Radha Burnier, the 7th president of the Theosophical Society

On a new theosophical blog, Esoteric Philosophy, Carlos Cardoso Aveline (a former member of the Adyar TS) notes:

According to some, the fact that Radha Burnier is the seventh international president means that she closes a whole septenary cycle from the point of view of the outer and bureaucratic shell of the Adyar movement. There is a spiritual vacuum, so to say, and the uncomfortable situation now being faced by Adyar theosophists is much deeper than its political aspect.

I like the idea that it is a significant fact that Radha is the 7th president. It fits her presidency. The seventh theosophical principle is Atma, which stands for the divine in each of us. It is the divine light that shines on us – if we have the ears to listen. It’s the voice of the silence. Radha Burnier‘s presidency has been – on a spiritual level – very close to this principle. She tells us to listen to our highest inner voice, to the Voice of the Silence and stresses that we walk without crutches.

Her approach to theosophy was no doubt needed when she became president in 1980.

The 7th principle stands for a lot of good, however, it is a bit like a mountain climber on top a mountain looking down. However great the view may be up there, it may lack understanding of the intricacies of the work down below. The individual strength and wisdom of the 7th principle, if not truly universal, will always risk arrogance and isolationism.

There is a place in life for all the 7 principles. I firmly believe the next TS president needs to be more grounded in the first principle. Whoever that may be, needs to know about the world as well as the Theosophical Society. They need to be prepared to make difficult decisions. They need to stress those aspects of the theosophical tradition that work best in today’s world. They should stand for impartiality, honor, and should have a foot in both East and West.

A president capable of refusing a worker who volunteers to give one or two years of her life expecting no pay, who has clear credentials within the theosophical movement as well as talents to contribute – is a president who lacks realism. In the meantime workers at Adyar complain that more workers are leaving than coming in: I think they’d say that the TS can hardly afford to send volunteers away. I suppose I should be sorry the honor of working at Varanasi wasn’t granted me, but to be honest – if they don’t want me, I don’t want them. If that’s lacking in proper humility, so be it.

Looking towards the future, I do wonder. Do we have someone willing and able to take on the challenge of leading the TS? And if we do, will that person be elected? Radha Burnier’s talent has certainly not been in the direction of stimulating other talent, so who is ready to take over after she passes? We can’t know what Linda Oliveira will be like as a president, because she’s at present under Radha’s shadow. If she becomes the next president, we must count on her husband, Pedro Oliveira, being a powerful force behind the scenes. She’s clearly groomed for the job, so we must assume she’ll run.

Alternative possibilities must, I think, be looked for in TOS circles. CVK Maitreya perhaps? Vic Hao Chen? The latter two would both have to take on less responsibilities in their respective successful businesses to be able to be president. Quite the sacrifice. However, both at least fulfill the basic requirement I see: they’re grounded in today’s world. And the TOS has grown in the past decades in part thanks to their work, though I would not want to under estimate Diana Dunningham Chapotin’s role in that direction. As such, she too must be seen as a possible candidate.

As you can see, I don’t think of Radha’s presidency merely in terms of the bureaucratic shell. Her work encompassed all levels of work. However, that shell has clearly become a bit heavy with levels of membership still going down worldwide – without that impacting the procedures, as far as I can tell. (We’re at about 50% compared to the 1920’s). I do think a good look at the organization from the perspective of effective business practices is in order, aside from the content of the work. One of the classic things that bog down old organizations is precisely this sort of thing: structures, rules and expectations that formed in world that no longer is. The Theosophical Society carries 135 years of history with it. That’s honorable, but does it still work? The TS should perhaps take a leaf out of Krishnamurti’s book – on an organizational level – and let go of the past.

One other thing I can’t help but notice in the article that sparked this blogpost. Carlos Cardoso Aveline talks about the Theosophical Society with headquarters in Adyar as ‘Besant’s Society’. However, if anybody can be said to have laid the foundation of our organization, it’s not Annie Besant, however much she did to shape it on a bureaucratic level, but Henry Steel Olcott. For instance, while Annie Besant started the TOS, it was Olcott who started the work that later became the Theosophical Order of Service.

Of course from a purely Blavatskyan standpoint, it’s really not the number of presidents that matter, but the number of years – divided by 7. The Theosophical Society has existed for 135 years next month. Two years ago the TS had existed 133 years, which is 19 cycles of 7 years. In five years time (in 2015) we’ll be entering the 20th cycle. The one to look out for, obviously, is the cycle after that: the 21st cycle of 7 years, which starts in 2022. We’ll see if those cycles are still in play, or whether perhaps the larger cycles ending and starting in 2012 are perhaps more important to the future of the TS. After all, those are the cycles that affect humanity as a whole – and that is more important than the Theosophical Society. Even the one with headquarters in Adyar, India.

[Comment zen – some of the above is partly in jest. I won’t mind anonymous comments, given the controversial nature of some of the content of this post.]

One thought on “Radha Burnier, the 7th president of the Theosophical Society”

  1. The Tekels Park Update is now closed but enquirers should be aware of the latest piece of hypocrisy by your international leader, Radha Burnier.

    The February 2011 “On the Watch-Tower” has a strong animal rights and animal welfare content from high profile vegetarian, International President, Radha Burnier. There is no mention of the killing of the Tekels Park animals. The Adyar Theosophical Society is now a fraud and anyone who pays good money to join what they think is a spiritual organisation, is being cheated.


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