The Theosophical Society Finding its Aim?

an Article by Robert Kitto

'The Theosophical Society – Finding its Aim?' was originally published in The Theosophist March 2015

Robert Kitto is a Trustee of the Blavatsky Trust and a member of The Theosophical Society in England.

 

 

Cover of March 2015 Theosophist magazine

link to this edition



IN The Key to Theosophy, we find:

ENQUIRER. Then what is the good of joining the so-called Theosophical Society … ? Where is the incentive?

THEOSOPHIST. None, except the advantage of getting esoteric instructions, the genuine doctrines of the 'Wisdom Religion', and, if the real programme is carried out, deriving much help from mutual aid and sympathy.

— H. P. Blavatsky (HPB), The Key to Theosophy, 1889 ed., p. 21.

To what extent have the aspirations of the above THEOSOPHIST been realized? That it remained necessary eleven years after its 1875 founding for a further [1] attempt to be made at setting out Aims and thereby 'the real programme' of The Theosophical Society (T S) is indicative of the special difficulties encountered by the Founders in their pioneering work of disseminating Ancient Wisdom to Westerners. HPB's 1886 manuscript now referred to as the 'Original Programme ' [2] — was, in part, a response to those believing they knew the real programme better than the Founders and the Brotherhood of Adepts behind the scenes. The challenge came from those — as HPB expressed it — motivated by 'self-culture' at the expense of 'mutual-culture'. The full statement is important as it throws light on the meaning of 'Brotherhood' within the context of the TS:

Theosophy teaches mutual-culture before self-culture to begin with. Union is strength. It is by gathering many theosophists of the same way of thinking into one or more groups, and making them closely united by the same magnetic bond of fraternal unity and sympathy that the objects of mutual development and progress in Theosophical thought may be best achieved.

— H. P. Blavatsky (HPB), Collected Writings, vol.7 p 160

What HPB calls 'Mutual-culture', however, is dependent upon individuals having a reasonable understanding of shared Aims and Objects. Whilst the separate Societies, Lodges, and Centres of today are superficially united in three (necessarily simplified) Objects [3] it is easily arguable that these, because of their simplification, fall into further misunderstanding and misapplication. If one reads and studies the Literature of the Society, then one will find that:

  • Universal Brotherhood (Object 1) is not simply a cohort of members. (Mahatma KH describes it as 'an association of strong magnetic yet dissimilar forces and polarities centred around one dominant idea. [4] )
  • 'Study' of comparative religion, etc., (Object 2) does not mean study in a modern intellectual sense. ('See in study a means of exercising and developing the mind never touched by other studies' [5] ).
  • The investigation of the 'unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man' (Object 3) is not intended to elicit a 'phenomenal' interpretation (for as Mahatma KH makes clear; 'It is not physical phenomena but ... universal ideas that we study' [6] ).

[Today's Theosophical Society has 3 Objects, which are:

1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. 
2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science. 
3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
]

Worse still, the three Objects fail to refer to 'Theosophy', and thus lose their contextual setting. This is a surprising omission given HPB's assertion in The Key to Theosophy that the TS should show 'that such a thing as Theosophy exists'. Theosophy was necessarily undefined during the establishment of the TS, but we now benefit from the literature of the founders, and can say: Theosophy is a body of teachings and doctrines, having consistency with that disseminated by the founders of the modern Theosophical Movement, explanatory of Universal Laws; Laws that establish the principle of Unity inherent in Nature and which are the basis of Universal Brotherhood. The three published Objects, therefore, do not exist in isolation but have Theosophy as their basis. A set of comprehensive and coherent Objects or Aims should make appropriate reference to Theosophy.

Detached from Theosophy, the Objects become ambiguous. Understanding them relies on the study (and contemplation and assimilation) of commentaries scattered throughout various articles and publications. Yet how many members shy away from such 'study' because of classroom connotations, or are unwitting victims of cultural 'dumbing-down' pressures? How many TS members can reasonably summarize the Aims of the body of which they are part? In some parts of the Movement even a simple definition of Theosophy becomes lost.

The TS Adyar is particularly vulnerable as the much-vaunted and attractive 'Freedom of Thought' principle risks giving way to an 'Anything goes' Society as individuals in small but sufficient numbers cause Lodges to drift into schemes of their own. Individual Freedom of Thought should not cause the Society itself to be diverted from its work, and sporadic efforts have sought to address this issue: The 1949 'Freedom of the Society' resolution published by the TS Adyar declares that 'the [Theosophical] Society seeks ever to maintain its own distinctive and unique character by remaining free of affiliation or identification with any other organization'. Notwithstanding this, the TS Centenary World Congress held in 1975 found it necessary to warn that 'Our freedoms are essential, but a Lodge or Society too loosely run can do the Cause more harm than good'. Later still, the past International President recognized continuing issues, saying:

Some TS Lodges, especially those which are in theosophically remote areas. tend to center their work on whatever their own small membership finds interesting. Lodges and groups within our Society do have the freedom to work on themes of particular interest to them, and carry on activities which are to their liking, but the freedom must be exercised within the framework of the Society's character and structure. Were each unit to function without regard to the whole, the Society would not exist as a worldwide body, a globally spread family of harmoniously minded members.

Radha Burnier, The Theosophist, 'On the Watch-Tower', July 1996 issue.

However, functioning without regard to the whole occurs repeatedly because of unclear boundaries as to 'the framework of the Society's character and structure' and Theosophical groups are led into diversions of their members own making with the potential for dissention and disharmony being, all too often, the consequence. It is sadly the case that all the evidence of its short history shows that the TS has rarely been a 'family of harmoniously minded members'.

Miraculously though, the TS survives and continues to exist as a worldwide body. However, to what extent this is due to the Society itself or to the supporting effect of the more defined boundaries of independent parts of the Theosophical Movement is unclear (the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT), for example, has a prominent, straightforward, one sentence Aim at the head of its web pages). The TS, meanwhile, has seen Lodges drift into Magic, neo Paganism, Spiritualism, 'Mind-Body-Spirit', over-diluted Buddhism, solipsism  (egoistic self-absorption), or other forms of New-Age self-preoccupation and 'self-culture' [7]. Members do not always recognize deviation from Theosophy, or recognize the un-Theosophical self-gratification inherent in repeating unqualified assertions such as 'I myself am Ruler of the Universe', (Helen Schuman, A Course in Miracles), '[I am] the Truth' (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth), or seeing the Universe as a personal shopping catalogue: 'Make room to receive your desires' (Rhonda Byrne, The Secret), and so on. Given that each has — at some time — featured in Theosophical Lodges, one must wonder at the first-time encounters of aspiring Theosophical newcomers - can they expect 'the genuine doctrines of the Wisdom-Religion'? And if their search is for genuine doctrines, can they expect 'much help from mutual aid and sympathy'? Is it even possible for the 'real programme to be carried out in such circumstances?

A lack of clarity allows for the dissemination of surrogate or pseudo Aims; not necessarily bad or negative ones, but different Aims, self-devised or 'self-culture' Aims, or Aims affected by accretions, contemporary influences, 'Chinese whispers', or innumerable causes of drift from the eternal truths.

------------------------------

It is a sad irony that the TS does not give prominence to comprehensive Objects. for those aims found within the literature are as pioneering, noble, and far reaching as it is possible to imagine. Though initially sparking interest in phenomena and their underlying natural laws, the Society emphasized Universal Brotherhood and clearly established the metaphysical basis of this unity in Universal Law. A published circular of 1878 set out various points related to the Society's purpose and concluded by saying:

finally, and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men, of every race, shall recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreated, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause.

New York Circular drafted mainly by Colonel H. S. Olcott, 1878, in H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 1, p. 375.

Readers of The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett will have observed the early development of this Aim, for example:

The chief object of the TS is not so much to gratify individual aspirations as to serve our fellow men . . . [Letter 2, p. 8.] The Chiefs want a Brotherhood of Humanity, a real Universal Fraternity, started; an institution which would make itself known throughout the world and arrest the attention of the highest minds.

The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in chronological sequence.Letter 12, p. 39.

Not merely postulating a basis for mutual feelings of good will or community, these early teachings cannot be accurately paraphrased by contemporary spiritual sound bites such as 'all you need is love' Universal or otherwise. There is, instead, a vitally important ontological basis to Brotherhood, founded upon an understanding of the One Life in which we all impact each other and around which the Theosophical teachings are centred.

H. P. Blavatsky's The Key to Theosophy remains one of the clearest expositions of the meaning of both Theosophy and of 'the real programme' of the Society itself. Therein she argues that Theosophy can demonstrate Brotherhood on 'logical, philosophical, metaphysical, and even scientific grounds' and in the following section set out the important, and oft quoted, aim that:

It [The Society] was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities.

— H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, 1889, p. 57.

It should be noted that whereas a purpose of such 'studying and assimilating' is not only the potential 'spiritual growth of every individual who comes within its influence' [8] it also serves the higher and altruistic aim of 'the relief of human suffering'[9]:

The truths and mysteries of occultism constitute a body of the highest spiritual importance ... given ... for their practical bearing on the interests of mankind.

The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in chronological sequence. Letter 12, p. 38.

The Founders, however, never envisaged the TS as a social or charitable organization, and HPB stressed the moral, rather than physical, nature of its aims:

Its aims are several; but the most important of all are those which are likely to lead to the relief of human suffering under any or every form, moral as well as physical. And we believe the former to be far more important than the latter.

— H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy. 1889, p. 24.

[ This theme is further, and thoughfully, explored by B.P. Wadia in his lecture transcripts 'Growth Through Service' link - on this site. ]

The Theosophist selflessly living his or her own spiritual life can morally best serve the world. As HPB says: 'It is an occult law that no man can rise superior to his individual failings without lifting, be it ever so little, the whole body of which he is an integral part.' [10]Thus, we may see that the TS has a magnificent and noble purpose not only to make Theosophy known, but to act as the locus for non-egoistic individuals (those having developed the same 'magnetic bond of fraternal unity') who strive in their spiritual and moral development with an ultimate goal being the interests of humankind.

As one of the Aims of the TS is to make Theosophy known, then we should clearly say so. As the dissemination and study of Theosophy has the aim of assisting in the spiritual and moral progress of humanity, then let us say that, too. It is vital that proper expression be given to the Aims (or Objects) in their inherently Theosophical context. We should display this clearly on all literature, web pages, and so forth. Let us stop hiding our light under a bushel, or worse still, allow dimmer alternatives to obscure our great purpose.

---oOo---


Endnotes
^1.         The first such document was an 1878 Circular drafted mainly by H. S. Olcott, 'The Theosophical Society Its Origin, Plan and Aims' This is also published in HPB's Collected Writings, vol. 1 p. 375-378.
^2.         H. P. Blavatsky, 'Original Programme' letter from Ostend, 1886. Collected Writings, vol. 7 p. 145-171.
^3.         The Theosophical Society, having its headquarters at Pasadena, USA, has 5 published objects.
^4.         The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in chronological sequence, Letter 10, p. 27. Further explanatory statements are to be found in HPB's The Key to Theosophy (p. 18, pp. 40-47, etc).
^5.         lanthe Hoskins, Foundations of Esoteric Philosophy, p. 61 'Bowen Notes: The Secret Doctrine and Its Study'. link (this site)
^6.         The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett in chronological sequence, letter 12.
^7.         HPB contrasted 'self culture' to 'mutual culture' in the 'Original Programme' letter, Collected Writings, vol. 7 p. 160.
^8.         H. P. Blavatsky article 'Spiritual Progress' in The Theosophist, May 1885, also Collected Writings, vol. 6, p 331
^9.         H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, 1889 ed., p. 24
^10        H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, 1889 ed., p. 203.

True progress involves insightful perception, and awareness of right and wrong from a loftier, farreaching standpoint. Only by the acquisition of wisdom can an ultimate answer be given. Meanwhile, individuals must struggle to learn what is right and wrong by a process of meeting situations, making mistakes, pondering and discussing. Members of the TS can help in this process because they have the invaluable background of Theosophical study and the Theosophical world view. The Theosophical Society itself has as its function only to provide the opportunities and means for people to reach a state of Wisdom.

Radha Burnier The World Around Us

 


Button to return to top