It’s no secret the Theosophical Society has been losing members since the 1930’s. What’s less well known is that this has meant a large inheritance for the lodges and sections: in the form of money and property.
Recently though several such estates have made headlines on theosophical forums:
- Teckels park in England is being sold
- In New Zealand there is talk of a building with tenants being sold
- The Adyar estate itself – during my lifetime always hard to maintain – is now seriously short in volunteer workers and threatened by the city it is in from all sides.
From the perspective of the organization it is clear that buildings should not be a drain on money or resources and should have a function in the theosophical work. This is ultimately why Teckels park is being sold: it was too small for national conferences. The rest follows naturally: if it’s too small for conferences it is obviously too expensive to maintain. The TS cannot afford to keep property simply because it is beautiful and has sentimental value.
The New Zealand case is more heartbreaking: there are tenants involved. I know this situation well from the Dutch section: a building has space for tenants, so it’s let out to people sympathetic to the theosophical cause. They may even offer to do volunteer work: so they get a discount on the rent. The volunteer work never materializes, but the discount is in the contract so it can’t be easily changed.
Recently the TS has learned to be more cautious: instead of a discount on the rent, a volunteer fee is given to lighten the load of the rent. That way: when the volunteer worker stops working, at least the rent doesn’t stay at that low level.
Why is this important? Because buildings are expensive to maintain.
Let me repeat that: buildings are expensive to maintain.
If the TS or the TOS were planning low cost housing, it would plan for not just building an apartment building. It would have to take into account the cost of maintaining the building despite low rent. In other words: money would have to be set aside to make sure maintenance could be kept up.
But obviously that’s not how it was done in New Zealand: they just stumbled into offering low cost housing. Probably through being kindhearted and not minding the money very much. Then someone started looking at the financial situation and discovered that the building was a money drain and not efficient for theosophical work. It probably took years for the board to decide that – yes, we really need to sell this building.
Next came the sale of the building and press coverage over the tenants being left out in the cold. Don’t get me wrong: It would be much better for the tenants and TS PR if the TS managed to get low cost housing for everybody, not just the former theosophical workers. However, it is fully understandable that this is a tall order – probably next to impossible.
Then the Adyar estate. Here the situation isn’t so black and white. It is clearly functioning as the home of the Theosophical Society. There is not a building on the premises not being used by theosophical workers or theosophical guests every year. However the city Chennai (formerly Madras) has it’s needs. One of the largest cities in India, it needs roads to avoid unnecessary traffic jams. And an obvious route for those roads is right over the Adyar estate. We did a grand job preventing the road going over one side of the estate, now the other side (the beach side) is being threatened.
Real estate agents would love to get their hands on the property too. I’ve been told it’s only because of Radha’s standing that the estate is still ours. In fact: it’s been cited as a reason for having an Indian president follow in her footsteps. Of course a strong Indian right hand man (or woman) might do as well. Any non-Indian trying to manage the Adyar estate is going to have serious problems anyhow. It’s one of the reasons John Coats had such a hard time.
The obvious question arises: should we not just move with the tide? Should we not be looking out for a new estate to build an ashram on?
Despite the obvious difficulties in moving, I think it has to be seriously considered. A plan would have to be made for every aspect of the local theosophical work. The TOS work has an obvious need to stay local – perhaps right where it is, perhaps a few blocks away. Either way: it can’t move too far, because the local people rely on it. The publishing house, library, TS offices and so on are another matter. There is a logic to them staying close together – and it’s likely affordable to keep doing the printing in house too – as long as those activities stay in India.
The question becomes: finding an estate somewhere in India, preferably with existing reasonably modern buildings on it, on which all that can be done.
I do think this whole business is symbolical: the TS needs to reevaluate it’s work in the world of today. And what does that world do in Adyar? it forces itself on us.
[Disclaimer: this post was written based in information in the grapevine and common sense. For factual details please see the respective organisations.]