The Theosophical Society (Adyar)

Future of the Theosophical Society

Have we a problem?

Discussion on The Theosophical Community launched by Anton Rozman
with participation of Juan Guillermo Vieira now summarized and edited by the former.
Work in progress.

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What is a problem? In Webster's Dictionary it is defined as: a state of difficulty that needs to be resolved; a source of difficulty; a question raised for consideration or solution.

A problem is therefore a situation where we have an opportunity to make a difference, to make things better. So, whenever we think creatively and critically about the way in which we can improve the quality of our mutual relations, organization, Society’s life, we are trying to actively solve a definite problem.

In view of recent discussions within the Society in regard to the President’s election and By-laws amendments proposal process it is quite obvious that we, as a Society, have a problem - not only one problem but many problems.

What problems? There will probably be as many answers to this question as many will be those who will try to address this question. Some will possibly think that we don’t have any problem at all.

I personally think that we have many problems and that we should try to find the way how to solve them. In the constitutional structure of our Society we naturally have elected and appointed officials forming definite bodies which are designed to address and solve institutional and other problems, but it seems that we have problem also with proper or all-satisfactory functioning of these bodies. On the other hand it was said that actual critical situation demands that everyone’s voice is expressed and heard. So, how can we all contribute to increase the quality of our mutual relations, organization and Society’s life in general? In my opinion, we can in first place critically inspect the situation, clearly define the problems and then find the way how to creatively solve them.

Said this, I dare therefore to propose you that we try to co-create together what can possibly become wonderful journey towards more all-inclusive experience and efficient organization.

To start to list our difficulties I will assume that we have the following problems:

1. Lack of clear common vision about the nature of our Society - Is our Society “spiritual” or “normal” organization? Is it both? What makes it “spiritual”? What makes it “normal”?

2. Lack of communication - Is not lack of communication one of the reasons which make communication violent? What are the reasons for lack of communication? Is communication on and between all levels in an organization important?

3. Lack of cooperation - What are the reasons for small level of members’ involvement? What are the reasons for small level of international cooperation?

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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.

Although there are many theories about this, I just want to call attention to this, summarizing: We can differentiate them by (1) its property, who is or are the owner (s), in public sector who are the owner? In private sector we are clear about the ownership. (2) We can differentiate them by its aims. In private sector we are clear that these are: earnings; in public sector we are clear that earnings are not the main objectives: some say that public organizations are looking for development, social quality of life. Now we differentiate Gross Domestic Product and Development, especially since Mr. Amartya Sen’s works. And (3) we can differentiate public and private organizations by its processes to get its aims, in private sector is “the market”, in public sector is “the political process”. With this in mind we should be careful about the “privatization” of public sector. Anyway it is accepted that managing any organization could need to apply some functions, abstractly equal for all. These functions are summarized in the acronym POSDCORB of Luther Gulick: Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting.

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? Do we need the functions described in the POSDCORB?
The T.S. is not property of any state, that’s why we say is not a public organization. Just in that sense. We could say that is public as is open to “all”.

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 us think all this in as a whole?

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You have raised some really important questions in regard to the nature of the Society, but let us not forget that we already have a starting point to begin with.

The Theosophical Society was incorporated under the India’s Societies Registration Act 1860 - Act for the registration of literary, scientific and charitable societies. And I think that this is an important fact. Our Society is not not-for-profit organization incorporated under the companies or corporations acts, it is a society. It 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 no be distributed among them upon possible dissolution (again as established by the Act). Therefore, I would say, it is private organization with public character. In addition, our Society’s by-laws were written after the example of the US Constitution what additionally stress its public character.

What does this mean? It means that it is an organization which is beyond partial interests of its members, that it is an organization which is intended to realize definite common interest of its members and, more over, that this common interest is related to some special need that exists in the society at large.

Now, this is, in my view, the point on which our Society differentiates from other literary, scientific and charitable societies dedicated to satisfy some concrete needs that exist in the society at large. Namely, what makes it special is its abstract aim, its “spiritual” aspect, which was expressed by H.S. Olcott as follows:

Its aim is to float ideas which are likely to benefit the whole world, to give clear and just conceptions of the duty of man to man, of the way to secure peace and goodwill between nations, to show how the individual can secure happiness for himself and spread it around him by pursuing a certain line of conduct, and how ignorance, which has been declared by that great adept, the Buddha, to be the source of all human miseries, can be dispelled.

This special character, the combination of Society’s “normal” and “spiritual” aspects, is expressed by H.S. Olcott’s also in this way:

The secret … 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.

Now, problems arise when this platform has to be adopted in concrete situations which are field of confrontation of members’ private interests and common interest of the Society. Members’ private interests are legitimate, but they have to be submitted, through the decision making process, to the common interest (platform).

There are two kinds of problems present in regard to the adoption of Society’s platform in concrete situations.

First one is related to the decision making process itself and its implementation. In the current situation the TS Rules and Regulations are not fully implemented and maybe really to some extend outdated. But this is special and extensive subject and should be addressed separately, especially because there is in the air a proposal by Warwick Keys of definite innovative and radical change.

Second one is related to the selection and operation of activities which are needed for the adoption of the platform in concrete life of the Society. But, again, this is another special subject which I will try to address separately. It has to do with the questions you raised: We can differentiate public and private organizations (activities) by its processes to get its aims, in private sector is “the market”, in public sector is “the political process”. What would be the best way to structure our organization so that we will fulfill our important “spiritual” objectives? Can we improve the way the material organization works, towards where?

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As said, there are two kinds of problems present in regard to the adoption of Society’s platform in concrete situations and first one is related to the decision making process itself and its (Memorandum of Association and Rules and Regulations) implementation and second one to the selection and operation of activities which are needed for the adoption of the platform in concrete life of the Society.

Now, in “Memorandum of Association” there are stated the Objects of the Society:

I. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
II. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
III. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.

and that “The income and property of the Society, whencesoever derived, shall be applied solely towards the promotion of the objects of the Society … including the founding and maintenance of a library or libraries.”

In the “Rules and Regulations for the management of the association named The Theosophical Society” there is then stated that:

The General Council shall be the Governing Body of the Theosophical Society … shall at each Annual Meeting appoint an Executive Committee for the ensuing year …, of not less than seven and not more than ten members, of whom at least six shall be members of the General Council. The President, the Vice President, the Treasurer, and the Secretary shall be ex officio members. … The President shall be the custodian of all the archives and records of the Society, and shall be the Executive Officer and shall conduct and direct the business of the Society in compliance with its rules … All Charters … and all Diplomas (Certificates) of membership derive their authority from the President … President shall nominate the Vice President … shall be his duty, among other things, to carry on the executive functions of the President in case the President is dead or where the Executive Committee finds that he is disabled by accident, serious illness or otherwise ... The Secretary and such subordinate officials as are necessary shall be appointed by the President … The President shall nominate the Treasurer … All subscriptions, donations and other moneys payable to the Society shall be received by the Treasurer, or his Deputy or Assistant designated for the purpose … The securities and uninvested funds of the Society shall be deposited in such Bank or Banks as the Executive Committee shall select … President may, touching the assets and affairs of the Society … appoint any persons to be the Attorneys of the Society … the President may grant power and authority among others to sell, grant, mortgage, lease or otherwise transfer the assets of the Society … The funds of the Society may be invested by the President … The Society may sue and be sued in the name of the President or Secretary. … The President shall have full power and discretion to permit to any person use of any premises or portion thereof in the Adyar Estate for occupation and residence … The President, Secretary and Treasurer shall together have the power to fix or vary fees and charges payable to the General Treasury …

That is all - in short! All bodies and officers are elected or appointed “just” to manage the income and property with the goal to promote the Objects of the Society. On that ground General Council should obviously determine policy and accept short and long term plans for the realization of Objects and how these plans should be executed by officers. Therefore the Theosophical Society does not have leaders it has “just” servants. That is the constitutional frame, at least how I understand it.

Now, first problem is certainly related to different interpretation of the TS Constitution as above presented. If we elect leaders then we project our responsibility for the realization of TS Objects through the hierarchical pyramid up to the top and comfortably wait what we will be told to do. But there are very, very rare leaders which are able to activate and coordinate thousands of members and to carry on such burden, especially in modern world where circumstances and technology are changing from day to day. It is quite unrealizable. Decline is therefore natural development with such choice. But if we turn the pyramid upside down and elect servants supporting the entire structure while we maintain our responsibility for the realization of Society’s Objects then we will be probably much more successful.

Second problem comes out of the first one. If we elect leaders then there must be others who have to perform their administrative job. In that way we create conflict of interests as motives of hired personal are prevalently limited to their personal interests. And situation becomes only worse when hired personal fills positions in bodies which should be reserved to elected officers only. On the other hand there is no need any more to perform these jobs manually as modern digital solutions offers almost complete automation of administrative and accounting processes, so that we should be in a position to almost entirely concentrate ourselves on the realization of Society’s Objects.

Third problem is related to the maintenance of libraries and archives. This has become highly specialized work which requires specialized personal, equipment and conditions. In addition, libraries and archives are now in the process of digitalization which makes them more available to members-users. The Society can hardly meet these modern necessities by itself and should collaborate with public institutions which would guarantee appropriate conservation and availability, especially the last one as it is the key issue in any study.

And last problem in this series is related to the maintenance of real estates. It is obvious that larger ones as that in Adyar require special qualifications to maintain them in good shape and make them run efficiently. But this is very sensible issue and should be examined case by case to find solutions which would represent as less burden as possible and as much adequate environment as possible for the realization of primary purpose of the Society.

Now, there still remain for our inspection the activities which have developed through the history of our Society and which have, in my opinion, little to do with our constitutional frame. I will try to address them in my next post.

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Now I would like to address the activities which have sprung within the Theosophical Society out of private interests of its members, as we have to consider as such any activity which is not strictly related to the realization of the Society’s Objects as the only common interest of the Society. In this respect H.S. Olcott said:

It was never even dreamt that we should amass capital as a Society to organize societies of any kind, whether socialistic, religious or commercial, and I have set my face from the first against every attempt to make it responsible for the private preferences and prejudices of its members, repudiating in toto every procedure, however seemingly innocent in itself, which could be construed into a breach of our constitutional neutrality. … Should we once begin this ill-advised departure from the neutral ground upon which we have grown and flourished, and express our collective sympathy with socialistic, temperance, vegetarian, anti-slavery, esoteric, masonic, political and charitable societies, we should soon fall into chaos; … It is hard for me to have to utter this word of warning, but I would rather a hundred times sacrifice the friendly opinion of my colleagues than keep silent while they, in their inexperience, are trying to drag our car to the crest of the slope at whose foot lies the chasm of ruin. … I hope you all understand that while I am defending the rights of the Society as a body, I have not the remotest wish or thought of interfering in the least degree with the liberty of the individual. Quite the contrary, I sympathize with and encourage every tendency in my colleagues to ally themselves in movements tending towards the public good.

While H.S. Olcott was in that way able to neutralize practically all private interests of the Society’s members he didn’t succeed to do so in regard to the H.P. Blavatsky’s initiative to organize the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society. No matter how we see the reasons for the establishment of this organization the fact is that it represented a shift from the Society’s constitutional platform and that therefore a complete disassociation of the ES from the TS was requested and further on declared.

The problem was not only the difference in formal structure of these two organizations, the latter being democratic while the former autocratic but also a substantial one and described later on by J.J. van der Leeuw as the difference between the Realization and Revelation.

Although the separation between the E.S. and T.S. was formally announced in real life the interests of H.P.B., as a founder-member of the T.S. and Head of the E.S., to influence the affairs of the TS (she considered has somehow abandoned the Original Program) remained obviously a great many and materialized themselves in the establishment of her own lodge and European Federation of the T.S. In that way a pattern was established which have had and still has lasting and very negative effect on the realization of the constitutional platform of the Theosophical Society as the chosen cure was actually in opposition to that platform itself.

After H.S.O.’s passing and under the Annie Besant’s leadership the Theosophical Society extended its departure from its constitutional neutrality as it enforced its relation with the Co-Masonic organization while out of the activity of the ES there were born organizations like Order of the Star in the East and the Liberal Catholic Church. In addition, the Society indulged itself in numerous activities to meet various social needs and promoted foundation of various organizations as that of the charitable organization the Theosophical Order of Service. (To see the full list of the activities in the period 1879-1037 click here.)

Although it could certainly not be denied that all these activities have done enormous work for good in the local environment of Society’s Sections they, on the other hand, contributed to great extend to the loss of universal philanthropic and scientific character of the Society and its relevance in the world as a pioneer movement and organization. But the mortal blow to the TS constitutional platform and its neutrality gave the fact that no TS member can be in practice elected for any position of the TS officer if s/he is not member of any or all above mentioned organizations.

This is the situation we face. The Theosophical Society is not seen in the outer world as a pioneer philanthropic and scientific organization but more or less as a religious sect. As such it obviously can not address the humanity’s pressing needs of the time. Therefore the question is: Do the Theosophical Society and its members have the needed will and power to regain the Society’s original constitutional platform and neutrality? If the answer is yes, then it has to launch an overall but wise and tempered process of rejuvenation and modernization based on eternal principles expressed through the Society’s constitutional platform.

It seems obvious that to launch such a project the ordinary decision making process is not enough and that a special “crisis management” body should be established out of progressive members of the Theosophical Society able to define clear Vision and Policy statements of the Society and prepare the Strategic Plan for the coming years, including a modernization of the decision making process and some ethical standards which have to be met to guarantee the neutrality of the TS and independent footing of its off-spring organizations.

On the other hand, if the answer is no, and the private interests will continue to prevail over the common interest of the Society then most probably the Theosophical Society is doomed to continue to play to great extend irrelevant role in the world and face further decline with the great distress of all those countless members who work hard to see the original intent and mission of the Theosophical Society fulfilled.

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p.s. There remains for our consideration the publishing activity of the Theosophical Society I would like to address separately.

Last update: January 2009
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