The Theosophical Society and its Future
by Geoffrey A. Farthing
Towards the end of the 19th century, even though their colleagues in the 'Brotherhood' did not feel that the time was opportune, i.e. that humanity generally had not progressed spiritually enough even though a few may have done so, two Masters of the Wisdom were allowed to make the attempt to make available to mankind in general some of their occult knowledge concerning the nature of existence and man's being. Up till then this had been kept secret.
The Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, was formed originally as an association of people interested in spiritualism and psychic phenomena. Its early object reflected this but they were soon to become, after a few changes, as they are now, with an emphasis on brotherhood.
The Headquarters of the Society was removed to Bombay in 1880 and then to Adyar in 1883. Although the Masters were emphatic that the Society was not to be a school of Occultism or Magic and that their sole purpose was to benefit mankind at large, they nevertheless in various ways let it be known not only that they were possessed of occult knowledge and power but that they were able and willing to make some of it available to suitable candidates.
This was to be done principally in the writings of H .P. Blavatsky, but some information was given directly by the two Masters concerned in their letters to A.P. Sinnett.
Some of this knowledge was distinct from that contained in any extant literature at the time, with the exception of some older and/or obscure 'occult' writings. These were mostly unintelligible without the necessary 'keys.'
It was claimed, however, that the knowledge contained in the new outpouring was the source and origin of all philosophical and religious knowledge, in its pure form. The old scriptures and philosophical writings had been 'contaminated' by human interpretation, additions and alterations. They had to a large extend departed from the pure original and had distorted their meanings.
The first major attempt at elucidation of this ancient knowledge was the writing of ISIS UNVEILED by HPB published in 1877, a work of enormous erudition in which 1,330 other works, some of great rarity and antiquity were quoted from. It is known that several Masters had a hand in it, providing HPB with much of the information it contains.
This Ancient Wisdom was later more fully and specifically described in THE MAHATMA LETTERS TO A. P. SINNETT, from which he wrote two books: THE OCCULT WORLD and later ESOTERIC BUDDHISM.
This latter, although by no means complete or wholly accurate, is important as being the first systematic formulation, in outline, of what was later to become known as Theosophy. The books were published in 1884 and 1885. From 1875 onwards HPB's almost continuous output of articles and letters contained aspects of the teachings. These writings are now collected together and edited in fourteen volumes of Collected Writings.
HPB was with the Theosophical Society in India for about two years during which time her phenomena and contacts with the Masters were amply demonstrated. A number of people, however, even at Headquarters did not accept these manifestations as genuine. Furthermore, the phenomena were completely beyond the credence of the local church missionaries.
Some letters purporting to come from HPB addressed to members of the staff at Adyar clearly gave the impression that HPB's phenomena were based on deception. After a lengthy enquiry by an investigator from the Society for Psychical Research who relied much on adverse witnesses and a hand-writing expert he declared HPB to be a fraud.
This was in a document adopted by the SPR which later became known as the Hodgson Report. It has been repudiated since by a number of investigators, latterly even by the SPR. One tragic outcome of the report was that HPB, who in any case at the time was in poor health, was advised to leave Adyar.
After leaving India HPB traveled to England via Germany and Belgium. During this time she was occupied and when health and other circumstances permitted, in writing THE SECRET DOCTRINE which was published in 1888 in London.
This was her most important theosophical work. It is an exposition of all the Ancient Wisdom that the Masters were then prepared to make public. It is an enormous work in which 1,100 other works are referred to and in which ancient (and modern) religions and philosophies are explained and form a background to an immense system of knowledge of the whole universal scene and man in it.
HPB was miraculously kept alive by her Master on two or three occasions of dire illness, to complete the work which was followed two years later by THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY.
On a number of occasions it was stressed that HPB was the Masters' sole agent. With her departure from Adyar their influence there ceased. One consequence of this was that most of the Chelas 'disappeared' (including Damodar who never returned to the Society from Tibet).
We also have her positive statement that, should she for any reason cease to act as the Masters' agent, there would be no more contact with them (see M.L. 136, 2nd and 3rd editions).
All this seems to have been forgotten or ignored later. A number of people both within the Society and without, e.g., Alice Bailey, later claimed to have contact with the Masters and to have received communications from them.
These communications, some of them very copious and impressive, were, however, received psychically or 'channeled': very importantly they were all uncorroborated.
Communications through psychic mediums was not the method used by the Masters. These facts, the nature of the message and the special position of HPB, are of prime importance in the consideration of what followed in the early 20th century, of the present state of the Society and its successful launch into the 21st century.
In the latter years of HPB's life a significant event was that Annie Besant was welcomed with open arms into the Theosophical Society by HPB who saw in her an exceptional and able helper. She was later admitted to HPB's Inner Group of twelve.
A reference to Annie Besant in THE MAHATMA LETTERS indicates that she was known to the Masters; however, there is no reference to her ever becoming a chela, although she did receive in 1900 what seems to be an authentic letter from the Masters. There in no other evidence, apart from her own inferences, that she had any contact with them.
Had Annie Besant been a chela her 'magnetization' by Chakravati, ostensibly to 'align her principles,' described in an eye witness statement (1895) by Dr Archibald Keightly, would have severed any relations she may have had with her Master.
After HPB's death Annie Besant let it be inferred, in assuming the "Outer Headship" of the E.S., that she was in touch with the Masters.
She also introduced Co-Masonry into England and associated it with the Theosophical Society, which, however, had been founded quite independently of any other organization. All International Presidents since have, however, held high office as Co-Masons.
HPB expressly stated that 'we do not meddle in politics...' yet Annie Besant's prime interest in India was political.
This is not in any way to say that she did not do an immense amount of good in establishing schools and colleges and altering social practices, but these activities are not specifically theosophical.
Politics aims to change systems for the benefit of people; Theosophy aims to change people themselves for the long term benefit of humanity itself.
It is undeniable that in the early years of her membership of the Society, Annie Besant was a powerful voice in the cause of Theosophy and its dissemination. This seems to have been foreseen by HPB.
However, from the time of her 'magnetization' by Chakravati, it appears that, possibly still under his influence, she to a large extent espoused Hinduism. This is evident in her later writings to such a point that a major reference to Theosophy in the Encyclopedia Britannica is under the heading of Hinduism.
Apart from Chakravati there is not much doubt that Annie Besant was later also much influenced by C. W. Leadbeater. He obviously prevailed upon her in the matter of the Liberal Catholic church and in the Krishnamurti incident.
C. W. LEADBEATER
CWL joined the Society in 1883. He did not, unlike Annie Besant, receive a welcome from HPB, nor was he admitted to her Inner Group.
He was given some instruction by a regular chela at Adyar for a period and developed his clairvoyance but there is no reference that this relationship continued.
He did receive a reply to his early communication with the Masters but there is no corroborative evidence that he ever had any more contact with them after these introductory letters.
It also came to light that his veracity is much in question: his statements, for example, about his age, his family in South America, and his implying that he had been to Oxford as an undergraduate were discovered later to be false. In the light of what the Master K.H. said about God, religion and the priestly caste in Mahatma Letter X, had Leadbeater been a chela he could never have allied himself with the Liberal Catholic Church and certainly he could never have allowed himself to be made a Bishop and thereafter always dress as such. The Masters had said "Our chief aim is to deliver humanity of this nightmare... etc." (A personal God of Theology) (M.L. X, 2nd and 3rd editions).
This is important in the light of CWL's later claims of an intimate and continued relationship with not only one but a number of Masters, even up to the highest in the Hierarchy from whom he claimed periodically to have received instruction in such matters as the upbringing of Krishnamurti.
In the light of some of these supposed contacts e.g., Comte St Germain, Jesus, etc., the association of the Liberal Catholic Church with the Society was justified.
However, both the Church and the CoMasons were representative of past dispensations. They both had their roots in ceremonial magic, the practice of which HPB did not endorse on account of the possible dangers involved. In a letter which Damodar wrote to Sinnett, Masonry and Rosicrucianism were specifically forbidden (M.L. Old Edition No. 142A, Chronological No. 14A).
During the founding of the Society it had been proposed that the Society might become Masonic. This was specifically decided against. Other behavior of the then leaders is also questionable.
In view of HPB's sundry comments about Masonry (into which she was admitted on account of her knowledge of it, but never formally 'initiated'), having lost its secrets, how came it that the Leaders of the Society not only espoused Co-Masonry but the Egyptian Rite which CWL together with a colleague in Australia had devised and which is still widely practiced by some members of the E.S.?
Krishnamurti was 'discovered' by CWL in 1909. After many difficulties, including lawsuits, he and his brother were brought up by the Society.
He was hailed as the future mouthpiece of the Lord Maitreya. He was even seen as a second coming of the Lord. He was unusually gifted but it was CWL's 'insights' that initially established him in his role. The Lord Maitreya himself is supposed to have instructed CWL in his upbringing and training. He was brought up and groomed in the fashion of an English gentleman, a far cry from a Hindu 'Avatar.'
Those who had his upbringing and education in hand, notably CWL and Dick Balfour-Clark, were very much second generation theosophists. Krishnaji therefore probably never knew anything of the HPB/Masters teachings.
It is also very doubtful whether Krishnaji himself ever had a first-hand 'Master' experience although he did describe once having seen three Masters in a vision. Had he had a real experience, however, he could neither have forgotten it nor thereafter have doubted their existence and later have repudiated them.
Furthermore, as Krishnaji's teaching of freedom, self-reliance, non-dependence on authority and institutions and so on, are all virtually in proper accord with the 'Master' Theosophy, there would not have been any reason for him to repudiate it, nor his connection with the Society.
His loss was that he never became acquainted with the sea of theosophical knowledge which would to a large extent not only have justified his views but provided him with relevant data for use in his teaching, e.g. the difference between the personality and the individuality, the essential idea of Unity, and had he been interested, the proper nature of the Self, the total cosmic structure and processes.
His 'launching' was a reversion again, as in the case of he Liberal Catholic Church and the Co-Masons, to the traditional old dispensation of an authoritarian regime. The second coming of the Christ was at that time (1920's) being regarded as imminent whereas, according to the Masters and theosophical teaching, such a 'second coming', i.e. the advent of an Avatar, was not expected for millennia. In any case the severance of the Society from the Masters made such a 'coming' into it extraordinarily unlikely.
The arrogance of those who professed to be able to elect Krishnaji's twelve disciples was an example of the distorted view of themselves that those leaders had. Surely an 'Avatar' would have been quite capable of electing his own disciples.
In any case the nature of Karma, his upbringing and earthly surroundings would have all been in proper accord without the interference of CWL. Many things are puzzling about Krishnaji's upbringing: one was that from reports the kitchen staff at Adyar were changed because they were of the wrong caste. In a Society which specifically allows no such distinctions, this is hard to understand.
The recognition of Krishnaji's spiritual development from a clairvoyant examination of his aura when he was so young undoubtedly demonstrated CWL's possession of that faculty but this does not corroborate his claim to have received messages from the 'King of the World.'
The 'finding' of Krishnaji, his upbringing and then adoption as a vehicle for the Lord-Maitreya was virtually the culmination of the 'split' from Master Theosophy.
Krishnaji's repudiation of this position was a serious blow to Annie Besant who obviously believed absolutely sincerely in her announcement of the New Coming. CWL's reaction to this repudiation seems to have been more limited and far less painful than Annie Besant's although he suffered a loss of stature that he would otherwise have had as the finder, sponsor and educator of this new divine vehicle.
After Krishnaji's withdrawal from the Society, Annie Besant also suffered a gradual diminution in stature and thereafter her health failed progressively.
SECOND GENERATION THEOSOPHY
The fact that neither Annie Besant nor CWL, after maybe one or two initial incidents, was actually in touch with any Master although they may have genuinely believed they were has serious implications when considering what they said and did when they assumed positions of authority.
The whole tenor of the Society thereafter was one of make-believe! It became a pantomime, largely devised and orchestrated by CWL: a fairy story, but with a thread of truth running through it.
Except for passing references to HPB as 'our revered teacher', her literature as such was seldom referred to or studied. There was, however, a flood of literature purporting to be 'theosophical' from both Annie Besant and CWL, and later from others.
CWL's writings were largely colored by his own real or imaginary clairvoyant insights and his interpretations of them.
It is noteworthy here that, in the HPB/Masters literature there is little reference to, and no diagrams of, the Chakras so much featured by later writers. What little there is is in the papers to the Inner Group (incorporated by Annie Besant into her Vol III of the S.D.)
Whereas the Annie Besant and CWL literature can be criticized from a purely theosophical point of view, much of what Annie Besant wrote was significant spiritual instruction. It was, however, of the conventional, classical religious type, derived largely from the Indian scriptures but with a Christian and a 'theosophical' flavor.
She had reviewed THE SECRET DOCTRINE at the time of its publication; this must have made a lasting impression on her but apart from acknowledging her debt to HPB, she seldom, if ever, specifically referred back to its teaching, or to that in THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY.
CWL seems never to have read either of these books. He puts himself in a very false position as an 'occult' author in the Introduction to his book THE ASTRAL PLANE where he says that his manuscript was considered so excellent as an exposition that the Masters wanted it for their archives.
It is difficult to see why this should be; much of the information given us in the book is at variance with their teaching and furthermore it is not clear, for example, which 'astral' plane he is describing, the HPB or the A.B./CWL one, the former being the 2nd plane of Nature and the latter being the 4th.
There is no mention of the 'etheric double' in the HPB/Masters classification of the human principles. It is to this double that CWL ascribes many of the qualities that HPB attributes to her astral body.
The changes of numbering of the principles where Kama (emotion, desire) was put 2nd instead of 4th is important. An aid to the understanding of THE SECRET DOCTRINE is analogy and correspondences.
In the Masters' literature Kama as the 4th principle is emphasized in the evolutionary stages of development in the 4th Round, the 4th Race, the 4th Substance, not the 2nd. One example of the extent to which the members of the Theosophical Society, from senior members to the newest, were 'infected' by CWL is exemplified by Jinarajadasa's acceptance of the fact that CWL's Astral Plane manuscript had in fact been transmitted magically to the Masters.
Obviously also Jinarajadasa's statement that he, in common with others, had had several initiations about which he knew nothing except what CWL told him, again raises the question of CWL's veracity.
As the years progressed the divergence between the HPB/Masters teachings and the second generation Theosophy widened; even basic information was changed, e.g. the introduction of the 'etheric double' (with four 'etheric' states of physical matter), the alterations to the classification of principles and planes, and the CWL account of the after-death states which is quite different from that of the Masters, etc.
The divergence of the two systems became clearly apparent with the publication of the Mahatma Letters in 1924/5. It was unfortunate that, for a number of reasons, their publication had been delayed till then.
Apart from 'occult' material in them, these letters set a background of specific purpose to the founding of the Society. This was closely related to the Masters being regarded as one tier of membership in the Society, with their accepted Chelas as a second and the ordinary members a third.
To begin with this was the case but it obviously ceased to be so on HPB's death (if not before). An attempt to reintroduce it by edict later was obviously spurious.
The Letters also describe in some detail the conditions that were essential for a relationship between the Masters and their Chelas. These conditions were very stringent, particularly as regarding honesty and straightforwardness.
In the period after HBP's death and with the withdrawal of the Masters once again into obscurity, instead of direct guidance from or association with the Master, even if it were visiting him in the Astral, the practice grew up of this being done indirectly.
For example, people were taken to the Masters in their astral bodies for initiations etc., but about which next day they knew nothing apart from what they were told. In one or two places the Masters do say that this can happen in the matter of training but not by proxy. Further, initiations are matters of enhancement of waking consciousness and this can occur only when certain conditions created necessarily by the pupil, not someone on his behalf, have been met.
Regardless of the state of the Society, thanks to the Masters' insistence and help, and the sacrifices of HPB, the world and particularly the Society have a voluminous and authentic Initiate-Master-inspired literature.
The Society itself is now a world-wide organization of an idealistic and benevolent nature, inspired by the idea of universal brotherhood, but the second and third objects are interpreted very loosely and widely to include anything from UFO's to what is generally extraordinary and sensational.
All this, however, against a background of what might be termed 'religion' or spirituality, mostly by way of, for example, the Eastern exoteric scriptures and various ideas on Theosophy, methods of yoga and meditation. There is also in some places a strong adherence to the Liberal Catholic Church and Co-Masonry as if they were indeed part of the theosophical movement.
In some places, notably Africa, the Theosophical Society is identified with the Theosophical Order of Service. Charity is impressed on every member through the brotherhood idea; there are however hundreds of charitable organizations to work for and there can be nothing special about the 'theosophical' one to warrant its association with the Society.
Similarly the Round Table is an admirable organization but again nothing in it is specifically theosophical.
Theosophical Service groups while keeping interested members informed of current scientific matters have seldom if ever related science to anything specifically associated therewith in the classical theosophical literature. Because some scientific members have found faults and inconsistencies in 'scientific' statements in the literature they have abandoned the whole grand theosophical system, demonstrating at least a lack of a sense of proportion.
Where older Lodges have survived, and in Section central libraries, books on Theosophy on display or listed in catalogues, are mostly those of the second generation writers. Their contents on the whole are taken to be Theosophy without question. A few individuals try to correct this situation but their influence generally is very small. Only a scattered and desultory interest is paid to the classical 'theosophical literature' of the HPB/Masters era. The idea is widespread that the jealously guarded freedom of thought of members can mean that anyone's view or opinions about 'theosophy' can be put out as such.
This was certainly the case in the early days of the 20th century. It was almost vehemently stressed then that there was no such thing as a definite 'theosophical' system of thought, knowledge or teaching. The great fear was of 'dogmatism'.
This word, however, was, and still is in places, wrongly applied. A dogma means an obligatory belief and no such thing is imposed on Theosophical Society members. This does not mean that there are not authoritative statements of fact such as those given us by the Masters, who claim to know what they speak or write about, i.e. they are not speculating, voicing opinions or advancing theories.
All beliefs concerning Theosophy and the Theosophical Society ought seriously to be questioned against what can easily be discovered of the original teaching and intentions for the Society. A serious perusal of THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY will do this.
What is said above about 'make-believe' in the Society also applies to the E.S. The implied connection of it with the Masters through the Outer Head is an example. There is in fact no such connection.
Furthermore, the implication by secrecy, or even privacy, that it possesses some esoteric knowledge which it can impart to members is also 'make-believe'. It makes an appeal to would-be aspirants to chelaship and imposes some preliminary disciplines but omit the necessity for hard work in studying and assimilating the eternal verities of Theosophy as given by the Masters.
First the Adyar Society must take an honest look, fearlessly, at the present position against the background outlined above.
Loyalties to past leaders, to their personal influence and their teachings, must become secondary issues. This means an acknowledgment that all that happened to the Society as a result of C. W. Leadbeater's influence on it, directly or indirectly, his influence on Annie Besant and his enduring influence by way of his writings, is suspect. It must be recognized that these writings are 'theosophically' defective and misleading.
Annie Besant's influence, by reason of her long term as President, must also be very objectively assessed. Whatever her personal integrity she was obviously misled and mistaken, witness the Krishnamurti fiasco, her espousal of Co-Masonry as part of the Theosophical Society and her handling of the Judge 'case' with its disastrous results.
For most members a change of mind or basic beliefs will at best be painful and at worst difficult if not impossible. This means that only a section of the existing membership can, in the first instance at any rate, be expected to make any radical change, and this section will necessarily include E.S. members who will obviously have their loyalties but they will also presumably have acquired some self-reliance and have learned to think independently.
Some members already have or will have difficulty with the question of their membership of the Liberal Catholic Church and CoMasonry in the light of their longstanding association with the Society. Many of these institutions have in fact been regarded as 'theosophical', even theosophy itself.
However, it is necessary that the Society should formally declare that henceforth neither of them is really any part of, or has any special association with, the Theosophical Society.
This does not mean that members are not free to join the Liberal Catholic or any other Church, or become Masons or members of any other institution they wish, provided that they are not inimical or antithetical to Theosophy, and still be members of the Society.
The Society has is own special message to promulgate. This message only exists in the writings of HPB and in the Mahatma Letters. This message in its completeness (as far as it was given out) is unique.
The future direction of the Society must therefore include:
HPB used the words Occultism, Esotericism, Esoteric Science, etc., as synonymous with Theosophy. In THE SECRET DOCTRINE she states several times that some of the teaching given there had never been made public before. These statements indicate that the teachings included more material than was contained in any published religious or philosophic literature.
This distinction has been almost entirely overlooked. The great Hindu scriptures have been taken virtually to be Theosophy. Initiated Brahmins know this is not the case but they keep their esoteric knowledge to themselves.
This was the position when HPB made some of that knowledge public: It was much resented even by Subba Rao whose Master incidentally was the same as HPB's. All extant scriptures are exoteric even though in their mystical content they reflect much of what is in Theosophy.
Such treatises as THE BHAGAVAD GITA, the Puranas, many Sufi writings and other world acknowledged scriptural writings are beautiful and inspiring, potentially capable of leading aspirants on to the highest experiences.
Neither they nor Hinduism nor Buddhism, in their published form, are 'esoteric,' nor of course is the now published THE SECRET DOCTRINE except that its prolonged study changes our modes of thinking and understanding, giving us insights we could otherwise not get.
What do the theosophical writings include that others do not? While the differences might appear superficial in themselves, in their totality they are not.
For example, the Hindu system is fivefold, as far as the human principles and the skandhas are concerned, whereas the theosophical system is sevenfold. The planes of Nature are sevenfold, with each having a corresponding level of consciousness.
In Theosophy Karma is a comprehensive Law applying universally, not just to human beings by way of reward or retribution. Theosophy contains the vast evolutionary scheme by Chains, Globes, Rounds and Races which process by analogy applies to all manifest things, e.g., all those 'things' comprising the kingdoms of Nature. Incidentally, properly there are no 'things'; every 'thing' is a life.
Some 'esoteric' systems of the past, notably the original Kabala, had reflections, in some instances almost exact, of the theosophical scheme, but they were neither so comprehensive nor so explicit. In THE SECRET DOCTRINE for example, HPB relates much of the theosophical teaching to the principal world religions and explains much of their symbolism and practices.
Some of this is also dealt with in ISIS UNVEILED wherein the student can find exciting insights and many explanations of even obscure ancient writings. It is a mine of information leading up to the comprehensive and relatively systematized exposition in THE SECRET DOCTRINE of as much of the Ancient Wisdom as could be published then.
All this knowledgte was in addition to that of the 'mystical' information and teachings in exoteric literature. The outpouring of information and teaching given in THE SECRET DOCTRINE pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge several steps beyond what was then otherwise available to the layman.
To a very large extent this has been ignored by the world and much more sadly even by the majority of members of the Theosophical Society, who according to THE KEY have the special responsibility "of letting it be known that such a thing as Theosophy exists." They cannot possibly do that if they themselves do not know what it is.
The Maha Chohan uses the expression "to popularize a knowledge of Theosophy." Where this has been heeded at all it has been taken to mean the rendering of the vast and erudite teachings of Theosophy into a form suitable for assimilation by the general populace.
Quite obviously this cannot be done and any attempt to do so must at least oversimplify the grand concepts and at worst dilute them until their profundity and inner meaning is completely lost. Such an attempt to 'popularize' Theosophy in this way, to make it appeal to people who otherwise cannot comprehend it, is virtual sacrilege.
This, however, is a tactic used to increase membership of the Society. The Society's three objects are popular, for anybody to subscribe to, but apart from letting it be known as widely as possible that it exists. Theosophy itself cannot be popularized.
This is something that has to be accepted when considering the future of the Society. We must never forget the nature of the original writings. No attempt was made even in THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY, to 'simplify' or 'dilute' the subject matter. They were written to appeal to the 'highest minds,' who in turn, as far as possible, would disseminate their content to others, i.e., the grand ideas would percolate down and so influence all society.
A consequence of the virtual substitution of the original literature by that of the second generation writers has meant that there has been very little follow-up material in the HPB/Masters vein. There is, however, enough to introduce the subject to intending students.
To comprehend Theosophy one has to make a serious and prolonged effort. In Bowen's Notes "Madame Blavatsky on How to Study Theosophy," HPB explained to him, "This mode of thinking is what the Indians call Jnana Yoga" and then mentioned the likely experiences that may arise. But nothing can happen without the effort. The Theosophical Society was founded at the instigation of the Masters with a sublime object in view: the salvation of the whole human race by a 'popularization' of their teachings. Surely we can attempt to do this to the limit of our capacity. Let us try!