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.