Alaya Vijnana as Universal Oversoul

My last article here got a response (through email) from David Reigle himself. He wonders – what is wrong with his article?

Nothing much: it is a great article, however it perpetuates a theosophical interpretation of Alaya Vijnana that is – as far as I can tell – very simply wrong.

Let’s start with the basics. I looked up Alaya Vijnana in several Buddhist reference works and I think the definition in The Buddhist Encyclopedia says it well – and also makes it clear why Alaya Vijnana could be interpreted as an Oversoul, even though that is probably not what is meant:

The Alaya Vijnana (storehouse consciousness) is the most fundamental of the eight consciousnesses recognized in the Vijnanavada school of thought. It is said to contain all the “seeds” for the “consciousness-moments” or “consciousness-events” that people generally call reality. (p. 13, John S. Strong)

The Vijnanavada school of thought is also known as Chittamatra: Mind Only. It is a philosophical school that stresses consciousness beyond what other schools of Buddhist philosophy do: it says that all of our (experienced) reality is a projection of our mind!

That’s a tough pill to swallow. However, to understand the issue here, you have to at least be able to imagine that position, because the rest follows from it.

This is a very individualist world-view. It doesn’t enter on the question whether (and to what extent) my experienced reality overlaps with yours. It certainly does NOT try to find a universal something that is at the root of our common experience.

Since a Universal Something is precisely what theosophist DO try to find, finding it in the Alaya Vijnana is an original, but also anachronistic, solution. It totally ignores the main point the Vijnanavada school tries to make: all you experience is your own individual karma!

I went into the karma aspect of this topic in my book “Essays on Karma“, which I won’t repeat here.

I will point out some issues with trying to see Alaya Vijnana as a universal principle – in the theosophical sense of a principle that unites us all. We all have a body, but that doesn’t mean we all have ONE body. Similarly, though every being is (in this rather unique school of Buddhist philosophy) said to have an Alaya Vijnana, that doesn’t mean we all have access to one and the SAME Alaya Vijnana – as some kind of universal oversoul kind of thing.

This makes sense, because karma is individual. Anybody reading this has the karma to be a human being in this life, however – that is still your individual karma. The only thing universal here is that we all have karma – and are creating more every day.

In Chittamatra terms: I have an Alaya Vijnana and you have yours, and mine contains my karmic seeds and yours contains yours. Where we have shared perceptions, we also have shared karmic seeds. We all have the karmic seeds of experiencing this earth, for instance.

In more technical language – Gareth Sparham in his introduction to ‘Ocean of Eloquence’ by Lama Tsong Khapa, a text devoted to this topic, says (p. 8):

“The Alaya-Vijnana, out of its nature as the sum total of all seeds of experience became, in a causal sense at least, samsara itself. And by extension liberation (nirvana) came to be described in terms of the removal of the alaya-vijnana, or, more exactly, by fundamental transformation (asraya-parivrttti/paravrtti) of it. At the end of the long course of yogic endeavor, so painstakingly plotted out in all its detail in the Yogacara texts, the alaya-vijnana would change from being an opaque store of residual impressions into an enlightened Buddha mind in which all things were manifestly reflected (adarsana – jnana).”

Note that the logic is clear: an individual Alaya-Vijnana may be transformed into an individual Buddha-mind. Doing so won’t turn anybody else into a Buddha, just the storehouse consciousness of that individual practitioner.

General points

The theosophical project seeks to find a universal religion/philosophy at the basis of all religion. As such it has tended  to lump everything together as though you can mix and match religions for your own purposes.

In this case – the sources for Alaya Vijnana as an Oversoul are slim. I can’t find it in Tibetan Buddhism at all, while elsewhere it is only present in the modernist Zen Buddhism of D.T. Suzuki. Certainly Lama Tsong Khapa – who Blavatsky revered – doesn’t go there. What’s more – Blavatsky doesn’t use the term at all (except here).

Theosophists and people inspired by theosophists DO use ‘Alaya Vijnana’ as oversoul, but generally do no more than invoke the word in a long list of supposedly equal terms from various traditions. See for instance Franklin Merrell-Wolff (on my own site). Note that while he does cite a Buddhist work there, it is not a reference work. Nor does he actually use that work to prove the unity of Atma and Alaya Vijnana that he claims. As far as I can tell, interpreting Alaya Vijnana as Oversoul WAS done in Western Buddhology at the beginning of the 20th century, but is definitely outdated now.

Note that I compared the Alaya Vijnana to the Auric Egg in an article in 2004. The associations are very different from an Oversoul.


In general: no attempt has been made at scholarly transcription of Buddhist technical terms. In the quotes – see the original for the correct spelling.


I have studied Buddhist philosophy for over a decade now. I passed the ‘Basic Program’ test about the ‘Four Schools of Buddhist Philosophy’ (called ‘Tenets‘) with honors last year.

Also checked

Reference to Alaya Vijnana found in older Western Buddhist literature: The Pilgrimage of Buddhism and a Buddhist Pilgrimage, By James Bissett Pratt, p. 246 from 1928.

(Tibetan) Buddhism and Blavatsky’s Theosophy

A theosophist recently mailed me with some very specific questions about Blavatsky’s version of Tibetan Buddhism. Since they are common questions, I will also post them here. I cannot do so without giving some general advice:

If you want to learn about Buddhism, go to Buddhists. If you want to learn about Hinduism, go to Hindus. If you want to learn about meditation, go to a meditation teacher.

This ought to be self-evident, but unfortunately it seems it isn’t. Instead, many theosophists continue to take Blavatsky’s 19th century interpretation of Buddhism as gospel truth. However, as David Reigle notes in his article Tsongkhapa and the Teachings of the Wisdom Tradition (appendix 2):

It is important to recognize that many of H. P. Blavatsky’s
statements are not her own. That is, they are not her own in the
sense of coming from her adept teachers, but rather they come
from the published books available at the time she wrote. This
means that, since the information found in these early books is
very often faulty, so Blavatsky’s statements are very often faulty.

In other words: even if you DO believe in Mahatmas supporting the theosophical movement, Blavatsky’s words on history and doctrine need to be taken with several grains of salt. Since her work contains a lot of material copied (with and without source reference) from contemporary authors, this puts a question mark on most of her work.

In other words: when reading Blavatsky: proceed at your own risk.

1) It is not only possible but highly likely that humans reincarnate in lower kingdoms;

Yes. This is definitely the Buddhist view. The image of a blind turtle in an ocean is used a lot. That is: a blind turtle swims in an ocean where only one round hoop is floating around. The chance of being reborn as a human is said to be similar to the chance of that blind turtle coming up for air with his head in the hoop.

However, the lower rebirth taught CAN be taken figuratively. Someone who is in the depths of suicidal depression can be said to be in hell – not merely in the English colloquial sense, but also according to some ancient interpretations of Buddhism (Vasubandhu).

2) There is no permanent element in Man (the question of Anatman or Anatta);

True. Buddhism definitely states that there isn’t a permanent soul that reincarnates. Blavatsky chose her position on the Hindu side of that debate. However, since Buddhists do believe there is reincarnation (or rebirth) in the first place, something DOES reincarnate.

One conclusion is that it is karma itself that reincarnates. (Read that sentence carefully.) Another that it’s the continuity of consciousness that reincarnates. Personally I do feel that, given Blavatsky’s place in time, her way of describing this wasn’t so very bad. Westerners weren’t used to thinking about consciousness at all back then. Western psychology was only just being invented (in Germany). Freud’s teachers were finding their way. We’re heirs to a century of popularized psychology. It’s a different situation.

Let’s face it – the nuances of atma/anatma are too complicated for most lay Buddhist to understand anyhow. Ask an ordinary Buddhist in Japan or Sri Lanka whether they will be reborn and they’ll say ‘yes’. What will be reborn? They may even say their ‘I’ (literally atman in many of the Asian languages) will be reborn. Blavatsky merely restated the popular view.

On the other hand, current day theosophists have no such excuse. They have several decades of genuine Buddhist teachers and books to consult. By now they should be aware of the Buddhist position and if they are going to go with the Hindu version, let them at least take in the nuances of the Advaita view. The latter makes it clear (as Blavatsky does if you’re looking for it) that the atma that does reincarnate is not something one can grasp. Our view of Atma is, by definition, too solid.

I have several articles on my site to explain either view:

The article by David Reigle mentioned before also discusses this, but his treatment of Chittamatra doesn’t square with what I have learned about that school, which undermines his whole point. However, he does summarize the Madhyamaka position as formulated by the Gelugpa tradition and also shows that Blavatsky really wasn’t close to Lama Tsong Khapa in approach at all, despite her claiming him as a Mahatma.

3) It is pointless to talk about Rounds, Races, in fact it is a useless speculation being sometimes tagged as “spiritual materialism”;

I totally agree. What’s the use? The whole story is difficult to reconcile with science and it’s unclear how it is helpful to our present day situation.

However, the rounds and races do tag onto areas of Buddhist mythology. Note that those teachers weren’t saying it wasn’t true. Not that I think it is. I don’t. But they couldn’t say it isn’t Buddhism, because there are very similar strands of mythology in Buddhism. These aren’t popular, because they ARE in conflict with modern science and most Buddhists would rather forget about them, if they know about them at all.

Spiritual materialism is a reference to Chogyam Trungpa. I recommend his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Shambhala Classics) and leave it up to you whether it’s applicable here.

4) There is no evolution;

You mean spiritual evolution. There is obviously evolution and adaptation in nature. The latter is also, equally obviously, not merely an upward drive.

Here it does get tricky. On the one hand it is clear that Buddhism (in common with Hinduism) teaches that we can easily be reborn as a scorpion, a snake or a dog, in a hell or a heaven. And that does imply that the relatively easy upward trend that Blavatsky envisages is untrue. As said before though, this can be taken figuratively.

On the other hand it is also clear that what we do with our consciousness today has an impact tomorrow. Those that walk the path seriously (ethics, meditation etc). are encouraged to think that they will, in time, clean up their act enough to become Arhats or Buddhas themselves. In this case the path does lead upwards, however thorny and long it may be. You can call that evolution if you will.

What’s more, pure actions, thoughts and words in this life are taught to be a guarantee for a human rebirth in a next life. Which means another decent chance at living another positive life. This what most lay Buddhists aim at, in fact: a string of human lives in which one avoids the worst transgressions and gradually purifies action, words and thoughts.

Such consistently helpful and kind people are not very common, but perhaps common enough for some optimism. This is the position Lama Yeshe took. His optimism was, when I first read him, reminiscent of Blavatsky. As to the latter, remember her mourning the many ‘soulless people’ she saw on the London streets? What would she have said about their chances of being reborn as a human? Unfortunately we’ll never know, as nobody was alert enough to ask her.

5) Theosophy is relatively recent and Buddhism is not, the latter having a lot of lineages, something they consider to be important.

Theosophy has no “accomplished Masters”;

Does theosophy have accomplished masters? Do you know anybody in theosophy who you would consider to have any sort of spiritual attainment? I know a few who are accomplished at helping others, but not more than many people in the world do without ever even thinking about theosophy. I don’t know anybody who goes beyond that. If you do, that’s great.

Since the theosophical masters reportedly aim at helping humanity as a whole, I very much doubt they’re very invested in the theosophical movement at present. What is it doing to help humanity?

When it comes to lineage it is relevant that Blavatsky told her closest students, at the end of her life to ‘keep the link unbroken.’ However, I have never met anybody who had any idea what she meant.

The only accomplished theosophical meditators I know are also either Buddhists or trained in some Hindu tradition. I talked about practicing ethics in front of two theosophical audiences a few years ago (my last theosophical lectures to date) and in both there was a horror at the very idea that one might actually do something like ethical discipline. Note that basic ethical discipline is the groundwork of ALL spiritual traditions the world over. Whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism or Buddhism. But theosophists frowned at the idea.

What does ‘finding the essence of all religions and philosophy’ mean if it doesn’t even the obvious similarities aren’t taken seriously?

That’s how lost the tradition is. Seriously, I don’t know how it got to that point. But it seems to me it’s there. I honestly hope I’m wrong. Anyhow, it ought to be a problem to anybody who wants to take theosophy seriously as more than a fascinating hobby.

However, historically, Western Buddhism has theosophy in it’s lineage. There is no escaping it. Western Buddhists decrying theosophy are like children protesting their parents. They may have good reason to do things differently from their ancestors, but that doesn’t mean they have to blacken their name.

6) They even prefer Christianity and Judaism to Theosophy which contains “billions of stupid statements”.

Given how much of Blavatsky’s central works consist of quotes and paraphrases of 19th century science and speculation, taking her words seriously on any topic is a risky business.

Then again: it’s easier to fight with your neighbour than with a stranger. Theosophy is, in terms of our cultural heritage, the basis of all Western Buddhism. Western Buddhists who know theosophy therefore have to take its fancies into account.

Judaism and Christianity are easier to deal with, because easier dismissed. But yes, I would also hesitate to recommend theosophy to people at present, because the dross does outdo the jewels hidden in the depths. The rounds and races are only the most obvious example. And let’s face it, that makes the whole second volume of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine problematic.

Terminology is another one: It took me years of university study to be able to recognize Blavatsky’s version of terms vs the Hindu or Buddhist interpretations. It’s a curious mixture and very confusing to anybody who doesn’t take the trouble to compare them point by point. And most people just don’t.

I know theosophists who use the Buddhist interpretation of terms to explain Blavatsky – which isn’t fair. I also know theosophists (a majority) who use the theosophical interpretation of terms and think they understand books on yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism and complete miss the differences because they don’t know how to change their definitions when reading something from outside the theosophical tradition.

Even David Reigle seems to make this mistake.

My point: to understand both requires a sort of mental gymnastics most people just aren’t capable of – and of those who are, who would take the trouble? Inside the theosophical movement few (if any) do. Outside it, nobody will bother. Theosophy has become irrelevant. It is merely history.

7) Religions come from different sources.

To think of something universal in this domain is pure fancy. Only Buddhism leads to the last stages;

Of course Buddhism claims that only it leads to the last stages. That’s clearly a religiously biased viewpoint. It is one I’m taking as a working hypothesis for the rest of this life, but against theosophists it should not hold much weight. Investigate it for yourself.

We’re universally human. Human wisdom comes out in all religions, just like it does in literature and art. However, cultural differences are also huge. The theosophical approach tends to ignore the differences – which is a bit like trying to extract a ‘food essence’ out of cucumber and meat – while ignoring how very different each is from the other.

8) There is no dichotomy between red and yellow caps, the Dalai Lama even has some Nyingma instructors that are held in great consideration.

The criticisms found in theosophical writings in the 1880s concerning the Bon are dated and now the Dalai Lama has a high regard for the Bon. Nowadays, you can find the “rimé” ecumenical movement that comprises 4 traditions of Tibetan Buddhism.

There is such a dichotomy: the Gelugpa do wear yellow caps in rituals, whereas the rest wears red caps. However, it is true that all are Tibetan Buddhists and they have more in common than Blavatsky suggests. She had a way of overdoing dichotomies all round. Her distinction between white and black magic is also too strict. No indigenous shaman would consider healing to be black magic, for instance.

The Rime movement was a late 19th century development in Tibetan Buddhism that brought people from the non-gelugpa schools of Tibetan Buddhism together. It is therefore contemporary with Blavatsky and in fact in some ways similar to theosophy in approach. (Again, see Reigle)

And yet she missed it. This says something about the reliability of her sources.

As for black magic: You will find people abusing their power in all religious traditions, including Tibetan Buddhism. Power abuse is in fact pretty universal. This is why in democracies there are checks on power. Division of Church and state, independent justices, independent press etc.

Personally I do have affinity for the purity of the Gelugpa tradition, but that is a personal preference. As my teachers do, I recommend people to find a teacher that suits them. Make sure you trust them. Make sure to say no when they ask you something you don’t want to do and leave when they ask for too much money or sexual favors of any kind.

Don’t let the color of their hats confuse you. Trust your own instincts and common sense.

As for Buddhist feelings of superiority – any religion feels itself to be superior to any other. That’s not surprising. However, right now, Buddhists are definitely winning over the intelligentsia in our culture. Smart people into spirituality aren’t theosophists these days, they’re Buddhists.

This means that there aren’t enough smart people to help theosophy stay healthy – and that means that it’s unlikely to recover.

See also my recent article about the relevance of Blavatsky today.

Some Thoughts on the T.S.’ Direction

[Katinka 2014: I’ve moved on from the Theosophical Movement and many of the concerns expressed by the author of the below seem unreal to me these days. However, in a way that merely means I agree. I am publishing this for two reasons:

  1. While harsh, the author is speaking the literal truth on many issues. I have not personally come across many people who take The Secret Doctrine as literally as he suggests though.
  2. I still get more response to my work as a theosophist than as a (newbie) Buddhist, so I guess theosophists want me involved in their world in some way or shape.

I totally agree that it’s a pity that the work that was started in the 19th century by people who manifestly felt for the good of humanity as a whole, is now in such bad shape that documents in the Adyar Archives are crumbling. I hope a new president can change that. It takes only the willpower to restore Olcott’s vision. The money for such a worthy cause will follow when a good plan is made. The only ray of hope I see for the TS otherwise is in the work of the TOS. Since both candidates for the new presidency have roots in that organization, the TS as a whole has some reason to hope as well.]

Anonymous contribution from Nicolas van Gelder, a 4th generation theosophist (with a last name that I recognize from my studies of theosophical history)

While many of my points may seem, at times, harshly critical of the 1875 founding of the T.S. and its literature, it should be noted that I am a fourth generation theosophist. I merely point out that it is a poor ideology that does not countenance debate. Clinging to a 19th and early 20th Century perception of man, his (her) origins, is to be like religious people devotedly attached to words  said to have been spoken by omniscient beings hundreds to thousands of years ago. We should take the best of the past and integrate it into the best of the present. 

  1. The T.S. must embrace 21st Century science. To ignore this is to be like a creationist who believes the earth was created some 6000 years ago and denies the empirical evidence of evolution. Thus we all came out of Africa 150-250,000 years ago. Ipso facto, there is no evidence whatsoever of root races: no Lemurians, no Atlanteans, no cloud-like beings of the first root race. Our genetic code is only one chromosome away from our cousins, the chimpanzees.  We are quite simply primates. The Manu and the Bodhisattva did not arrive in human form as Adam and Eve in order to give birth to the Fifth Root Race.  Contra: a writer in a theosophical magazine proclaimed: “Theosophy has exerted considerable influence on scientific thinking, and today science, unknown to itself, is more and more picking up the sacred message.” I think not. It is a bombastic utterance that would offend the vast majority of sentient scientist (there are a few who are flakey, e.g. the ones who reject global warming). No scientist takes theosophy or God into the lab.
  2. The Cosmos shows no evidence of a Divine Plan since the 100 billion galaxies and the 100 billion stars in each are chaotic only obeying the laws of gravity and quantum mechanics. Galaxies are colliding with each other and annihilating themselves. They are also, thanks to dark matter and the dark force, accelerating away from each other at the speed of light. In a few billion years the Milky Way will be knowable only to itself – the other galaxies will be beyond detection.
  3. There is no evidence for Ākāśa or the Aether (that was disproved more than a hundred years ago).  Space is not empty but filled with virtual particles that appear and disappear in nano seconds (Space has been weighed and it has weight, detected by gravity waves). I am willing to promote the notion that there is an under-lying field (one concept that is part of theosophy); no astrophysicist would be opposed to such a proposition since physicists are continually looking for super symmetries. The recent discovery of excess gamma rays in the Milky Way provides a clue to the makeup of dark matter. Science does not stand still, it is constantly moving forward while discarding theories when the evidence for them is over-turned. Does the T.S. ever discard the fallacious?
  4. Religions are man-made, which is not to reject the wisdom of the Buddha. He merely points out that ultimate reality is accessible to inner empiricism (higher states of consciousness through meditation). The T.S.’ problem is that it provides no practical methodology for achieving higher consciousness, other than to talk airily about it.
  5. The term soul should be utterly abandoned. There is no soul despite the efforts of early 20th Century spiritualists to demonstrate that a body weighed before death is fractionally less heavy after death, establishing in their minds that the soul had left the body! They did not understand that the body exudes gasses after death. The same goes for the Higher Self.
  6. It is now far more respectable to talk about consciousness. No scientist (including neuro-scientists) has a clue as to what is consciousness or how it appears from the sludge of the brain, though everyone is certain that he or she is conscious. But it is a topic of considerable interest for researchers. Should it be ever discovered that consciousness is a field matrix, independent of the mind, the cosmological  perspective will be forever changed. And then there will no longer be any need for declaring that there are cosmic logoi and that our sun is the body of the solar logos.
  7. Forget Shambala. It is myth, coming from the Tibetan  Kālacakra Tantra and the Zhang Zhung culture which predated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely related land called Olmolungring. A theosophist visiting Krotona screamed in my face that she knew exactly where  Shambala is (was) and exactly where to enter it. I was too polite to suggest she should, for the sake of her spiritual development, go there immediately.
  8. Theosophists all too frequently talk about things that they know nothing about and are spoken with a degree of certainty that evangelical Christians and Muslims eagerly espouse. I once heard a theosophist talk about how powerful a being the Solar Logos is. How did she know? It is like the preacher in the pulpit declaring: “What Jesus meant …?” How does he know? Where did she obtain this knowledge and does she know the difference between belief and fact?
  9. The T.S. can only continue its mission by attracting younger people and retaining their membership; otherwise, it will die a lingering death. So many people are rejecting the Society, if not theosophy. They have become utterly disgusted with the secretive, hierarchical powers of a group of elderly individuals who refuse to let go the invidious arcane of the past. For example, Katinka in Holland worked very hard and diligently for the T.S. in the Netherlands and at Adyar, only to burn out in frustration. She sent me an email that seems like a cri de coeur:

I have to be guided by two things only:

– what’s best for me personally: the TS makes me very unhappy.- what is best for humanity and (from that) where my talents will be most useful. The TS is not that place since it doesn’t seem to want to use them much.

[Katinka 2014: Meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist style has made me a l0t happier than I have ever been before. I hope my theosophical friends can be happy for me.]

So I don’t think I’ll be very active in the TS in future. However, I am still a member, I won’t be deleting the theosophical material on my site, and will continue to be available to give lectures. I will obviously also continue to use what I learned from theosophy in my writings.

[Katinka 2014: I have since left the TS, but as promised I have left the theosophical material on my site. I don’t plan to delete it: it has helped and inspired me after all.
I am putting the finishing touches on a book called ‘Essays on Karma’ which will be self-published through the Amazon Kindle ebook system. I have left in references to Blavatsky, Judge and theosophy, though I have tempered them with what I’ve learned in the Gelugpa (Lama Tsong Khapa) Tibetan Buddhist tradition.]

Quite so. Adyar has become the centripetal point of the decay and malaise in the Society. The international headquarters lives in a surreal world that refutes progress while putting up with potholes and a crumbling infrastructure. The most appalling sign is its failure to maintain the archives: one of the finest collections of Sanskrit and Pali scriptures in the world, including a large number of writings on palm leaves. These are cared for by rat poison but no temperature control. In addition, the secretiveness makes it virtually impossible for anyone to gain access.

[Katinka 2014: The Adyar archives are renowned in the world of the study of Indian religion (Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism etc.). Olcott gathered these manuscripts for the welfare of humanity as a whole. Since the archives are so very important to the study of Indian religion, raising money for a project to preserve it ought to be possible.]

10. The T.S. must distance even farther from the Liberal Catholic Church and from Co-Freemasonry. They are both failed or failing organizations that have little, if anything, to do with the Society’s mission statement.  They were superimposed as an adjunct of the Society, bringing a religious and a mystical agenda to the hyper-mix of occultism and esotericism.

11. Now we need to consider the Esoteric Section of the T.S. It is another moribund organization, having lost its purpose shortly after HPB’s death. Yet it’s grip on the Society has been viselike (morte main). Most Section presidents and International presidents have been members and acceded to its exclusivity: you can only become a member if it’s your karma to do so. To which I respond the ES is BS. It should have been obvious that a society within a society would only lead to sectarianism, more huverry and puffery. There is nothing mystical or secretive about it and its fading membership can only mean that its own karma has turned against it.

12.  Next we ought to take a close look at the Great White Brotherhood. While it was meant to distinguish itself from the Black Brotherhood of black magicians, the modern connotations of white and black imply the racial divide between whites and African Americans. HPB referred to them as Dugpas or Drukpas. Alas, she was completely wrong and exposed her limited knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism. The Drukpas (Dugpas) are a branch of the Kagyu School and the official ‘religion’ of Bhutan. Besides, why is there no Great White Sisterhood? Spiritual chauvinism is rather infra dig.

13.  Which leads to the need to discuss some of the myths surrounding HPB’s occult travels. I have read over a hundred books and articles on Tibetan history.[1] There is absolutely no evidence to support the contention that she, accompanied by a Master or two, spent time at the Panchen Lama’s Tashilumpo Monastery in Shigatze. Two Indians and a white woman would have stuck out like African Zebras. No, the furthest HPB got was Kashmir. Why doesn’t the T.S. officially accept this fact? The desperate attempts by Sylvia Cranstrom to show that she did cross the frontier are painful to read.

14.  For many theosophists, The Secret Doctrine is as close to a bible for the movement as possible, unveiling the arcanum fidei non vulgarent (the Roman Catholic dictat). However, those who do not perceive it as an entirely allegorical account of anthropogenesis and cosmogenesis tend to evincing all kinds of misunderstandings. What, for heaven’s sake is an Auric Egg? My answer is to ask, “Do you want it poached, fried or scrambled?” The response from the group is inevitably scowls as if I had committed a blasphemy. It reminds me of the Holy Koran that can only be understood by reading it in the original Arabic, according to imams and mullahs and ayatollahs. Which produces the strange situation that non-Arabic Muslims (the largest number living in Indonesia who don’t understand a word of Arabic) are instructed in Malay as to what it all means). Get real Mara. Yet, the T.S. continues to send out speakers to explain the true meaning of the Secret Doctrine. I have never encountered a single theosophist who can fully explain a 100th of the three volumes. Naturally, I don’t understand much of it either, even though I have been perusing it off and on for 50 years. Of course the great book ought to be studied to provide inner empiricism, to establish intuitive insights. Yes, indeed, but I don’t want to hear from preachers.

15.  As to the Spiritual Hierarchy, we need to examine it very carefully. For a start, there is no evidence whatsoever for its existence. Sanat Kumara, the eternal virgin youth, Lord of the world, who, along with the Four Kumaras, supposedly came from an ‘etheric’ Venus, is telepathically in constant communication with the Solar Logos, is cherry picked from the Hindu purāṇas, early texts coming from an oral tradition dating back to 1000 B.C.E.

So let’s see how this hierarchy was created by Leadbeater, Alice Bailey, Benjamin Crème, A.E. Powell, Elizabeth Clare Prophet and others. The first two initiations are too banal to consider. The 3rd initiation involves clairvoyance and clairaudience. This is silly; I have met a few clairvoyants (at least they claimed they were) who are schizophrenics, prone to hallucinations.

By borrowing from Buddhism, without fully understanding it, they declared that the 4th initiation involved the Arhat and the 5th the Asekha. Arhat in Sanskrit (Arahant in Pali) is an individual who has penetrated to the ultimate truth (paramārtha – see Vasubhandu’s Abhidharma-kośa) and gained enlightenment (nirvāṇa). Not the same as the Buddha’s enlightenment (parinirvāṇa), but I don’t have the space to explain the difference. To the point: arhat is a Sanskrit term coming from the root han, meaning to slay, and ari means obstacles – greed, hatred, anger, etc. By slaying or overcoming the obstacles, the Arhat sees the world as it really is, i.e. without substance. So said Nāgārjuna, the most brilliant mind following the Buddha, and whatever he said is good enough for me. Now we come to the problem. When Mahayana Buddhism developed, it replaced the ideal of the Arhat with the ideal of the Bodhisattva. The amount of vitriol this created was really stunning. I may appear to be abrasive, but I’m mild and meek in comparison. They first hurled insults at the Arhats (the last one dying in the late first century B.C.E.) and the Pratyeka-buddhas (those who have achieved enlightenment on their own). Then they screamed epithets at each other, on the lines of: your commentary is like a goat’s droppings (that’s the softest way I can put it). Then they constructed 10 Bhumis (grounds) in the development of a bodhisattva: six to nine are celestial bodhisattvas, such as Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan) and Samantabhadra, and the tenth is Buddhood. But they were forced to acknowledge, by their own logic, that Arhats and Pratyeka-buddhas belonged to the 9th Bhumi.

Yes, I am shamelessly demonstrating my erudition. But there is a point to be made: how can the Arhat be a 6th initiate in Theosophy and one rung from Buddhahood in Buddhism? Why used the term Arhat? And why symbolize it with crucifixion (which is purely Christian)?

As for Asekha, there is only more confusion. It is a mysterious word, not to be found in Sanskrit and thought rather vaguely to be Tibet. Nevertheless, in Theravadin Buddhism the Asekha is the equivalent of the Arhat (see Maha Thera Nyanatiloka’s Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines). Asekha as is the Arhat is the one who has no more to learn. Again how did this become the 5th Initiation? According to Bailey, Leadbeater and Crème there are only 43 beings at this level. How do they know this? Beats me.  And why do they always have human faces and bodies?

I remain puzzled by these designations firmly stated without evidential criteria.

Onward to the 6th initiation. Chohans and the Seven Rays. The word Chohan is not found in Sanskrit or in Tibetan.  As for the Seven Rays they are surely allegorical. Ernest Wood wrote a whole book on them. Later, John Algeo gave a forceful talk in which he assigned characteristics to them, such as philosophers belong to such and such a Ray, etc. I think this is humbug, like astrology, best read for laughs in newspaper horoscopes.

Now onto the mangling of the 7th initiation. Vaivasvatu Manu, the Maha Chohan and the Bodhisattva Maitreya. I have trouble with all of them.

In Hinduism Manu is considered to be originator of human beings. Vaivasvatu is the seventh Manu. According to the Bhagavad Gita, “The lifespan of one Manu, is 71 Mahayugas (306,720,000 years), and each Mahayuga is 4,320,000 years.” (Bhagavad Gita 8.17) “The duration of one manvantara, the lifespan of one Manu, is seventy-one Mahayugas, and each Mahayuga is 4,320,000 years”. The present Manu has already lived for 28 Mahayugas, which is 120,960,000 years.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.30.49) Obviously, these figures are meaningless. Sanskrit literature is full of vast numbers; the meaning is surely “a very long time.” Now why or how did Manu become a 7th initiate in theosophy? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Maha Chohan I will pass on. Maha simply means great.

Maitreya is another story. First he is supposed to have been an historical figure and author of Five Buddhist Books. Scholars find this hard to believe for technical reason I will not go into. There is also a possibility that the name was taken from the Persian Mithra in the Zoroastrian Avista literature. Suffice to say, the Bodhisattva Maitreya now resides in the Buddhist Tuṣita Heaven preparing himself to be born as the next Buddha in 25,000 years time. This would put him on the 9th Bhumi. Thus Maitreya finds himself demoted in the theosophical schema.

Worse: the 8th initiation, that of the Buddha and the Pratyeka-Buddhas, makes no sense at all. Alice Bailey makes extravagant claims about them. They can teleport their minds, leaving their bodies behind, as far as the star Sirius. It seems to me that these writers made up stuff as they went along. For example, the Buddha is a fully enlightened being. Fully enlightened means just that. There can be nothing beyond enlightenment. But that’s not good enough for theosophy.

The 9th initiation is that of Sanat Kumara, Lord of the World. In his consciousness is the knowledge of all goes on on Earth. He has the power to destroy and to create according to his wishes. He is obviously the equivalent of a monotheistic God.

I wish theosophists had stopped there, but no, they had to create a 10th initiation. The Planetary Logos. I am so weary of these imaginations that I cannot continue.

Suffice to say that Leadbeater and Bailey should have kept their mouths instead of pandering their “insights” to their devotees. In the case of Leadbeater, I can claim to have some opinions from my aunt, Dora van Gelder Kunz, who became part of CWL’s inner circle at the age of 12 in Sydney, Australia. After badgering her constantly for many years, she finally told me, “He believed in what he thought he saw.” Yes, and what he saw was through the eyes of a Victorian gentleman. He objectified the hierarchy and established Maitreya as the Christ. His vision of Maitreya bears a striking similarity to the headmaster of an English private school. And Maitreya consequently became the object of veneration in the Liberal Catholic Church – see my The Manor: A short history[2], published last year. Much, much worse were the sayings of George Arundale who said he had achieved the 5th initiation and, when performing the Mass in an LCC  Church in, I seem to remember, Los Angeles, declared that Maitreya had appeared to him to tell him all was well and to ignore all and any criticisms. He, along with Jinarājadāsa, were demented. That, of course, is my opinion. I defy you to contradict with evidence.

I have written, perhaps, too much on this subject. But to all who believe in invisible Gardeners watering humanity, I say just provide, just a little evidence to support your claims. Where was St. Germain when the Nazis destroyed so many lives? After all, he was supposed to have influenced the writing of the U.S. Constitution.

16. I could go on and on with criticisms. But that would exceed my goal. The issue is what can theosophy and the Theosophical Society do to ameliorate the suffering in this  world? Nothing else matters.

                        a.  Prune the theosophical tree. Get rid of the occultism, the esotericism and fraudulence of the past. Stick to the Three Objectives.

                        b. The human species is at risk today (where have all the Masters gone?): global warming, racism, fragmentation of society (Scotland wants to  become independent, so does Catalonia, so do the Tamils in Sri Lanka, so does Quebec, so does Tibet, et al), the conflict with Islam, Chinese and  Russian human rights abuses, the state of African tribalism, the  denigration of women in the Islamic World and India, the 9 million  children who die each year under the age of five from the effects of  malnutrition and other diseases, the rich getting richer and the poor  getting poorer, the general suffering of  humanity, the  abysmal corruption of governments, and so on. Isn’t it the purpose of the T.S. to play a greater  role in the common humanity of all sentient beings? If not, it has lost sight of its goals.

c.  Education is the most important element in addressing the above. Poverty  is a grim and awful cycle. The poor will remain poor until two things  happen: women in second and third world countries are given the means  to become entrepreneurs, to control their own lives; that education is the  number one priority in order to create a more egalitarian society. This is  also true for Western societies. Consider that in an international test of 15  year old pupils, the U.S. came in at 18 out of 20 countries. Theosophy can  become relevant when it takes on the Fritz Kunz model: the integration of  all subjects to inform students of the continuity of inquiry. The religious  and right wing ideologues are determined to bring back the Middle Ages by ranting about family values, abortion, creationism, the refusal to accept that the gay are genetically predisposed, not psychologically, to their sexual  inclinations.

More importantly, theosophical perspectives can hammer away at the  continuum of nature by teaching that nature is inviolable, that humans and other primates have a common ancestry, that evolution is a continual process, that the human mind in a few thousand years will comprehend existence in a profoundly different way (scientists concur).

d.     Let’s prune the tree. As theosophy has remained locked in the past, it has become a cult, not so dissimilar to the Mormons and the Scientologists, both of which advance the most bizarre ideas. Why can’t we admit that science has a validity that we don’t have? Only the rattle-headed can accept metaphysics,  a speculative perspective. And what if we don’t? Theosophy and the Theosophical Society will die a lingering death as evidence pummels its beliefs.

e.  It should be required reading for all Theosophists to read J.J. (Koos) van der  Leeuw’s Revelation or Realization: The Conflict in Theosophy. Koos was probably the greatest intellectual within the Society. He became a priest in the LCC before discarding his collar. He became disillusioned by devotees who were believers rather than thinkers. It was a dreadful loss to theosophy when he died crashing his own plane into a mountain while traveling in  Africa. He was much too young to die before completing his epistemological  work.

f.    Yes, theosophy still has much to offer the world. All it has to do is bring its   ideas into the world of the 21st Century.

[1] Katinka 2014: The author intended a full bibliography, but I don’t think it is necessary. His summary is a good start, but is no more than a summary, with all the limitations that implies. Anybody who can read can look up sources like a reputable Buddhist Dictionary, Hindu Encyclopedia or even merely Wikipedia to check his assertions, and correct them where necessary. These things can be dealt with properly as soon as one realizes that Blavatsky’s definitions work only in the context of her own work, not outside it. When a inter-religious dialog is attempted, respect for the traditions involved should come first. Assuming they don’t know what their own gods stand for is the height of folly and arrogance.

[2] I can’t find references to this work online. Anyone who finds it will know the author of this otherwise anonymous piece. Nicolas van Gelder has given me the details: The Manor: A Short History, Nicolas van Gelder, Theosophical History Occasional Papers, Volume XIV, 2011, Copyright James Santucci (ed). It deals with the history of the Manor from 1922-2011.

Theosophy and Bodhicitta: about the TOS

Theosophists must excuse me for once more butting in where I no longer have any business. I was thinking just now about where the Theosophical Movement went wrong. When did, in Blavatsky‘s words, the chain get broken?

Part of me thinks the chain got broken with Blavatsky’s death. Olcott did loads of useful work for Buddhism and religion in India in general, but he lost faith in Blavatsky, which didn’t help the movement. In Tibetan Buddhist terminology: he lacked guru yoga. The fact that he died with visions of master KH means of course that he didn’t lose faith completely. However, Blavatsky was the guru he met and could learn from day to day. As such she was the Buddha’s representative for him. Losing faith in her meant losing faith in the guru in a very real way. I’m sure all in all his karma was positive, but for the movement his loss of faith was an essential blow. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I could have done any better. Guru yoga is a tough one.

Annie Besant, despite all her intelligence, lacked balance. Yet she did try and make theosophy practical by starting the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS). Unlike similar work done by that other woman who was a theosophical leader, Katherine Tingley, her work did survive. The Theosophical Order of Service is the one aspect of the theosophical work that still functions pretty much as it was designed to do: as a way for people to help specific human beings in a way that’s compatible with the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Somehow my sense of the purpose of the Theosophical Society had to do with the Welfare of Humanity as a whole. I don’t know where I got that notion, since hardly any of the leaders seem to have stressed it. However, Blavatsky does express it in this quote from The Voice of the Silence:

“Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred River’s roaring voice whereby all Nature-sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him ‘who in the stream would enter,’ thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes.”

My point for today is this: when some idea of what theosophy ‘is’ becomes more important in the work of the Theosophical Movement than the question ‘How can we contribute to the welfare of humanity?’ the Theosophical Society has become not just ‘religion’ in general but a specific religion one might call theosophism.

The Theosophical Order of Service is, to me, the hope of the Theosophical Society, not because I think the TS should turn into a charity organisation. That’s what the TOS is for. No, it’s because people working IN the TOS work for the welfare of humanity and as such are working on what Buddhists call ‘bodhicitta‘. Bodhicitta goes beyond the welfare of humanity to the welfare of all sentient beings and it aims at gaining liberation to be able to help all those sentient beings gain liberation from samsara. Still, in training for bodhicitta it’s a very good first step to enlarge one’s sympathy from one’s friends to all of humanity.

The risk that theosophy took in it’s approach to the Path was that it stressed the impersonal over the personal. In training for Bodhicitta in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition one starts with first one’s friends, then one’s enemies and strangers last. This has the advantage that you get confronted with all those personal emotions that stand in the way of genuine sympathy for all beings. After all: even with friends we often begrudge them their happiness thinking ‘I wish I …’ When meditating on the real friend and the real enemy (or the person we just don’t like, we’re annoyed at, that rubs us the wrong way) we can’t float off into ideals: we get a confrontation with our limitations just as we’re trying to overcome them. That paradox has real transformative power that merely thinking about an ideal lacks.

The impersonal is in some ways easier than the personal. We can build up nice ideals, nice fantasies of working for humanity, while leaving our emotional life untended and chaotic. We can think we’re fighting for what’s right, when we’re really only fighting for our interpretation of an ideal. What’s an ideal that gets fought over? Nothing but smoke and mirrors. And there we are, waving our swords at it. And in the process people can get hurt: all those swords flying about… And yes, I own it, I made that mistake too.

The tough question is: how can the theosophical movement clean up the smoke, stop waving their swords at it and turn on the light? How do you create peace when everybody is shouting at each other? The hope for the movement is perhaps in people locally turning on the light. I am in correspondence with a few of those. Perhaps, if enough people do that, the shouting can stop at all levels and a new unity can be found in which issues actually get addressed instead of fought over.

Obviously, my solution was to just leave. I’m too outspoken a person to keep my mouth shut in the midst of people shouting. I had to leave the fight altogether. This of course means that I no longer have any business butting in. Still I haven’t stopped caring for what happens to the Theosophical Movement.

The reason my hope for the TS (Adyar) is with the TOS is that it has such very specific ideals that they can actually be realized. People working in the TOS have to face up to all the issues that come with trying to help people. You know: people of flesh and blood who live their own lives and aren’t likely to conform to some grand ideal just because we thought it up. As I see it, the challenge for the Theosophical Movement as a whole is to find an interpretation of the work that will be of benefit of mankind, does justice to the three objects and to the inspiring aspects in the theosophical heritage.

Issues with the three objects of the Theosophical Society

It seems I can’t stop writing about theosophy, even now that I’m no longer a member of the TS Adyar.

On facebook an African American theosophist asked me if I’d written ‘I’m no longer a member of the Theosophical Society‘. I replied in rather short terms that yes, that was me. I realized soon after though, the post might be misconstrued.

As an African American he might conclude from that post that I no longer think it a good idea if people try and live together brotherly (and sisterly) without distinction of race, creed, sex, sexual orientation etc.

I’m not a different person than I was when at 12 I befriended an isolated Hispanic girl in our school Austen TX. I’m still the granddaughter of a Christian Muslim specialist who traveled all over the world at the invitation of Muslims in the Middle East and Pakistan. I’m still the daughter of a psychotherapist who worked with men and women who had been abused as kids till she retired and now teaches what she knows to other psychotherapists. I’m still a resident of a country in which our ‘slums’ full of ‘ethnic workers’ would seem like middle class neighborhoods to most Americans today. I’m still the woman who tried to teach at a multi-ethnic high school at the end of her teaching career. I’m still a very inactive member of Amnesty International. Note too that I think what my grandfather and mother accomplished along these lines is WAY more impressive than anything I’ve done or am likely to do in this life.

Of course I still feel that boundaries between races and classes need to be softened by policy makers and individuals. Of course I still feel that men and women have equal mental and spiritual capacity. Of course I would still prefer finding the ideal working place in which I might develop  my spiritual side AND help bridge the gaps between people on all levels.

However, the question is to what extent the TS works towards her objects. My personal question is also whether Katinka in the TS helps anything towards any of them. One of the things the Tibetan Buddhists are very clear about is that motive is everything. Theosophists say that too, but with less clarity. What the Buddhists say is that if you do something grudgingly, if you’re in a situation that makes you angry – you are not working from love. True of course. Anger and resentment have to do with attachment, with expectations not being met. No longer believing I could make a difference in it, I let the TS go. I’m not advising that as a general policy in dealing with conflicts of course. My general advice would be to look problems straight in the eye, work through all feelings associated with them, communicate clearly and leave only once that is clearly the only solution you can live with.

The fact is, the love I had for the TS is gone. That’s why I left. I wondered in 2010, as a few activist theosophists sat at a table at the World Conference, what we were doing it for. What the aggravation was for. Well, my answer is: it’s no longer any use for me to get aggravated about the TS. It’s also not possible for me to be a member of the TS at present without being aggravated.

Does that mean I’m sorry about all the theosophy I studied? Of course not. Blavatsky is a fascinating lady and I look forward to trying to square what she wrote about Buddhism, karma and devachan with what (Tibetan) Buddhists themselves teach.

Does it mean I’m sorry about all the other religions I studied and people I met from all spiritual traditions present in The Netherlands? Certainly not.

Does it mean I didn’t learn anything in the TS about the hidden forces in myself and humanity in general? I certainly did learn a few things along those lines in the practical work, while shoveling dirt and pruning bushes.

However, the question does need to be asked: did I experience real brotherhood in the TS? The answer is, yes and no. Yes, individual theosophists were great sometimes. Yes, the Theosophical Society felt like home for most of the years I was a member. The no’s eventually won out though and they started winning out the moment my theosophical mentor, Henk Spierenburg, passed on.

For those of you still in the TS – I would have you ask yourselves to what extent your wanting to be part of a universal brotherhood has to do with wanting to avoid conflict. And is avoiding conflict really such a worthy goal? Doesn’t  it merely mean shoveling differences under the carpet?

I’m no longer a member of the Theosophical Society

This morning I revoked my membership of the Theosophical Society.

Many of you will have seen this coming, of course.

Since I’ve been so very visible a member, I think I owe you all something of an explanation.

First off: my online work won’t change. I’ll still quote Blavatsky where it fits my topic, the theosophical material on my site will remain up etc.

However, I have given back my vows. Let me explain that: as is recommended, I took the three objects of the Theosophical Society very seriously: I took them as a Buddhist does their vows. Buddhists also have the option of giving back their vows, not all vows, but the most traditional ones do have that option. A Buddhist monk or nun can give back their vows and marry, for instance.

Similarly I have given back my devotion to the three objects. As my site testifies, I’ve given a lot of thought to those three objects. Unfortunately, I no longer believe in them as a guide for my actions.

I did my work within the TS as a devotion to the White Brotherhood. I saw the Theosophical Work in general in that light as well. I saw both as ultimately in service to humanity.

I can no longer see myself working within the TS. I can no longer see how I can contribute to a well functioning TS. I no longer think that the best I have to give fits the direction of the Theosophical Society. And before the other theosophical organisations start patting themselves on the back: I can’t see how the best I have to give fits the direction of ANY organisation that calls itself theosophical.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not available for lectures. In fact, I have two lectures scheduled for the coming lodge season (in two separate theosophical lodges) and I will give those lectures as planned. One is a Buddhist lecture that I’ve given several times already – since I’m now a practicing Buddhist I’m sure that lecture will be even better than it’s previous incarnations. In thanks to the Theosophical Society – it helped raise me after all – I will continue to be available for lectures free of charge.

Although I’ve doubted the existence of the White Brotherhood in my process over the past year, I don’t now. I trust the White Brotherhood to be a loosely organized group of highly evolved yogi’s who have humanity’s best interests at heart. However, for my own personal path I need teachers whose words my physical ears can hear, so that my own active imagination doesn’t supply them. The fact that some teachers within the FPMT are able to actually answer questions without me having to ask them out loud ads to my devotion to them.

That said – I want to repeat what I said in my newsletter a few days ago:

I spent 18 years in the TS. Most of that time it was not only my spiritual home, but a place where I could learn and feel accepted as I was. I want to thank everyone who contributed to that feeling, everyone who works for the TS and everyone I worked with for the opportunity. Those of you with whom I disagreed, or who worked in ways that didn’t fit my style or direction: I want you all to know that you are forgiven. It’s water under the bridge. I would not be on the path I’m on now without the lessons I learned from each of you.

For the Theosophical Movement as a whole: I do hope you work in the direction the White Brotherhood would wish on you, that you work in ways that fit Their vision for mankind as a whole and that as a result They can light a lamp on your path when you need it. I’m absolutely convinced that They care more for humanity as a whole than for any specific organisation, whether they helped start it or not.

Those of you who mailed me after my last post: thanks for the support. I agree: being a Buddhist and being a Theosophist aren’t necessarily in conflict. Blavatsky and Olcott themselves were Buddhists after all by that ancient definition of having taken refuge and pansil (the lay vows).

The issue is simply that I can’t serve two masters and since I’ve had such trouble dealing with one of those masters (the TS) over the past few years, the choice is easy. The FPMT has realized spiritual teachers and a path on which I have much to learn. In contrast: in the TS the path to further growth was blocked for me in several ways. I need the challenge. I need to work on myself, in order to become my best ‘self’. I need teachers, and books, and meditation instruction.

That’s as far as spiritual practice is concerned.

When it comes to cosmology and metaphysics I’ll have a lot to think about, as this conversation on testifies. Thankfully (and essentially) neither Buddhists nor Theosophists have any stake on my mind: I’m still as free to make up my own mind as I was a year ago. I can’t tell yet whether Blavatsky or my Tibetan Buddhist teachers will prevail when it comes to topics like reincarnation and the afterlife. However, before I become qualified to give more than a tentative answer to any of the questions the confrontation between the two traditions calls up, I will need to finish the FPMT ‘basic program’, which will likely take me several years. I’m looking forward to the journey.

In closing I would like to remind you all of Blavatsky’s ultimately Mahayana vision of the spiritual path in her Voice of the Silence:

Now bend thy head and listen well, O Bôdhisattva – Compassion speaks and saith: “Can there be bliss when all that lives must suffer? Shalt thou be saved and hear the whole world cry?”

I do believe that for most of you, when the time for this choice comes, you’ll choose the Bodhisattva path and devote your energy after enlightenment to the saving of all sentient beings from the rounds of rebirth instead of the bliss of Nirvana. May that moment come quick and may your work within the Theosophical Movement help you on that path.

An apology

I’m on a FPMT Tibetan Buddhist retreat working through Tsong Kapa’s stages of the path (Lam Rim). The text starts with respect for the teacher and it made me realize that one reason for my disappointment with the TS is that – lacking living teachers – I’ve treated the TS as a teacher. Since no organisation, as Krishnamurti rightly noted, can be a teacher I became frustrated at the whole thing.

I could have just left, as in many ways I’ve since done. Instead I spent some of my energy trying to tell people what was wrong with the TS.

This does not work. It’s bad karma and it makes me feel bad. As I’ve written before ‘teaching people a  lesson‘ just doesn’t work. There’s a reason that saying has such a bad name, even when the motivation is reasonably positive.

Blavatsky too warned against trying to teach people who didn’t want to be taught. I’ve fallen into that pitfall a lot in my life, and most of the content on this blog, including the comments, fits that description.

Why doesn’t it work? Because the TS has it’s own internal dynamics and simply trying to say ‘this and this is wrong’ doesn’t change those dynamics.

It’s simply not up to me to do anything about these things and keeping up the ability to comment on this blog also doesn’t help anybody.

For those of you who, like me, want to walk the talk, I advise you by all means to do what I’m sure Blavatsky would have advised: find a real spiritual teacher. Not as an authority, but as a guide. Because while ultimately nirvana is in the Mind, that doesn’t mean the mind doesn’t also have a great many pitfalls that we need help avoiding. And that too is explicit in a lot of what Blavatsky taught. In fact, the Lam Rim so far reminds me of Blavatsky in all kinds of ways, even though of course in the details of the practice there are also huge differences.


The future of this blog

Some of you have asked whether I will continue this blog. The answer is – I don’t expect to have much to say about the future of the Theosophical Society, or the Theosophical Movement, in future.

However, this blog will remain open to people who want to express their vision about the present or future of either. In other words: if you have something to contribute about organisational issues in the TS or Theosophical Movement, do mail me (mail @ ) and I will consider publishing it.

The fact is: I don’t think the Theosophical Movement is living up to it’s ideals enough. It’s not really doing anything serious along the lines of ‘comparative research of science, religion and philosophy’. Members DO study along those lines, which is one of the reasons I’m still a TS (Adyar) member. However the organisations do NOT stimulate people who do seriously study along these lines. I’ve said it before, so I won’t repeat it here. What I would like to note  is that the most interesting members of the Theosophical Movement are (and have been for almost a century) on the fringes of the movement. The thing is: that fringe is indistinguisable from the wider ‘New Age’ movement.

In short: the interesting fringe theosophists are the ones who are really primarily ‘new age’ and are also, through some accident of history, members of a theosophical organisation. This is no longer a credit to the movement. It just means that some people are historically minded.

The theosophical movement still has enough human capital in it to contribute to issues alive in the ‘New Age’ movement, like ‘The Secret’ – however it has largely refused to even address such topics. I no longer have any hope that this will change. I do hope to be proven wrong.

Note that adopting such topics is different from ‘contributing’ to the conversation about them. No reason to lose our critical faculties simply because we want to ‘opt in’ on New Age popularity. For instance I have written about ‘The Secret‘  a lot myself, and the tone has been critical.

Quiting as a TS Adyar volunteer

This is on a personal note. In hindsight I’ve felt stuck in the TS for years. I went to university to study world religion, because I was learned out in the TS. I went back after that, because it was (or felt like) my spiritual home. Now it feels stifling.

Quiting that volunteer work, as I’ve just announced to the organisation I’m doing, feels dead scary. I’m deliberately talking about my emotions here, because it’s one of those things the TS isn’t so very good at. I dreamed about the TS a while back as follows (roughly, from memory):

I’m in a hall, the people are watching a black and white movie. I move about. I want to get to my lecture notes: a small pile of round white circles. People don’t mind me, don’t care. As I walk there, I’m stopped by Paul Zwollo (deceased Mahatma Letter expert, ES functionary, honorary General Council member) who is handing stuff out to people. As I’m waiting for him to pass, the stack of white circles bursts into flames.

As those of you who follow All Considering know, I’ve been plagued with physical discomfort and disease for years now. Things have come rather to a head over the past year, partly with Radha’s refusal to allow me volunteer work in Varanasi.

I knew this dream was about the TS and me. The people watching the black and white movie as if hypnotized by it are the theosophists, obviously. Me walking about is my energy to do and change things. Waiting for Paul Zwollo is me waiting for my chance to do stuff in the TS. The bursting into flames of my lecture notes: spiritual transformation.

Since that dream: yes, spiritual transformation is burning my lecture notes. Because I’ve been waiting for the TS to change, but it keeps watching that old black and white movie.

The fact is of course: I have no right to expect the TS to change in the direction I want it to move in. Even if that direction would revitalize it and bring in more members. Structures like the TS only change when they want to.

But the fact is also that I’ve been feeling guilty about wanting to quit even that last bit of volunteer work I kept holding on to… when the fact is: it’s not my responsibility the Dutch section hasn’t been attracting new volunteers to do this kind of work for free. It’s also not my responsibility that the Dutch TS refuses to spend it’s money on salaries or interesting projects. In short: if they want to watch black and white movies, that’s there business. Keeping it going as best they can seems to be all the TS is nationally and internationally interested in.

My spiritual transformation, and following it into the kind of life I need to live, is my responsibility.

From the organisation’s point of view I’m only another defecting volunteer. I’ll be another excuse for members to mutter that people are getting more selfish. The fact is though: in a shrinking organisation volunteers are always going to be harder to find. Especially in a world where the amount of mothers staying home with the kids is shrinking as well.

I’ve paid my dues in terms of volunteer work for the TS. For 17 years (nice symbolical number) I’ve washed dishes, cut down shrubbery to help keep the paths on the International Theosophical Center (ITC) open, helped keep the Dutch TS website running, helped digitalize the library catalog in the ITC,  sold books, been secretary, chair and vice chair in two lodges etc.

But the roles don’t fit any more. It’s time to move on and if the organisation has schrunk to the point where I can’t be replaced, does that mean I have to keep standing there waiting for a dead guy handing out something? Of course not: it’s my life and I have better things to do with it than that.

Not that I know what those things are yet. On the other hand, it’s not as if I lack things to do. The changes coming scare me senseless. I guess the TS had become a crutch. But fear is there to be conquered. Spiritual transformation has to happen. Flowers have to bloom. They will. Whether the TS will want me to share those flowers is as yet an open question. But it’s not up to me.

My body has been saying this for years: I need to move on.

[For now I’m not giving up my membership of the TS. It’s just not important enough to stop the payments and after all, the TS might start living up to it’s three objects. Miracles do happen. However, I’m not going to wait around for them. I’ve got spiritual shopping to do… transformation to live. ]

Is theosophy boring?

An editor of our Dutch magazine ‘Theosofia’ told me once that theosophy was boring. She said it with a self-evident air, even while she clearly felt the magazine ought to be made… I was amazed: I had never considered theosophy boring. Having read all of Blavatsky’s work as well as biographies of the main theosophical leaders, about a dozen Krishnamurti books and more – I would consider myself pretty much an authority about how boring theosophy is, or isn’t.

So why is it that theosophical magazines today really ARE usually boring?

I think it’s mainly due to the avoidance of controversy.

This morning on waking up I decided that I’d treat myself to a morning of watching a romantic movie. I picked ‘legally blonde’ out of my extensive DVD collection. It turns out, when you look for it, that Legally Blonde is actually a pretty feminist movie. It teaches girls to go after what they want, to be more than just a pretty face and even to befriend other girls.

However the one thing the chief character Elle Woods is not, is boring. Watching it I thought: I refuse to be boring.

Of course, for me, trying to be boring would be going against nature. I couldn’t manage even if I tried. I’ve always been outspoken and have only managed to calm that down a bit by learning to occasionally hold my tongue. However, I could, if I tried, make myself very unhappy trying to be boring.

Is theosophy boring? Well, you’d think so if you looked at what theosophists insist on discussing online. It’s either their leaders faults, or historical intricacies nobody else thinks relevant. Even worse: theosophical magazines manage to talk about theosophy with the sting pulled out.

Radha Burnier herself is, as usual, not all that bad. She talks about how living utilitarianism, aka greed, and love don’t go hand in hand. Well, even if I don’t quite agree with that – after all, it’s pretty utilitarian to help someone succeed in life. It’s also a great way to support someone and an expression of love (or can be). Still, it is at least a relevant topic even if her conclusion is predictable AND wrong (in my opinion).

Then we have N.R. Narayana Murthy talking about sustainability. You know, if Radha hadn’t been convinced by Jiddu Krishnamurti to run for president of the TS, I think she would have gone on to do great things for the eco-movement in India. Of course sustainability is an important goal that I fully support. However we have all heard it before, haven’t we? Especially since the article doesn’t do anything more than summarize all the areas where India could become more sustainable and give some stats on the topic. When Olcott discussed practical things that India could improve on in The Theosophist, he really kicked but. He confronted India with things they didn’t do very well and could change. In short: he was controversial and not boring. Somehow Narayana doesn’t manage either.
Then again: it is a symptom of our time that it’s way easier to point out a problem than come up with solutions that are believable.

Next up Mary Anderson. I greatly respect Mary Anderson, but I haven’t read a worse article from her hand. She goes into definitions, extremism and man’s true nature. Ultimately she concludes with something every Adyar theosophist has heard a million times before: ‘Spirituality, the realization of the Oneness of all, is ultimately the most practical thing in the world!’ (explanation point in original).

Then we get Ricardo Lindeman about Plato and the origins of theosophy. He quotes Leadbeater on Plato and mentions, using an unconvincing quote,  that Plato believed in reincarnation. Then he says ‘his famous book is a work…’ What famous book? Didn’t Plato write several? Then we get a lot of quotes – from Blavatsky, from the Bible, Origen, Leadbeater – and it seems that what he’s really talking about is a history of reincarnation throughout ancient Greece and Rome. The whole point of the article seems to be that Plato supported reincarnation, but all we really get to support this claim is one quote that he believed in justice. Which is a whole different thing, obviously. It takes a theologian to connect the dots. But then, perhaps that’s just what Ricardo Lindeman is.

Then we get Samdhong Rinpoche on meditation. This is an interesting fragment, also because it actually contrasts Tibetan forms of meditation on the Buddha with early theosophy’s instruction to meditate on the master.

I do wonder what the editors were thinking allowing Mary and Ricardo’s submissions in this state. Or perhaps they had nothing better to publish? Did they even try to get them a bit more polished?

I’m starting to think that the Theosophical Society is intending to be boring. That the editor of Theosofia who shocked me was expressing unofficial policy. I’m still naive enough to think it’s nothing intentional, though of course belief does shape the result. By believing that theosophy was boring she was closing the door to all the ways her magazine could become interesting.

Well, I think I’m outvoted here: theosophy clearly IS boring. The only article in the last issue of  The Theosophist that I’d be willing to publish on my own site is by a Buddhist who’s kind enough to be a life long theosophist.

So what happened? Why is theosophy boring these days? It’s not as if the world today doesn’t have loads of things going on that theosophy could shed light on. And what about all the controversial things Blavatsky says? Contrast them with today’s issues and you’d potentially get even more controversy. Mixing up theosophical classics with the results of modern psychology is another source of contrast. Sure, we might find out Blavatsky was wrong occasionally, but that oughtn’t to bother us. We’re about freedom of thought, remember?

Oh, I forgot, we don’t do controversy.

Instead we do ‘stab in the back’ where we could have the different sides confront each other publicly. We do gossip, instead of members being informed and getting a say. The result is, funnily enough, controversy about all the wrong (and yes boring) things … and in the most public and dirty of venues: online. And when I stand up for truth on there, I get reprimanded…

No wonder the Theosophical Society keeps shrinking.

Are we still even trying to be a place ‘Between degrading superstition and still more degrading brutal materialism, the White Dove of Truth has hardly room whereon to rest her weary unwelcome feet.’ (from the Maha Chohan letter) Without actually talking about specific superstitions and specific versions of brutal materialistic philosophy – both of which are rampant in todays world – the TS can hardly be the place where that dove sets its foot.

Even worse: the result is boring.