Theosophy as a spiritual path – consequences for the work

I’ve heard people say that the Theosophical Society should become more like the Esoteric School: a place where spiritual growth comes first, and every (other) object of the TS second. Reading The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff by Sy Ginsburg this weekend I started to get the why and the how of that.

In the Gurdjieff/ Fourth Way work there is no idea that the movement should be a certain size. Groups form and disappear naturally, and they make it hard on potential students to find them. All this does not prevent dogmatization of course – the only thing to prevent that is a teacher who has sufficiently advanced on the path to have grown beyond the forms of the day. To quote Sri Madhava Ashish (in The Masters Speak)

p. 228 [TS stands for Theosophical Society; G stands for Gurdjieff]:

“The burning question for the TS (and the G groups) is whether anyone exists within or without the movement who is, and knows he is, connected with the Masters, who is dedicated to and is traveling their path, who is dedicated to them personally, whose mind is free from bigotry, who has at least an intellectual grasp of the transcendental truths, who has the capacity to refer directly to the Masters for guidance and inspiration, and who is ready to accept the immense burden or responsibility.

This may be rather a tall order, so tall that one suspects he/she would not be found without the Master’s intervention. One might not know of the intervention until it happens, and even then be in doubt. There is also the important point that they will not intervene unless the ground is ready.”

p. 229 What sorts of people would respond, if any? Would they want to use the techniques to make their lives better, would they want the excitement of occult powers? How many want the thing itself?

You cannot afford to make your own work dependent on such matters. There is an insidious obstruction in the form of a need to feel oneself supported by group solidarity. In the context of current social aims, the path seems so strange and contradictory that one fears to be the odd man out. This reluctance to be responsible for one’s own life aims causes a confusion between wanting to help others and to learn by helping them, and wanting the support of their agreement with one’s aim. … Emphasis must therefore be laid on finding one’s own certainty. One wants the confirmation of the Masters, not the doubtful support of people who are even more muddled than oneself.

If we want the TS to be primarily a school of spiritual growth, and I think that’s what Radha Burnier has been aiming at, then the above is absolutely true. And in that case she’s also right that PR is not very important and we can forget about the three objects altogether. Ashish goes even further in that direction when he says:

(p. 252, ‘What Can be Taught’) One of the early strengths of the Theosophical Society was that there was less concern with people becoming “theosophists” than with their finding allied teachings in the mystical components of their own religions and cultures. To this we owe the translations of and commentaries on ancient texts and, perhaps, the society’s reluctance to adopt any specific discipline. But times have changed. The need of the moment is not the revitalization of ancient beliefs (with their fundamentalist snares) but a direct inquiry into the mystery that is Man – a mystery that lies at the root of human awareness – as being the single point at which each of us has firsthand knowledge of anything at all.

The question I have is – is that true? Is it true that there is no longer a need for a platform of people willing to find the truth in any and every spiritual tradition? Has the availability of so much information dissolved the need for such a place?

Or is it precisely that there is so much information about that such a forum IS necessary? My answer to that is  – yes. Such a forum IS still necessary for the evolution of humanity. This would imply the following for our work:

  • Every lodge and national section should include, in it’s yearly program, not just lectures but also meetings of a more experiential form. Whether it’s meditation (I don’t mean listening to mantras), workshops, Fourth Way exercises, breathing work or visualisation. The second object of the Theosophical Society fits in well with such a scheme, especially if different methods are explored in the program.
  • Such meetings should be complemented with the ability of those present to talk over their own questions and experiences. The strength of the TS lies in the varied backgrounds of its members, so let’s use that. And while we do that, we all learn from each other, as well as from trying to help the other.

I agree with Ashish to this extent: that such work would be most successful if within each lodge, or at least each section, there are a few people with practical – undogmatic – experience on the path.