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Theosophical Promotion and Theosophical Work

by Katinka Hesselink on April 18, 2009

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. [/edit]

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