s/he accepts and behaves in the sense of the first Object of the Society and does her/his best.
To encourage members of the TS to become theosophists a special organization was founded by HPB, the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. Its original aim was to form a body of students of the esoteric philosophy and that these students would therefore represent a leavening influence in the Outer Organization. (Here are links for those interested to learn something more about the foundation of the Esoteric Section and about its influence on the Theosophical Society through history.)
How this organization was and still is successful in this aim is a matter of serious examination. But I must confess that in this regard I share my opinion with that of H.S. Olcott who has had quite little respect of such attempts to organize a spiritual path and that they sooner or later turn into a dogma and represent “little centers of selfishness and superstition” which “are abhorrent to its (TS) ideal”.
From your interaction with it can be already seen what kind of effect is produced when we try to impose to the organization (or its members) certain views, as expressed in your N. Sri Ram’s and Radha Burnier’s citations, which are actually a matter of individual development. On the other hand I can only agree that the principal thing of the TS is moral elevation of its members - so let us don’t forget that the first level of morality is respect of Society’s Rules and Objects what is within the reach of every member of the Theosophical Society.
* * *
I have heard a lot of talk about the fact that the ES has a strong influence on the TS, but that is hearsay. It is hard to ignore how many TS leaders have also been ES members. I applaud Dora Kunz for her decision to leave the ES when she took office as the President of the American Section, due to the conflict of interests involved.
* * *
I am just translating Boris de Zirkoff’s article In Search of Theosophists and thought, as it addresses the issues we were talking about, to share it with you and members of the Community.
* * *
There is so much wisdom in Col. Olcott’s words ... I have personally experienced them, and let me tell you, it is something, I sincerely wish, not too many members to go through ..., and if it is their Karma that they do, I pray and hope they would have the inner strength, intelligence, generosity of soul, and kindness of heart, and determination and discernment to see beyond the appearances, and realize that the teachings of Theosophy are good and real and they have been given to us as clear as it has been reasonably possible for the Great Ones to do so.
One of the two Ascended Masters, M or K.H., who kindly and generously accepted to bear the Karma our ignorant thoughts, feelings or actions may bring upon them ..., not sure which one, said of Col. Olcott: He is one who makes many mistakes but one who is always willing and quick to correct them ..., and one whose loyalty is far between and very difficult to find (these are my own words, and I can't remember exactly where I read about this; eventually I will find it again and when I do, I’d be glad to quote it for you). My intuition and common sense tells me that the purpose and idea of creating the ES is good and sound. The responsibilities a student of the ES willingly accepts are great! And those in charge of giving the approval of who is qualified to enter it must absolutely do a good job at it ... They should have a strategy in place ready to dismiss one who is not complying with the higher standards required of one who is part of an ES.
I do believe, and actually have been privileged to experience it, that there are human beings, not too many, unfortunately - I believe - who are really qualified to be accepted into the ES. Regrettably and sadly as it is, I do not think there is a system in place to wisely and accurately determine who is ready to be accepted into the ES - let alone to keep track of what they do - and who isn’t; and those who are not ready and have been accepted, or who probably were somewhat ready but were not careful enough to keep the secret enemy (pride, envy, jealousy, ambition), in check-mate, so to speak, and fell into its trap have cause a lot of unwarranted, undeserved and unnecessary pain and dissension. But then again, that is nothing else but a test for us; it is nothing but Karma presenting us with an opportunity to test ourselves and our inner core, so to speak; what are we really made of at present?
Have we developed yet the discernment, Alcyone talks about in “At The Feet Of The Master”? Are we unattached as the Lioness of Theosophy, Madame H.P.B. bade us to be?
Have we acquire yet enough equilibrium between the mind, the soul, the emotional and spiritual bodies to unwaveringly stand firm and know that the teachings of Theosophy are pure and good, and that it is the lower nature of human beings that make them react in such and such way, perceived by us, and probably reasonably so, as contrary to the example they should project ... We usually tend to believe that because so and so is a student of the ES he or she is better than others ..., but this is just a fallacy; and them, students of the ES, and others as well, should always keep in mind that we are just human beings - for now, as the Great Ones were once - in pursuit of that ultimate and perfect goal, nirvana! By the same token, we should be brave and do whatever it is in our power to do to speak up for the good of Theosophy; as our Lioness say, and I quote: “... No Theosophist should be silent when he hears evil reports or slanders spread about the Society, or innocent persons, whether they be his colleagues or outsiders.”
ENQUIRER: But suppose what one hears is the truth, or may be true without one knowing it?
THEOSOPHIST: Then you must demand good proofs of the assertion, and hear both sides impartially before you permit the accusation to go uncontradicted. You have no right to believe in evil, until you get undeniable proof of the correctness of the statement.
ENQUIRER: And what should you do then?
THEOSOPHIST: Pity and forbearance, charity and long-suffering, ought to be always there to prompt us to excuse our sinning brethren, and to pass the gentlest sentence possible upon those who err. A Theosophist ought never to forget what is due to the shortcomings and infirmities of human nature.
ENQUIRER: Ought he to forgive entirely in such cases?
THEOSOPHIST: In every case, especially he who is sinned against.
ENQUIRER: But if by so doing, he risks to injure, or allow others to be injured? What ought he to do then?
THEOSOPHIST: His duty; that which his conscience and higher nature suggests to him; but only after mature deliberation. Justice consists in doing no injury to any living beings; but justice commands us also never to allow injury to be done to the many, or even to one innocent person, by allowing the guilty one to go unchecked. - The Key To Theosophy.
* * *
On item to keep in perspective is that there was a Theosophical
Society in existence before any of the literature which is taken by some as
canon came into existence. Throughout the history of the T.S., the Objects
have stayed pretty much the same. The T.S. was always meant to be a public
organization which is why the Objects have been posted prominently no matter
what the prevailing environment. They, more than anything else, tell the world
“This is Who We Are”.
Speaking of the various dogmas within the movement, there are many reasons that these become entrenched. In most cases writings around a leader or influential member acquire a life of their own. In some cases these writings are given additional authority due to other activities prevalent at the time (think of “At the Feet of the Master” in the “World Teacher” period of 1910 - 1927). For a public organization any writings should be subjected to the same standards of questioning and scrutiny as produced by any other persons.
This organization was designed to be a home of free inquiry and intense questioning. That part is clear. It also happens to be the only way that a movement like this can remain relevant. I've been a member for almost 25 years and have a pretty decent reputation as a student of the HPB and the “Mahatma Letters to AP Sinnett” (ML). Those writings inspire my activity in the TS. One of the continual themes of many writings, especially the ML is the absolute necessity of the TS to explore the world of ideas (Ideas rule the world ...) and to be a crucible in which the great minds of the day can debate the most pressing issues and solve our problems collectively.
If you want to see where we could be in a few years, go to www.edge.org and imagine that with our perspectives. Now, THAT would be INTERESTING!!! The amazing thing is ... we can be that. We have those ideas in our writings, and they are common enough to constitute a “theme”. To develop a new meme doesn’t mean we have to discredit or denigrate older interpretations. They worked, for the most part, for the culture where they blossomed. It’s our duty to find what works for the world that we’re in, and when it’s time, let those who follow us bring their own approaches to the table.
* * *
Thanks a lot for the link to this excellent web site. Already some time ago I wrote an article on Principles and Rules. Language is to great extend poor but the idea is that we can and should transform each our interaction into theosophical experience; every work we do alone or together, every meeting, even every post on this internet Community. We can do so if there is present in us a sincere desire to address and solve an actual problem, that we indulge ourselves in, as you say, free inquiry and deep questioning, and if we take time to carefully listen to what others say and let that resound in us.
* * *
I’d be very interested in hearing your perspective. My background
is based mostly in Lodges where I server in just about every capacity except
treasurer. My favorite role was program chairperson. One of the things that
we had done was to try to establish our building as something of a community
center. We regularly invited people from the community in and had open houses
for folk in our neighborhood.
One thing that we have to be really observant of is an understanding why people join, become active and maintain activity in a group. It is fine to speak of Universal Brotherhood, Objects and the rest, but honestly most folk belong to groups for social reasons, and oddly enough, the Objects. When I was President of the Akron Branch, we had conducted a survey with the help of a community activist who specialized in group dynamics. I wanted the group to study “Theosophy” and get into performing community projects. The survey results said something completely different. Our officers and most of the regulars who attended were there because of the 3 Objects and because it was a comfortable place to be with others of like mind. That was, in many ways, a real wakeup call.
In our efforts to promote the T.S. and whatever else we do, we must never forget that we are here for our members, and not the other way around. That’s the reality on the group level. Honestly, the whole group dynamic thing is a very long and involved subject and I would love to rattle on about it endlessly, and perhaps someday I’ll write some stuff up on that. The short version is that people have wants and needs. If we don’t address those, someone else will. The same goes for us, too. If the T.S. doesn’t address our needs and we don't feel that we are benefiting in some manner, then it doesn’t make much sense to hang around.
* * *
Big “T” Theosophy and the Objects are different things. The Objects are an approach to what we do. In a sense, anyone who actively ascribes to the Objects, by their actions, is carrying out the goals of the T.S. They are our methodology and our goals. What one writer or another may say is their opinion and that evolves into tradition and becomes a dogma (oops, my Krishnamurti is showing!). Those traditions are called, and somewhat idiosyncratically, “Theosophy”. Theosophies have existed for thousands of years, back to the days of the Greeks, through the Neo-Platonists and to the Middle Ages (Jacob Boehme, the “Theosophist”, for example). We’re just a Johnny-come-lately in our usage of the word. I like how the Sufi's approach this stuff: “Time, Place and Circumstance”. That makes sense.
* * *
What you call “Theosophies” here are what I would call “little-t”
Theosophy, which is a more general framework. “Big-T” Theosophy denotes those
teachings primarily espoused by Blavatsky, Judge, Olcott and their ideological
descendents; it has its own jargon and certain specific teachings about the
I am expressing the opinion that “little-t” theosophy is more compatible with the Objects than “Big-T” Theosophy in that “little-t” theosophy does not necessarily contain any specific teachings - only general ones. It is Big-T Theosophy that tells us the universe is cut up into a specific number of planes, and that number is seven; it tells us that there are a specific number of root races, and that number is seven, and so on. These are very explicit teachings, around the promulgation of which, dogmatic thinking and behavior will inevitably crystallize. A point is eventually reached at which Theosophy (as a specific set of teachings) becomes no different, in practice, than any of the religions that it claims to stand above/encompass within its grasp.
This is not a new problem and Blavatsky addressed it herself - which is quite astounding, when you think about it - the ideology’s very founder spoke against that, and still it happens. Although there are individuals within the Society who have avoided this pitfall, I think that the Society itself has fallen into this trap in practical terms. I speak not of the membership body here, but of “the machine,” the administrative structure and the power base. I hesitate to say “the leaders” because not all leaders have succumbed to this - but that is the general direction in which the Society seems to me to have been headed. I also think a lot of this goes on at the unconscious level ... people come in, buy into the prevailing norms and mores, and carry business on as usual. There are subtle currents that carry things in that direction, which we all need to be aware of.
* * *
It would be very interesting to know something more about your work. If there is more material you would like to share I would be happy to arrange it into a web page and put it on the web site.
* * *
I like your thoughts regarding groups. One of the things that
attracts me to the T.S. is the social work done by Annie Besant. I’ve known
several prominent members of the Indian Section and others in the Hindu community
in the Midwest. They speak of Besant as a deliverer of India and a great saint.
Her work will stand on its own regardless of its association with the T.S.
That is the power of one person who cares!
To the more prosaic aspects of group work, most of this stuff was beat into my head by Diana Dunningham and Linda Jo Pym, with the “Fieldwork Department” of the late 80’s and early 1990’s. The big step required for us, against all of our wishes is to just step back and be rational about our organization. Every spiritual/religious organization has some mythology which qualifies it as special and not subject to the rules that govern mere mortals. Unfortunately sometime folk believe too much of the mythology and forget that, just like holding down a job, there’s certain things you have to do well or the boss fires you. To be honest with you, it’s the inability to do simple things well that is at the root of most the problems groups face. What in a group is “simple”?
* Scheduling speakers and making sure that all those details are taken care of.
* Printing and mailing newsletters. Most groups fear this more than anything else, especially if you have a really big mailing list!
* Making sure you have a meeting place.
* Paying the group's bills.
* Greeting visitors.
* Having beverages at the meeting.
* Setting up chairs.
* Setting up the electronics (microphones, recorders, video player, etc.).
* Handling the disruptive person in the audience who "needs" your forum to ride their hobby horse.
* Smoothing the ruffled feathers of members who are in a tizzy.
* Developing members.
That’s the life of a leader in a group. If they’re good and the membership is active, a lot of this can be delegated. Unfortunately, that’s very few groups (Detroit, Seattle, New York, Cleveland, Ojai, and maybe four or five others). In the rest of the groups one or two people do everything above and several more things that I forgot to mention. By the time 10pm rolls and the meeting if over, you’re fried crisp. What you don’t want is for Wheaton, the Federation President, District Director or someone else coming in and telling you want to do. If they care so much, they should pitch in and help.
The other dirty little secret of group work is that many volunteers are just seeking by and by nature or nurture don’t really have the skills to do the job well. They just happen to be the person most dedicated to the work that they’re doing or the last one left standing. They just do the best they can with the tools that they’ve got. Oh, and did I forget to mention that most of these folk are holding down a full-time job and many are raising a family at the same time.
One other aside, but it’s pertinent. Many of the “followers” of HPB / Annie Besant / Katherine Tingley were upper-crust dilettantes who had nothing better to do with their time than to chase after mystics and pursue enlightenment. Our culture doesn’t allow much of that anymore.
p. s. I’ve ordered three books from Amazon on the subject that look pretty good. If there’s anything that seems to apply to the TS, directly (we have a few quirks), I’ll be happy to post.
* * *
I am trying to add my share to the reform of the TS, so that creative work within the Society’s Objects would hopefully prevail. Therefore I am looking forward to hear from you creative ideas for the group work and to engage myself to promote them.
* * *
Why don’t we start a discussion on this, separately, and make the focus on running groups? It may or may not take off, but hopefully we might be able to help some of the group leaders out there. I think that we’ve reached a general point of agreement, now we can start working on positive ideas/suggestions.
Groups! Share your Wisdom.
* * *
This talk about running groups is timely for me to see. As it happens, what we discussed at that “Young people in Theosophy” meeting that I mentioned centered around the “Spiritual Discussion Group” now running at Olcott, for young people. It is basically the newest incarnation of the Young Theosophists, but they didn’t want to name it “Young Theosophists” because they didn’t want it wed to Theosophy. They talk about all kinds of things there. However, it came up in the meeting that the group needs more dedicated members, someone to be there each and every week and make sure it stays consistent. At the meeting, I actually proposed that the group could be run like a Lodge, with officers and all. It is interesting to me that there is not an actual Lodge at Olcott. There should be, it’s the most obvious place for one. I think if there were a working Lodge at Olcott, “Wheaton” would behave much more sympathetically with the groups.
* * *
Yeah, it’s a completely different perspective, looking from
HQ out than from a local group looking in. However, that may be a really good
thing. Given the structure of the Section, about all Headquarters can do, as
long as a group is behaving within their charter, is provide support and encouragement.
So, the most important thing on a National level is to provide leadership and
set good examples for the groups and the membership as a whole.
A good example of this leadership, and it may address some of the membership number issue, goes back to the 1970’s when we made our last big recovery in numbers. The work of Dora Kunz and the popularization of the “Therapeutic Touch” movement resulted in a lot of publicity for us that endured well into the 1980’s and 1990’s. I would chalk our “decent” numbers towards the end of that period up to the tireless work of Diana Dunningham and Linda Jo Pym. Both of them were engaged in activities very similar to those that our Community is working towards.
Last update: January 2009