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If the TS is going to move forward into the 21st century in a way that is of use to humanity, we’re going to have to face some real issues, instead of getting side tracked into personal complaints.

Real issues we’re facing:

  • how to build community online in a way that is productive and helps people grow spiritually
  • how to build community offline: help our lodges grow and be places of real study and a meeting place for people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds
  • how to transform our magazines into well… magazines. Quest is an actual magazine in this sense, though it might have a higher percentage of in depth theosophical content. The Theosophist and the Dutch magazine Theosofia (two of the magazines I know) aren’t magazines in any other sense than that they’re published in a magazine format. They don’t have a column for letters sent in, for instance. Theosofia doesn’t even have a column by the editors.

One issue complained about recently on theos-talk is valid though: how important should it be whether people are first, second or third generation theosophists? (I’m first btw)

There’s a grey line here. It’s natural to trust family more than others, but when a family member turns out to not be very good at the job you gave them, they should be replaced.

At Adyar another issue is also pressing: the issue of caste. Can something be done about the prevalence of high caste Indians in positions of power? Or on other words: is enough done to reach out to lower caste (varna, jati whatever you want to call it) members of the TS? Does the Indian section even have such members in positions of influence?

In the West, similarly, are we reaching out to people of color enough? to Muslims? And if we should, how should that be done?

Those are just a few of the issues I think about when I think about where the TS is headed, or should be headed. I do wonder: what do you all think the real challenges of the TS are?
http://www.katinkahesselink.net/
http://www.overpeinzende.nl/
http://www.allconsidering.com/

I’m very glad to see the Theosophy Forward blog back up again. It has comments off, but at least prominent theosophists are communicating online and in clear words where they stand on important issues. [BTW having pings off means they are making it hard for search engines to keep track of what they’re writing, not very smart]

I felt the discussion about the aim of the Theosophical Society – especially in context with the Brazilian situation deserves further elaboration.

I agree with Ali Ritsema that local groups and clear thought are absolutely necessary for theosophical work. I agree that explaining our understanding of theosophy to the world is also essential. Let me quote her, lest her opinion be lost when the website goes down again:

Very clear statements have been made by the Mahatmas and H.P.B. which can help us or strengthen us in our search for how to move forward.
In Mahatma Letter 112 (chronological, or 81 in the 1st to 3rd editions) KH refers to a stifling grey fog, symbolizing the vicious state of India in 1883, which—no doubt—in the rest of the world will not be much better nowadays, and he states: “Here and there twinkles a point of light which marks a nature still somewhat spiritual, a person who aspires and struggles after the higher knowledge. If the beacon of Aryan occultism shall ever be kindled again, these scattered sparks must be combined to make its flame. And this is the task of the T.S.”

In letter 140 (chronological, or 141 in the 1st to 3rd editions) H.P.B. points out that “it is not so much the quantity we are in need of, but the quality, to make the Society a success.”
In a letter from H. P. Blavatsky (Collected Writings 9:242) to the second American Convention, April 1888, she gives the following advice:

The multiplication of local centres should be a foremost consideration in your minds, and each man should strive to be a centre of work in himself. When his inner development has reached a certain point, he will naturally draw those with whom he is in contact under the same influence; a nucleus will be formed, round which other people will gather, forming a centre from which information and spiritual influence radiate, and towards which higher influences are directed. . . .

. . . But there are others among us who realize intuitionally that the recognition of pure Theosophy—the rational explanation of things and not the tenets—is of the most vital importance in the Society, inasmuch as it alone can furnish the beacon-light needed to guide humanity on its true path.

It seems clear that the aspiration and struggle for higher knowledge can provide the necessary quality to form a “magnetic” centre as a beacon light to guide humanity. This can be done by a person, by a group, by a section, and by the Society worldwide.
According to the preface of Raja-Yoga, or Occultism, it was H.P.B.’s work to create an organization to which human egos would be drawn by a natural attraction to its principles and rules, and in which they would undertake the heavy labor of self-purification, self-education, and self-attainment. Are the members of the Theosophical Society willing to undertake such heavy labor and to realize the first and most important object of Universal Brotherhood and thereby to make the Theosophical Society a success?
I hope these thoughts will further inquiry and discussion about how to move forward in this century.

Of course I don’t know nothing at all about the Planetary Union (PU) television programs. However, I have trouble seeing why there would be an issue with that work. It’s quite useful to have theosophical ideas spread. It also makes sense, in this day and age, that theosophy ‘proper’ should be mixed up with other material. I’d expect shows about Buddhism, Hinduism, Yoga, Alternative Health, Gnosticism, The Secret (aka the Law of Attraction) and Quantum Spirituality – all things members of the TS are privately studying, even if prominent theosophists can manage to ignore them.
If these TV shows don’t grow the numbers of the Brazilian section, perhaps the section is like sections elsewhere ignoring these topics at the expense of more ‘classic theosophy’ of the let’s all repeat what Blavatsky (or Besant, or Leadbeater, or Jiddu Krishnamurti) said in our own words variety.

And instead of looking at what Blavatsky and the Masters said on how to run the TS – let’s take a look at what Blavatsky and Olcott actually did. I took out a random volume of The Theosophist from 1881, 1882 (aka volume 3). Subjects include (following the index at A):

  • The teachings of the Brahmo Samaj (a rival spiritual organisation of the time)
  • Advice from the swami (Sri Alakhanandji – a yoga teacher taking up what Swami Dyanand Saraswati had said elsewhere)
  • Advaita philosophy
  • A review of a chinese book
  • Theosophy in America
  • Animal magnetism and homeopathy
  • The Anthropological institute
  • Spiritual stories – not just by Blavatsky
  • The Anti-Christian (a review of a magazine called by that name)
  • Antiquity of the Vedas (which means they got involved in scientific discussions of the day)
  • Arguing and quarreling (about the good reasons why an account of the abuse of Theosophists might be published – BTW, I think it never was)
  • Arhat philosophy (an analysis of the famous ‘Fragments of Occult Truth’ with some questions that were not answered in that issue of The Theosophist – about what ‘spirit’ is and what ‘matter’ and ‘Brahman and Sakti’ and Nirvana etc.)
  • News from Assam
  • Aryan Arhat esoteric tennets (by Subba Row)
  • Astrology
  • Astronomy
  • Atlantis
  • Koot Hoomi in Australia (a clairvoyant there claims to have seen him, this is neither confirmed nor denied by KH according to Blavatsky)
  • A rejoinder to a critic of Esoteric Buddhism

That concludes the A in the index. I think it shows without a doubt how involved the editors were with the debates of the time. All of these are of course, or have become, classic theosophical topics. But I’m sure if Blavatsky had been alive today she’d have commented on UFO’s, crop circles, reiki, all kinds of alternative healing practices etc.

But for fun I have also opened the volume randomly here and there. My eye was caught by a treatise on Hindu Music (p. 134), the difference between mediums and yogis (p. 197), a marvelous Date Palm in Nellore, India (p 261), a treatise on Sufism (p. 265) and even some quotes from the press about The Theosophist. A babu shares his insight into Tantric and Puranic ideas about God (p. 226) and controversies were fought out in the supplement to the Theosophist (instead of through e-mail, but there is not much difference in reach).

In other words: I very much doubt the Brazilian PU is broader in its choice of subject than Blavatsky was. And that means they are probably doing the kind of work she’d want theosophists to be doing. If the communication about this to the Brazilian people isn’t clear – it should be made clear, but this whole talk about the TS independence being threatened seems nonsense to me. Blavatsky generously allowed Dayanand Sarasvati a platform to speak from, as she did many others. I don’t see why the TS should not be equally generous today. And if TS leaders would lighten up a bit, new organizations might stay friends after going in their own direction, instead of feeling the need to distance themselves from the TS.

Here’s what Theo Curans on Theosophy Forward has to say about the PU (again: posted here because I don’t trust them to keep their website up):

The Planetary Union (PU) or União Planetária is a Brazilian organization that is being confused with the Theosophical Society. That confusion is not adequately recognized in the following statement from the minutes of the recent General Council meeting at Adyar:

Planetary Union, an organization created by members of the Brazilian Section, which broadcasts theosophical lectures to 66 cities in Brazil by cable TV, to all Central and South America by satellite, and globally on the Internet, was explained in detail. The organization is a non-profit entity and managed independently of the TS so as to place no financial burden or risk on the assets of the TS in Brazil. The directors are all TS members who receive no remuneration. The President noted that this is a new idea and each Section needed to be free to develop its own way of promoting Theosophy.

The International President rightly observes that each Section needs “to be free to develop its own way of promoting Theosophy”. However, in doing so, all Sections need also to remember and apply the FREEDOM OF THE SOCIETY Resolution adopted by the General Council of the Theosophical Society. The resolution states that our Society must remain free of affiliation or identification with any other organization. The following points are relevant:

1. The Theosophical Society (TS) is not the Planetary Union (PU); they are two different organizations, each conveying its own ideas and objects.

2. The PU does not operate under the sponsorship of the TS.

3. The FREEDOM OF THE SOCIETY Resolution states that the Society remains “free of affiliation or identification with any other organization.”

4. The TS is a vehicle for Theosophy; therefore the primary aim of its events and activities is to transmit Theosophical ideas and to encourage the understanding of the principles laid out in the Three Objects of the TS.

5. The statement in the minutes of the General Council meeting cannot be interpreted as an endorsement for actions to be carried out by the PU as mentioned specifically under the following points 6, 7 & 8, and these points are not accusations but statements of appropriateness.

6. Representatives or members of other organizations should not use any TS platform to popularize or promote the objectives, events, or any other activity of those organizations, nor should their representatives try to persuade TS members to become paying sympathizers of those organizations during TS events and gatherings.

7. Representatives of other organizations should not approach TS members or TS workers at any time during Theosophical events with the request or offer to start working for those organizations, either as a volunteer or as a worker on their payrolls, nor should TS members be pressured to promote the various events and forums of those organizations.

8. Other organizations should not use the existing TS network and infrastructure to make themselves known to the world. To do so would violate all rules of brotherly or honorable cooperation.

9. It is up to each individual member of the TS to consider whether to become a paying sympathizer of the PU, or to participate in their forums and events.

Observations:

The PU, through its TV arm, Supren, broadcasts programs to 66 cities in Brazil and is diligently trying to expand its reach. Theosophical lectures are only a fraction of those programs, many of which have nothing to do with Theosophy. In Brazil TS membership has not increased, but rather decreased. Nor do the programs seem to have deepened an understanding of Theosophy.

A member of the Spanish Section of the TS has recently toured Latin American Theosophical groups, promoting the Planetary Union and its television broadcasts via TV Supren. Such promotion implies a linkage between PU and the TS.

An international ‘Theosophical’ event is being organised in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, for July 15-19. The published program of that event includes, as main speakers, the names of two renowned international Theosophical lecturers. Neither of those persons had been asked to attend the meeting before its program appeared, and neither is probably able to attend due to commitments already made; thus the unauthorized use of their names creates a false impression. Various other prominent TS members around the world have been invited to attend this PU-sponsored event, with expenses to be subsidized by the Planetary Union.

In 1949, the General Council resolved a statement about the “Freedom of the Society”. That statement confirms the “complete freedom for each and every member of the Society in thought and action”. Precisely because of that individual freedom of its members, the Society “seeks ever to maintain its own distinctive and unique character by remaining free of affiliation or identification with any other organization.” This resolution appears on the inside front cover of the Theosophist magazine, of which the International President is the chief editor. It is vital for the future of the Society that all be aware of and honor that resolution. The commingling of the PU with the TS has become a growing concern as we have seen members’ confusion and lack of differentiation between the two institutions.

One more note about ‘independence’ of organization – need I remind anyone that the ES is officially independent of the TS, but still very much mixed up with it? I don’t have as much trouble with that as I used to, but it does show that the independence of the TS should not be used to stop people from working for theosophy (however defined) in the way they see fit.

Organizations started by theosophists would be wise to work together as much as they can. Many trusts have only been started to keep the finances clear – but are run only for and by theosophists. That’s no big deal either – the only new thing here is that this organization is actually getting the word about theosophy out to the people through a modern medium. And this is a problem? I’d say it’s a blessing. Would that there was such a thing going on here in The Netherlands.

[Edit] I looked up that letter to the American convention and it is very appropriate indeed to our discussion. It warns agains popery as well as saying:

Orthodoxy in Theosophy is a thing neither possible nor desirable. It is diversity of opinion, within certain limits, that keeps the Theosophical Society a living and a healthy body, its many other ugly features notwithstanding.

[Edit: July 12th 2009] In addition to Janeth’s comments I’ve been informed privately of some of the background to all this. It appears that the PU and the TS in Brazil are interwoven financially and at an organizational level to an extent that to call them two organizations is misleading. This means that the political programs of the PU do reflect directly onto the TS, which is undesirable given the TS’s ideal of political neutrality. However, precisely because the two are so interwoven a condemnation by the GC of the whole situation may well lead to the total loss of the Brazil section, including assets like buildings, library, publishing house etc. I can’t blame the GC for moving slowly or not at all.

All this does lend weight to the concerns voiced by some about the preference given by Radha Burnier to the PU representative speaking at the GC meeting. [/edit]

[Edit: May 17th 2010] The Theosophy Forward site is still up, but it has changed to such an extent that I can’t find the original articles I referred to. I have removed the broken links of course. BTW I’m closing comments here and moving the  discussion here: http://www.moderntheosophy.com/2009/theosophical-promotion-theosophical-work/ [/edit]

Hi all,

I’ve just sent a letter to Radha telling her I support some of her recent decisions. While I don’t want to further increase online hostility, I do feel the main points in that e-mail need to be shared more widely.

First of all: Radha has been replacing some of the old hands within her inner circle. Some have suggested that she did this out of a sense of outrage at their insinuations that she is losing it. I can’t look into her mind, but I would like to point out that there is one other excellent reason to do what she is doing. Replacing John Algeo for instance means that someone younger and perhaps qualified to become president of the TS in seven years time will get a chance to learn the ropes at Adyar. The old guard does need to be replaced somewhere in the next 10 years. It is in all of our interests that people under 60 get trained up so that we have enough people ready to replace Radha and John when the time comes. Whenever that may be.

Further. I have no access to Radha’s memory banks, but what I’ve seen of her recent decisions makes me feel sure that she still has the wisdom necessary to run the TS. She also has a competent secretary who is likely to help her keep organized. I may not agree with Radha on all issues of policy, but in the main I feel she is the best person for the job of president at the moment. Even if I did not think that, she was elected and we all need to respect that and get on with our theosophical business of trying to practice brotherhood, live wisdom and research the religions of the world (etc.).

As for those issues of policy…

The results of my poll make it very clear that western members of the TS feel the president of the TS should be elected directly by the members. I think this is also the outcome of the online discussions. I feel that point should be withdrawn from the table by those who supported it originally.

Other parts of the original proposal were however supported by most of the people who voted in the poll. I do think the general council should take these up at the next available moment. However these points are generally of lesser importance in my opinion.

Discussions online bring out two other points of difficulty.

First of all the rules around lodges make them hard to start and maintain and give them little freedom to organize things as they wish. Beyond that it is clear that national theosophical organizations should be made into sections when they have enough members. Whether they have seven lodges or not should not be a consideration.

The essential point about lodges is that they are study groups where people practice the three objects. Whether they give a yearly report and help keep national headquarters busy with bureaucratic formalities should not be seen as essential. I also think it is fair that lodges have the freedom to decide on their own property, even if that means that in some cases the TS does not get access to them when the lodge disbands. Lodges sometimes feel that local interests are best dealt with by keeping the resources local. The decisions of the members of a lodge on such points should, I think, be respected.

The other point is that of transparency. While I don’t think members need to be kept abreast of every little detail the general council discusses, we do want to know the main points. I don’t really enjoy being whistle blower. I’d rather see the TS reinvent itself as an open organization where nobody feels threatened by honest discussion of organizational points. And where members are kept informed about major issues as a matter of course.

This does imply obviously that members take the responsibility of let’s say ‘acting their age’. We each represent the TS. That does mean we should keep our disagreements civil and on the point. It also means we need not repeat our opinions too often. [Yes, this is a response to recent flame wars online]

I’m not sure whether to feel elated that general council members of the Theosophical Society started a blog, or offended that I didn’t know about it🙂 [I’m not supposed to link to it just yet and it’s pulled offline, because it wasn’t supposed to be accessible just yet.]

Seriously – I’m very glad that they are coming out publicly discussing the issues they think the general council should be discussing. The issues their sections run into etc. For a blog it is so far rather quiet. No comments yet. That might have something to do with the fact that they didn’t let people like me know the blog exists. Or with the fact that all comments go through the moderator so far (at least mine did). This blog has some posts I have trouble reading (is there a point here?) as well as some posts that are quite interesting for those who want to know organizational issues sections run into.

There are also a few open letters by general council members to general council members. This gives a unique perspective into what they feel matters in the current TS.

Erica Letzerlich started her own blog as well. It does allow comments and it also has information like the last version of the International Bylaws of the Theosophical Society that she has access to (she’s general secretary of the Greece section). So far her main content is related to the proposal by John Algeo to give the General Council the power to vote for the next president. (That proposal seems to be off the table though). The main content so far is people sharing their outrage at that proposal.

Keep up to date on the latest from all theosophical blogs and forums here.

Anton has posted the membership details of the Theosophical Society 2007/2008 on his site. I thought I’d go into that a bit more.

Total membership of the Theosophical Society Adyar in 2007: 29,014.

The largest section is India with 12,444 registered members. There has been some talk about the lagging administration of the Indian section, so this is probably a low number (they have been growing). That is 41% of the members of the Theosophical Society.

The second largest section (still no surprise here) is the one in the United States. 4,072  members. That’s roughly 14% of the members of the TS.

Italy and Australia are next with each more than a thousand members.

Iceland stands out with its 370 members. That may not seem a large number, but it’s more than 1% of the total population of that country.

New Zealand stands out with its 982 members. I guess having a former politician at the helm probably helps, but still 0.2% of the population is impressive.

We have heard it said that the membership of the Indian section alone suffices to elect a president. This is not true. Of the members eligable to vote for the president (roughly 20.000 in total) only about 9000 live in India. This means India does sway the vote (assuming they all vote the same), but they cannot sinch it without help. They had 45% of the members that could vote in this election. That they did in practice determine the vote, apparently has to do with the fact that only around 50% of the members in the West ended up voting.

Let’s run the numbers.

50% of 11000 = 5500 votes outside of India

If the same number of votes came from India that would have been 61% of their votes.

There was in fact a two thirds majority for Radha. Assuming for simplicity sake that only Indians voted for Radha (which seems unlikely, but hey) 95% of the Indians members that could vote, actually did. That shows an enormous amount of dedication to both the Theosophical Society and our current president Radha Burnier. It also likely shows that the Indian members really did want the TS president to live at Adyar.
note

I should read the comments here more often. Apparently the election results were published in detail online earlier. I had no idea. Looking at the stats, the Indian vote alone was more than the votes for John Algeo, but if all the people outside India who voted for Radha had voted for John, it would have been a tie.

Note two (Thanks to ‘critic’)

I’m feeling more out of the loop by the minute. Apparently John Algeo did a blogpost about this issue as well. [edit May 17th 2010: I can’t find that post anymore due to a reorg of the Theosophy Forward site. [/edit]

I’ve gone on record saying that I would quit my membership of the TS if the proposal I discussed the other day goes through. In this post I will explain why it matters so much to me that I would give up my membership of an organisation I have put so much time and energy into.

Any organisation has two main forces working on it: conservative and change.

There is the conservative force: there is a value to keeping to what’s tested and has always worked.

There is a force for change: there is something to be said for changing with the times and responding to what is happening today. One reason why I’m not unhappy with the presidential term of seven years is that this means that we don’t get the mess of elections every four or five years. A lot of emotional energy gets invested in such elections and it isn’t necessary to get into that too often in a spiritual organisation. Nothing wrong with stability. Let each officer and member just do their job, study theosophy, teach theosophy, reach out to understand other spiritual teachings etc.

On the other hand every once in a while any organisation has to face up to the changing world. Spiritual organizations are, more than other organizations, likely to get insulated from the world. I think this is one reason why the Maha Chohan did not want ‘saleried priests’. Salaried priests don’t feel the pressures of modern life the way business people or people in jobs and divorces do.

Elections are the chance for the candidates (assuming there are at least two of those) to convince the voters – that is the members of the TS – that they have what it takes to carry the TS on into the next decade or so. They will be more convincing at that if they are in touch with what the members want. In fact, an election in which there are several candidates, is the one moment when the top has to reach out to the members on their terms. On most other occasions, our leaders are mostly busy lecturing, writing articles, teaching theosophy and doing whatever administrative work needs done.

There is nothing wrong with any of that – but it does not necessarily require listening to the members. Of course the lectures would get better if they did listen to the members, but that’s another story.

I would go one step further.

As I said: there are two principle forces: one dynamic, the other conservative. Both are necessary. If it is too easy for newcomers to hijack an organisation, its stability is threatened. The money members have accumulated for the organisation could be squandered or even stolen. The publications ruined and reputations lost. This is not just theory: it happens. Lodges tend to be relatively easy pray, but then most lodges don’t have a lot of money so all that is lost is the group and reputation – nothing financial need fall into the wrong hands. (Yes there are exceptions, but bear with me)

On the other hand, change is also a helpful force in nature. An organisation that resists change too much risks simply dying. It could die quickly or slowly. One way to let an organisation die is to discourage members with ideas from contributing. There is however an even worse pattern: if members can not honestly tell people – hey, join the lodge, it will be fun and interesting, I can really recommend the TS!

Then the work is dead. It may dredge on as others hold the ford and keep things going, but when one can no longer recommend the work, how can one expect smart and interesting folk to join?

If the TS president were to get elected by the officials of the TS – which is what the aforementioned proposal and all variations thereof that John Algeo has hinted at mean – The members have no direct link with the president any more. The officials usually stand further away from ‘current society’ – after all, they may not get payed in most cases, but they are full time theosophists. So the officials may know the organisation best, but they do not know the world in which we live best. It’s in the chemistry between the members and the organisation that the right changes can occur. Take that away and the TS will have few mechanisms for change left.

That is why I would leave the TS if direct election of the TS president by the members were abolished. Because if this gets approved by the General Council, I can no longer recommend the TS to my spiritually interested acquaintances. While this is going on I also have trouble doing so, but I am willing to wait it out for now.

What can you do? Please tell your representative in the General Council how you feel (that would be the general secretary of your section). If feasible in your country, try and get a members meeting organized where the members can vote on this proposal.

Vote in this poll

More on this subject : keep yourself informed

Part of me still can’t believe it. But I’ve had this from various online contacts, so I guess it’s true: there is a proposal which will go to the general council which, if adopted, will change a number of things about the practical organisation of the Theosophical Society.

The main change will be that we as members of the Theosophical Society no longer get a vote in who becomes the next president of the Theosophical Society (TS).

This is an outrage to me.

I’m proud of the TS for being a religious organisation that elects its presidents. It’s one of the reasons why I am a reasonably active member: there is an attempt at an open organisation in which members can search for spiritual truth despite having religious differences. Now the organisation isn’t as open as I might like, but as long as the president is directly elected by the members, there is always a chance for change.

This proposal therefor goes to the heart of what makes me a proud theosophist. One of my responses yesterday as I got this news was: I don’t know if I want to remain a member of the TS if this goes through. Another response was: if P. Krishna had been a candidate, none of this would have happened.

I’ve set up a poll in which the main points of the proposal are laid out. Go check it out and give your vote on the various questions. One of the main questions I ask is: would you have voted for P. Krishna? Would you vote for him now?

Katinka Hesselink