The Theosophical Society (Adyar)

The TS in Crisis:
New Phenomenom or An Ongoing State?
By Preethi Muthiah

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They say that history repeats itself. Perhaps it repeats itself because humans tend not to learn from past mistakes. Perhaps it repeats itself because humans resist change of any sort, preferring to continue in old ways, even when these have proved invalid and impracticable. In the TS too, history is currently repeating itself. Choosing to ignore the warnings of J. Krishnamurti when he dissolved the Order of the Star of the East, we have now made out of the TS a cult and out of the President a spiritual authority. The Theosophical Society has been going through crisis for over 80 years since Krishnamurti dissolved the Order of the Star of the East. Looking back over its history, one can see that even back then members of the TS had begun moving away from the main aim of the founding of the Society. Back then, CWL, CJ and GS Arundale, among others, held on to the outer form of the organization of the TS, which in those days spelt the founding and functioning of the Order of the Star of the East as a means for them to (a) provide the world with a new World Teacher, whom they promptly rejected when he spoke of truths inconvenient to them, and (b) avail of the influence and power of the Masters of the Wisdom. There are many instances mentioned in Theosophical literature of how CWL and GS Arundale, in particular, took on ‘students’ to give initiation to. On Theos_talk and Theosophical Community these days, we have had quotations of Annie Besant stating how she considered the ES to be the sole vehicle through which the Masters spread Their message, thereby giving the head of the ES more power and authority than is valid.

Reading the Letters from the Masters to early Theosophists is very important at this time. But more important than this exercise is for each member to interpret rightly the message given in the Letters and to try to practice Their exhortations to the best of one’s abilities.

Perusing the Letters one will find that the Society has degenerated into its current form because Their messages of what the TS was meant to be have been violated, twisted and misinterpreted over the decades. Studying the message of Krishnaji, not only when he dissolved the Order of the Star of the East but also his lifetime’s teachings and lectures, one finds striking similarities between the messages from the Masters as given out in Their letters and the teachings and philosophy of J. Krishnamurti. Thus in Letter No. 1, one finds that the Masters mention as one of the principal Objects for founding the Society to be the freeing of members and people from the bonds of the priestly class. I interpret this to mean that between the Truth and oneself nothing and no one can exist, and when one chooses to listen to the voice or interpretation of another, one has already thereby started to engage in the false, the unreal and the illusory. Krishnaji’s message to the gathered members of the Order of the Star of the East was similar to that of the Masters stating that Truth is a Pathless land and no authority can lead one to it; whether that authority is a person or a group or an organization.

We often quote Krishnaji in our talks and lectures, including this message; yet have we paused to find out what it means for ourselves? In order for one to realize that exhortation, one would have to try to live it, to experience it for oneself. In so doing, one would find that the current establishment heading the TS, much like the former ones when Krishnaji was exiled from the TS, would exile one from the TS. But are the TS and/or the ES only their outer forms, which is merely a congregation of like-minded individuals? Or are they something more than and beyond whatever their outer form might be? The current establishment would have us believe as members of the TS that belongingness to the outer form or the physical TS and/or ES is all that matters, because the influence and blessing of the Masters of the Wisdom are given solely to the Head of the ES and her followers. But this interpretation is totally against everything we have known thus far. This narrowed interpretation seems to mean that Truth appears only to the members of the TS and, especially the ES, and the rest of the world is barred from ever reaching the Truth or Enlightenment. Were this notion true, the Masters would never have appeared to HPB, because when They first made their appearance, there was no Theosophical Society. Yet there are members of the ES who will look down upon members of the TS, as though the mere membership of the ES were a privilege beyond compare. There are members of the TS consequently who look down upon the rest of humanity as though humanity were an ignorant bunch of people. There are members of the TS who have no other crutch to stand upon other than their lineage; thus we have in the TS many 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation ‘Theosophists’ who have nothing else to claim for their commitment to the Cause other than their lineage, or in other words, their being born to parents who have been members of the TS since birth. Often, these generational Theosophists do much more harm to the movement by their total lack of commitment to the Cause and the main or fundamental Object behind the founding of the Society. This fundamental object is not stated in the Three Objects of the TS as given out in our Charter, and yet that Object is at the root or base of each of the Three Objects stated in the Charter of the TS. The fundamental Object for the founding of the Society is as stated in the first letter sent by the Mahatma KH to AP Sinnett, which is to free man from his dependence on the priestly class (which does not necessarily only include the Brahmins or pastors or the like, but any and every one who claims to possess the Truth and seeks to coerce others to follow their interpretation or version of Truth as being the only way to it) as the authority on Truth, Enlightenment and Evolutionary Progress, or for that matter, as the only way in which to reach God or Divine Grace.

What I am saying here is nothing new. The Upanishads stated it. Krishna stated it in the Bhagavad Gita. The Buddha stated it when he said: ‘Be a lamp unto your selves’. All the World Teachers said it. The Masters of the Wisdom stated it. HPB said it. And so did Krishnamurti while dissolving the Order of the Star of the East. The literature we have been given are merely pointers to That Beyond. They ought to serve solely as guiding lights to when one can fully merge into the Light and become the Light itself. And it would seem from whatever is happening in the TS and the ES to this day that those who are given the teachings hold on to the words (outer form) and forget the inner essence. We prefer to be told what to do, rather than finding out for ourselves what we are here in this world to do. That answer would be different for each of us, which is why no one can tell us what to do on the spiritual journey, which consists mainly of finding out our true nature, often termed self-knowledge.

Thus in Letter No. 35 of The Mahatma Letters to AP Sinnett (3rd Adyar Edition) we find the words: ‘Second hand testimony never really satisfied any but a credulous (or rather skeptical) mind.’ In Letter No. 48 of the same edition we find: ‘As we do not “require a passive mind” but on the contrary are seeking for those most active, which can put two and two together once that they are on the right scent, … Let your mind work out the problem for itself.’ Yet under the current administration of the TS we are forbidden from thinking for ourselves what might be the common good and are penalized were we ever to dare to think for ourselves, to defend the truth as we see it.

Then there is the fallacy of believing that the Masters of the Wisdom will somehow save the situation for us. How might they do that when we do not pay heed to Their messages?

They say God only helps those who want to help themselves. The same can be said of the Masters of the Wisdom as well, who are bound by the same laws that govern the universe. We have repeatedly proved that we are unwilling to listen to them and to pay heed to the warnings given out by Them. We prefer rather to twist their words to suit our own conveniences. When faced with honesty, we prefer the speaker of these to lie to us, to help us to maintain our images of ourselves as the ones doing their best to save the Society. We punish the honest, penalize the truthful, excommunicate the ones who dare to stand up against our outer authority, tell the warning-alarm-ringer to shut their mouth and keep quiet. We use our official positions and authority to bend others to our will. Can the Masters truly help such a people as members of the TS, who prefer grand words to doing something concrete to help the TS in crisis? Members of the TS repeatedly prefer to pretend that the crisis has nothing to do with them and their actions. In a Mahatma Letter the Masters mention that the British TS (of those days) were only a bunch of quietists and would suffer the results of their quietism which is based on their selfishness. Is the situation any different today? Not at all. Eyeing for positions of power and authority within the TS, members (whether ordinary ones with no power as yet or General Council ones) will do nothing when faced with the honest truth about the corruption rampant in Adyar today, solely because the corruption is practiced by the international President.

Today, as for several years now, Adyar is treated by the President as her personal property. Thus those who stand up against her are asked to immediately vacate the international Headquarters, even though these people are working for the TS. If she doesn’t like a member when they come and stay at Adyar, she won’t permit them to visit and stay on campus again. So, the TS will eventually die out because there is a lack of openness to allow people to explore the teachings. Adyar has as it is become a stranglehold of the Nilakanta family, where Nandan Nilakanta will entertain his friends from the higher diplomatic circles with drinks, the emptied bottles of which he uses to fill and carry his water in and the emptied crates of which are found in his backyard garbage bin; where Uma Nilakanta will send bananas, bowls of soup and toilet paper to her kith and kin even though these articles were bought with TS money for Leadbeater Chambers; where Subha Nilakanta will work only when she feels like it, but expect on the other hand the same treatment that is given to more committed members and workers. But how did the President manage to secure all these rights over what happens at the international Headquarters of the TS worldwide? We somehow over the decades have given her so much power over our lives and livelihood in the TS, that as of today she can abuse it all and yet get away with it. There was a time when only those who had proved their dedication to the Cause could stay on campus. But these days, several other employees stay on campus as well. These employees contribute in no way to the growth of the movement. The excuse given for them to be allowed to stay on campus is that the physical walls of Adyar Estate need to be protected against sandalwood thieves. But these employees blare their television sets, radio sets, have countless relatives visiting them and staying with them on a monthly basis, all of these taking away from the ashram-like atmosphere one could see in the TS even during the early 1990’s. The latest news is that residents on the estate will now be allowed to have air-conditioners installed in their homes; but what about the cost to the atmosphere and environment, Mrs. Burnier? As it is, there are more cars and motored vehicles plying on the serene byways of Adyar. Add to it the air-conditioning and we have a typical city scene within the campus as well. Rather than caring for Nature, Theosophists of the future will indulge themselves and participate with the consumeristic world by getting in more and more gadgets.

So the Adyar of today is threatened not so much by the politicians who seek to build a flyover just across the Adyar beach, as it is threatened by all the corruption, materialism and consumerism that are being allowed into the campus by the President herself. The future of the Theosophical Society is threatened by the lack of care members feel towards the world in which we live, because ‘Theosophists’ prefer to indulge themselves in luxuries rather than face a bit of discomfort by opting for environmentally-friendly and viable options that ensure the longevity of the earth and the universe, starting locally from what they like to call their home, Adyar. The Masters behoved us to be co-workers with Nature, but ‘Theosophists’ have now become Her enemies. Amazing isn’t it, that we still expect the Masters to save us from this situation. Krishnaji often spoke against the human tendency of taking things for granted. Have we as members of the TS and those who love calling themselves Theosophists begun to take the TS, Theosophy and the Masters of the Wisdom for granted? The current administrative head of the TS has set up all those uncommitted employees of Adyar to protect the physical walls of the Estate, but has forgotten or omitted to see that the inner walls of the TS are filled with cracks and are crumbling today. What remains of Adyar today is merely a façade, while the inner essence has been hollowed out; slowly but steadily it is being sucked out of all its health and spirituality.

My fight for the future of the Theosophical Society, especially of Adyar as its international Headquarters and against the corrupt ways and partialities of Mrs. Radha Burnier is now 4 months old. Mrs. Burnier kept silent through the entire fight, choosing not to do anything about the nature of the complaints. At the moment, Adyar is run by Mrs. Linda and Mr. Pedro Oliveira, who seek to maintain the older order, whether or not it has proved to be viable. Since 24 May 2009 I have not met the President, Mrs. Radha Burnier, even once.

She chose to ignore the initial letter to the General Manager of the Estate stating the instances of corruption followed by her relative and Superintendent of Leadbeater Chambers, Mrs. Uma Nilakanta. She chose to contest for the post of the international President, even though she is frail and of that age when she ought to retire and take life easy, and allow those younger than her to find their footing before she has passed on to other planes of existence. Perhaps like many other people the world over, she believes that if she ignored a problem, the problem will solve itself out. But those with more wisdom would know that ignoring a problem does not solve the problem. It is dealing with a problem that solves it. Accepting that a problem exists within the TS even today is ensuring that the problem will not continue in the future. That is what it means to become responsible - to accept one’s part in this whole mess we call the Theosophical Society.

But Mrs. Burnier continues to twist the truth, the facts to suit her own images. That is what her followers also do. Take, for instance, the letter Prof. R.C. Tampi sent me when I resigned from the ES in May 2009, stating as my main reason Mrs. Burnier’s moral ineptitude and consequently her inability to lead me or the movement to a Higher state. In his email to me he stated that he expels me from the ES totally ignoring the fact that I resigned from it much before he sent me an expulsion email. Who do Mrs. Burnier and Prof. Tampi think they are cheating by such twisting of facts and events that happen everyday in the TS? Yet this cheating goes on; facts and events are twisted to suit the conveniences of the international President. During the international Convention, visiting delegates and members were told that Sushama Sreenath (who is now Sushama Webber) was responsible for the quitting of Mr. G. Naganathan from the Editorial Office. Subha Nilakanta’s name was totally omitted from the incident; yet Subha played a key role in agreeing with Sushama’s version and blamed Mr. Naganathan for doing something he had not done. Subha Nilakanta has been responsible for the mess the Editorial Office was in when Pedro Oliveira took charge of the Department in March 2009, but no one in the Radha Burnier administration will address this issue and look at it to sort it out. One would assume that the Theosophical Society was founded with the purpose of giving honest, caring, sensitive, and evolving people a forum where they could express their evolving intuitions and states of being. One would assume that the TS, which was founded towards the close of the nineteenth century, would serve as a vehicle for those who would lead humanity forward during the Kali Yuga. But the Burnier administration disproves both these assumptions and everything that is part of the degenerating Kali Yuga is encouraged by Mrs. Burnier, whether that degeneration be loss of value systems, lack of morality, greed for more and more material wealth and status, greed for power, or lack of care for the future of humanity and the universe.

So what might be the purpose of the ‘continuation’ of the Theosophical Society? Are we capable of learning from the mistakes that have led to the present situation and the degeneration of the very vehicle that was meant to serve as a driving moral and spiritual force for the future humanity? The rest of this article will concentrate on providing some suggestions which are based on an analysis of the crisis recurrent in the TS today.

There was a time when the President of the TS was a person who knew and understood the Laws governing the universe, a person who placed his/her priorities in the good of the TS and of humankind and in the common good. But our current international President is not of that ilk. She has repeatedly over the years shown her inability to be fair, to judge with wisdom, to lead us forward into the next century. By her (mis)conduct, she has proved that she prefers gossip to directness, lies to honesty, partiality to fairness and justice. It was alright back then to have a President for life, but now the times are changing and we must, as Theosophists, learn to change with the changing times. The practice of continuing to have a President for life has proved to be a big mistake with the example of Mrs. Radha Burnier. In our Kali Yuga, would it be possible for us to change the Rules of the Constitution of the TS and elect a President for one term of seven years? Additionally, for the next election neither the President nor any of his/her nominees can stand for the post. Doing this will ensure that there will be fairness in the election of a President of the TS. Additionally, it will provide the opportunity for more members to participate in building a future for the TS.

While a member is President of the TS, his/her relatives shall hold no posts of importance in the TS, especially at Adyar. We have seen from the example of both Subha and Uma Nilakanta that their kinship with the President allows them both to misbehave with members and visitors, and, on the other hand, to practice corruption in various forms. Relatives of the President might help out with the work of the TS but hold no posts of authority, power and recognition. This will prohibit the misuse of power and authority by relatives of the President and additionally ensure that there can be no scope for any partiality to be practiced.

As Adyar is the international Headquarters, the say of all the members of the General Council ought to be valid and made necessary in its administration. This will ensure that what happened to countless worker-residents at Adyar at the mouth of Ms Subha Nilakanta does not recur. Also, what happened to Elvira and Preethi does not happen either. In other words, the power and authority which lie solely in the hands of the international President ought to be shared and distributed among all the members of the Council. A member-worker-resident at Adyar ought to be able to approach any member of the General Council, Executive Committee of the Estate and/or the international President with problems and issues regarding the benefit and future of the TS. The international Headquarters of the TS was never meant to be the sole property of the international President, but that is how it has become over the years, and especially under the dictatorship of Mrs. Radha Burnier.

It is time for us to learn from our mistakes. It is time for us to make a change for the better. It is time for us to ensure that the work of our Founders (both physical and super-physical) is not wasted because of our own inner inertia and resistance to what Krishnaji would have called the ‘urgency of change’. We have dallied for over 80 years, postponing the moment for change to happen; but change can happen only in the present, in the now. Were we to tarry longer, Life will give us no choice but to perish as Theosophists, as a Society. The crisis of over 80 years is now at its head and it is up to each of us, as members of the TS, to head it off and away from irreparable and irrevocable doom.


Last update: October 2009
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