Authority and Autonomy

As the question of “authority” has been raised it seems that these quotations might prove to be useful to all of us.
Dallas TenBroeck
"The Authority which we recognize is not what men term authority, which comes from outside and which demands obedience, but an internal recognition of the value of that which flows through any given point, focus, or individual. This is the authority of one's Self-discrimination, intuition, the highest intellection. If we follow what we recognize in that way, and still find it good, we naturally keep our faces in that direction. This means no slavish following of any person—a distinction which some are unable to grasp. H.P.B. wrote: "Do not follow me or my path. Follow the path I show, the Masters who are behind"...the most and best anyone can do is to follow the lines laid down by H.P.B. regardless of any others."
F.P. p.372-3 [Reminiscences - C. Wachtmeister p. 122]

"There is a very great difference between the Theosophical Movement and any Theosophical Society. The Movement is moral, ethical, spiritual, universal, invisible save in effect, and continuous. A Society formed for theosophical work is a visible organization, an effect, a machine for conserving energy and putting it to use; it is not nor can it be universal, nor is it continuous...

The Theosophical Movement being continuous, it is to be found at all times and in all nations. Whenever thought has struggled to be free, wherever spiritual ideas, as apposed to forms and dogmatism, have been promulgated, there the great movement is to be discerned."
—WQJ "The Theosophical Movement" WQJ Articles, II, p. 124

"But let no man set up a popery instead of Theosophy, as this would be suicidal and has ever ended most fatally. We are all fellow-students, more or less advanced; but no one belonging to the T.S. ought to count himself as more than that, at best, a pupil-teacher—one who has no right to dogmatize."
1888 —HPB "Five Messages to the American Theosophists," p. 4

"It is above everything important to keep in mind that no theosophical book acquires the least additional value from pretended authority."
S.D. I p. xix

"It is just because we have devoted our whole life to the research of truth...that we never accept on faith any authority upon any question whatsoever; nor, pursuing, as we do, Truth and progress through a full and fearless enquiry, untrammeled by any consideration, would we advise any of our friends to do otherwise."
—HPB "Notes on 'A Land of Mystery'" HPB Articles III 342-3; Theosophist, Vol 1, p. 278-9

"Be what he may, once that a student abandons the old and trodden highway of routine, and enters upon the solitary path of independent thought—Godward—he is a Theosophist; an original thinker, a seeker after the eternal truth with "an inspiration of his own" to solve the universal problems."
—HPB "What are the Theosophists ?" Theosophist, October 1879. HPB Art. I p. 52

"Its [Theosophical] doctrines, if seriously studied, call forth, by stimulating one's reasoning powers and awakening the inner in the animal man, every hitherto dormant power for good in us, and also the perception of the true and real, as opposed to the false and the unreal.

"The Society, as such, has no authorities. It was founded with the object of breaking down that reliance upon "authority" which has been the bane of man for ages, and it would be strange now in we could admit authority for theosophists...We, are engaged in trying to develop a truer appreciation of the Light of Life which is hidden in every man, and so the "final authority" is the man himself."
—WQJ "Authority," The Path, Nov. 1887. WQJ Art. II 543, 575

"Experience has at last prompted the adoption of a better working system, one embodying the true spirit of equality and parliamentary justice more than the one in vogue. As an autonomous American section had been in existence and successfully working for two years, and a British section had just been formed in London, the fair thing was evidently to extend the sectional scheme to all countries, keeping the Head-quarters as the hub, and the President Founder as the axle, of this wheel of many spokes under the car of Progress. [Follows a synopsis of the new and revised Rules for this.] ...At the same time, these and all future sections are or will be inseparably united with the central point where the President undivided body known as the Theosophical Society." [From the "General Report of the 13th Convention and Report of the T.S. at the H.Q., Adyar, Madras, December 27th - 29th 1888.] Lucifer Vol III, pp. 495-6

"It has always been held that a true Theosophist must have no personal ends to serve, no favourite hobby to propagate, no special doctrine to enforce or to defend. For, to merit the honorable title of Theosophist one must be an altruist, above all; one ever ready to help equally foe or friend; to act, rather than to speak; and urge others to action, while never losing an opportunity to work himself. But if no true Theosophist will ever dictate to his fellow, brother or neighbor, what this one should believe or disbelieve in, nor force him to act on lines which may be distasteful to him, however proper they may appear to himself, there are other duties which he has to attend to:
  • to warn his brother of any danger the latter may fail to see; and
  • to share his knowledge--if he has acquired such--with those who have been less fortunate than himself in opportunities for acquiring it...

Therefore, we say to-day to all: "If you would really help the noble cause--you must do so now; for a few years more and your, as well as our efforts, will be in vain."...

"Unless we succeed in placing the T.S...on the safe side of the spiritual current, it will be swept away irretrievably into the Deep called "Failure." ...Thus will have ingloriously perished the only association whose aims, rules and original purposes answer in every particular and detail--if strictly carried out--to the innermost, fundamental thought of every great Adept Reformer, the beautiful dream of a Universal Brotherhood Of Man."
—HPB "Why the Vahan ?" Dec. 1890 HPB Art. I 284-5

"Look around you, and behold our Universal Brotherhood so called ! The Society founded to remedy the glaring evils of Christianity, to shun bigotry and intolerance, cant, and superstition and to cultivate real universal love extending even to the dumb brute, what has it become in Europe and America in these 11 years of trial [1886] ? In one thing only we have succeeded...we have made away with every dogma and are now justly and wisely trying to make away with the last vestige of even nominal authority..."
—HPB "The Theosophical Mahatmas" The Path, Dec. 1886. HPB Articles I 305

"...the undersigned [HPB] accepts for her views and walk in life no authority dead or living, no system of philosophy or religion but one--namely, the esoteric teachings of ethics and philosophy of those she calls Masters--answers have to be given strictly in accordance with these teachings...his first duty is to be ever ready to help if he can, without stopping to philosophize...there may be those who are starving for truth, in every department of the science of nature, and who consequently are yearning to learn the esoteric views about "cosmology, the evolution of man and of the Universe." ...

"...what I do believe in is:

  1. the unbroken oral teachings revealed by living divine men during the infancy of mankind to the elect among men;
  2. that it has reached us unaltered; and
  3. that the Masters are thoroughly versed in the science based on such uninterrupted teaching."

  4. —H.P. Blavatsky HPB Articles, I pp. 459-61

"The tree is known by its fruits; and as all Theosophists have to be judged by their deeds and not by what they write or say, so all Theosophical books must be accepted on their merits, and not according to any claim to authority which they may put forward."
—HPB Key to Theosophy, p. 300

Autonomy and Interdependence

"...Master said to me. He [Olcott]...the Society has outgrown him. Let him remain a nominal President--but let us active Presidents--one in India, the other in Europe--the third in America, begin working with that object. You alone ought to become the President in chief of all the European Societies, and for life--who ever else may be the year President of the L.L., or the Paris, or German Th. Societies. Such is the desire of my Master--I know it. For myself--I am resolved to remain sub rosa. I can do far more by remaining in the shadow than by becoming prominent once more in the movement."
—HPB to APS p. 111-12

"We have a reform in hand...what do you think of the idea of placing the Branches on quite a different footing ?...What I want is simply a paper on the advisability of remodeling the present formation of branches and their privileges. Let them be all chartered and initiated as heretofore by the Parent Society, and depend of it nominally. At the same time, let every Branch before it is chartered, choose some one object to work for, an object, naturally in sympathy with the general principles of the T.S.--yet a distinct and definite object of its own, whether in the religious, educational or philosophical line. This would allow the Society a broader margin for its general operations; more real, useful work would be done; and, as every Branch would be so to say, independent in its modus operandus, there would remain less room for complaint and par consequence--for interference. At any rate this hazy sketch, I hope, will find an excellent soil to germinate and thrive in..."
M L pp 317-8

"...many are the things we shall have to talk over and foremost of all the Mahatma's desire that the Branches of the T.S. especially the L.L. [London Lodge] and the European should be made all autonomous under one President. A sudden and efficient stop must be made to "President's Camps," Poona, and "President's Camp, Lahore" and "Special orders" and all that sort of thing. Ah well, who loves the Cause--has to sacrifice himself, and I am ever ready. Au revoir. "
HPB letter to APS p. 129

"Explain to Olcott matters and claim from him and Council, that which you of the L.L. virtually have: complete autonomy for the European Branches, as many as there are groups of the same way of thinking. Theosophy was founded as a nucleus for Univ. Brotherhood. So was Christ. The latter was a complete failure and is a sham, only because the R. Latin Church claims infallibility, absolute authority...Our Society was established to bring together people as searchers after truth, independent thinkers, one having no right to force his opinion on the other: or meddle in his religious views."
HPB Let to APS, p. 221

"I must ask you to remember that the new Society shall not be allowed to disconnect itself with the parent Body, though you are at liberty to manage your affairs in your own way and without fearing the slightest interference from its President so long as you do not violate the general Rules."
M L , p. 16

" will have--in case you organize--to put up with Olcott at the head of the Parent Society, hence--nominally the president of all the existing Branches. But he will be no more your "leader" than he is the leader of the British Theos. Society, which has its own President, its own Rules and Bye-laws. You will be chartered by him, and that's all...yet he has no right to interfere either with your administration or modes of action, so long as these do not clash with the general Rules, and he certainly has neither the ability nor the desire of being your leader."
M L , pp. 20-1

"When the ancient founders of your philosophical schools came East, to acquire the lore of our predecessors, they filed no claims, except the single one of a sincere and unselfish hunger for the truth. If any now aspire to found new schools of science and philosophy the same plan will win--if the searchers have in them the elements of success...H.S.Olcott has been trying to convert each of the Indian Branches into such a school of research, but the capacity for sustained independent study for knowledge's sake is lacking, and must be developed..."
M L, p. 342

"Solidarity of thought and action within the broad outline of the chief and general principles of the Society there must always be between the parent and Branch bodies; yet the latter must be allowed each their own independent action in everything that does not clash with those principles."
M L , p. 318-9

"The Theosophical Society was constituted on the model of its mother country...they wanted to grant absolute equality in its laws to all religions so that all would support the State and all in their turn would be protected...each branch as well as each member, having the right to profess the religion and to study the sciences or philosophies it or he prefers, provided that the whole remains united by bonds of solidarity and fraternity--our Society may be truly called the "Republic of Conscience." ...

"All of us must work for the liberation of human thought, for the elimination of selfish and sectarian superstitions, and for the discovery of all the truths that are within the reach of the human mind. This goal cannot be attained with greater certainty than through the culture of solidarity on the plane of mental work. No honest worker, no serious seeker, has ever returned therefrom empty-handed..."
—HPB "The New Cycle" La Revue Theosophique, March 21, 1889. HPB Articles I 402

"No true Theosophist...would consent to become the fetish of a fashionable doctrine, any more than he would make himself the slave of a decaying dead-letter system, the spirit from which has disappeared forever. Neither would he pander to anyone or anything, and therefore would always decline to show belief in that in which he does not, nor can he believe, which is lying to his own soul...we will keep to that pure ray "that comes from above," from the light of the "Ancient."
—HPB "Dual Aspect of Wisdom" Lucifer, Sept. 1890 HPB Articles I 36-7

"If one criticism is hurtful, so is another; so also is every innovation, or even the presentation of some old thing under a new aspect, as both have necessarily to clash with the views of this, or another "authority."...criticism is the great benefactor of thought in general; and still more so of those men who never think for themselves but rely in everything upon acknowledged "authorities" and social routine.

For what is an "authority" upon any question...No more...than a light streaming upon a certain object through one single, more or less wide, chink, and illuminating it from one side only. Such light, besides being the faithful reflector of the personal views of but one man--very often merely that of his special hobby--can never help in the examination of a question or a subject from all its aspects and sides...Criticism is the sole salvation from intellectual stagnation...(391)To reject the infallibility of a man of Science is not quite the same as to repudiate his learning. A specialist is one, precisely because he has some one specialty, and is therefore less reliable in other branches of Science, and even in the general appreciation of his own subject. Official school Science is based upon temporary foundations, so far...Truth belongs to all...excepting always those few special branches of knowledge which should be preserved ever secret, like those two-edged weapons that both kill and save..."
—HPB Literary Jottings by "Unpopular Philosopher Lucifer, Sept. 1892 (posthumous) HPB Art. II 389-391

"It is our duty, as it is that of physical throw light on facts in Nature hitherto surrounded by the darkness of ignorance...But natural Sciences are only one aspect of Science and Truth. Psychological and moral Science, or Theosophy, the knowledge of divine truth, wherever found, are still more important in human affairs, and real Science should not be limited simply to the physical aspect of life and nature. Science is an abstract of every fact, a comprehension of every truth within the scope of human research and intelligence.."
—HPB "What's in a Name ?" Lucifer, Sept. 1887 HPB Art III 374-5

HPB on criticism of Isis and the Secret Doctrine

"We are quite ready to admit the faults charged...that it is badly arranged, discursive, over-burdened with digressions into by-ways of mythology, etc., But then it is neither a philosophical system nor the Doctrine, called secret or esoteric, but only a record of a few of its facts and a witness to it. It has never claimed to be the full exposition of the its totality; a) because the writer does not boast of being a great Initiate... b) because had she been one, she would have divulged still less. It has never been contemplated to make of the sacred truths an integral system for the ribaldry and sneers of the profane and iconoclastic public...the Secret Doctrine merely asserts that a system, known as the Wisdom Religion, the work of generations of adepts and seers, the sacred heirloom of pre-historic times--actually exists, though hitherto preserved in the greatest secrecy by the present Initiates...Giving a few fragments only, it there shows how these explain the religious dogmas of the present day, and how they might serve Western religions, philosophies and science, as sign-posts along the untrodden paths of discovery... No new philosophy is set up in the Secret Doctrine, only the hidden meaning of some of the religious allegories of antiquity is given...and the common source is pointed out...however divergent...the agreement between all becomes perfect, so soon as the esoteric or inner side of these beliefs and their symbology is examined ...It is also maintained that its doctrines and sciences, which form an integral cycle of universal cosmic facts and metaphysical axioms and truths, represent a complete and unbroken system; and that he who is brave and persevering enough, ready to crush the animal in himself, and forgetting the human self, sacrifices it to his Higher Ego, can always find his way to become initiated into these mysteries. This is all the Secret Doctrine claims."
—HPB "The Babel of Modern Thought" Lucifer, Jan., Feb. 1891 HPB Articles III 43-44

"If any authority pertains to the Secret Doctrine, it must be sought inside, not outside. It must rest on its comprehensiveness, its completeness, its continuity and reasonableness; in other words, on its philosophical synthesis, a thing missed alike by the superficial and the contentious, by the indolent, the superstitious, and the dogmatic."
—WQJ "The Synthesis of Occult Science" WQJ Art I 36

Dr. Fisher quoted by HPB in Isis:

"One of the most formidable obstacles to the advancement of science...has ever been a blind submission to authority...To untrammel the mind from the influence of mere authority, that it may have free scope in its investigation of facts and laws which exist and are established in nature, is the grand antecedent necessary to scientific discovery and permanent progress."
Dr. Fisher: "Trans. of Medical Science" Isis Unveiled I 396

Unity and the T.S. and Theosophy the Bond

"There is no longer a 'Parent Society;' it is abolished and replaced by an aggregate body of Theosophical Societies, all autonomous...such is the real state of things."
—HPB [Lucifer, Vol. 4, p. 508] Thy. Mag. Vol 6, p. 477

"We are now to be like the Freemasons, who are one and all, in every part of the world, Freemasons. Yet each Grand Lodge is independent, autonomous...and yet every member a Freemason and traveling into every Lodge if he follows the rule.

You are quite right that Autonomy was agreed on as the method. There would be very great clumsiness and friction in being part of the American T.S. Each great territory, like an individual, stands on its own feet, while all are united in aim...keep in mind that what we ought to work for is to bring the truths of Theosophy before the greatest number of persons and not that we seek office or honour, then our best efforts must have good results."
—WQJ Letters That Have Helped Me, p. 171

"The period which we have now reached in this cycle that will close between 1897-98 is, and will continue to be, one of great conflict and continued strain...No opportunity will be lost of sowing dissension, of taking advantage of mistaken and false moves, of instilling doubt, of augmenting difficulties, of breathing suspicions, so that by any and every means the unity of the Society may be broken and the ranks of our Fellows thinned and thrown into disarray. Never has it been more necessary for the members of the T.S. to lay to heart the old parable of the bundle of sticks than it is at the present time: divided, they will inevitably be broken, one by one; united, there is no force on earth able to destroy our Brotherhood...Self-watchfulness is never more necessary than when a personal wish to lead, and wounded vanity, dress themselves in the peacock's feathers of devotion and altruistic work; but at the present crisis of the Society a lack of self-control and watchfulness may become fatal in every case...If every fellow in the Society were content to be an impersonal force for good, careless of praise or blame so long as he subserved the purposes of the Brotherhood, the progress made would astonish the World and place the Ark of the T.S. out of danger. Take for your motto in conduct..."Peace with all who love Truth in sincerity."
—HPB Five Messages, (1891) p. 29

In 1885 when HPB was exiled from Adyar, the Master wrote:

"The Society has liberated itself from our grasp and influence, and we have let it go...It is now a soulless corpse, a machine run so far well enough, but which will fall to pieces when...Out of the three objects, the second alone is attended to; it is no longer a Brotherhood, nor a body over the face of which broods the Spirit beyond the Great Range."
[Theosophist, October 1907] Theosophy Mag. Vol. 6, p. 477

"Let us then press forward together in the great work of the real Theosophical Movement, which is aided by working organizations, but is above them all...We will then each and all be members of that Universal Lodge of Free and Independent Theosophists which embrace every friend of the human race."
—WQJ Letter to European Convention 1895 from the Theosophical Society in America -- Path Vol. 10, p. 136


[ The following quotations deserve their place here in view of the assertion still made in the T.S., Adyar that The American Theosophists and Mr. W.Q. Judge "seceded" from the T.S. --DTB ]

A 1893 Letter from Col. Olcott

Mr. A.E.S. Smythe, President TS in Canada, wrote the Editors of Theosophy [ reported on p. 11 of the March 15th issue of Canadian Theosophist, for 1923, Vol. 4, # 1 ] quoting a letter addressed in 1893 by Col. Olcott, P.T.S. to Mr. Judge in which he read the following :

"If you want separate Theosophical Societies made out of the Sections, have them by all means. I offered this years ago to H.P.B. and even to A.P.S."

In the Canadian Theosophist, Vol. X, July 1929, pp 156-7 Mr. A.E.S. Smythe, President wrote:

"The splitting of the Society was the act of Colonel Olcott who hated Judge. Judge had expected that the Colonel would recognize the autonomous T.S. in America and affiliate it with Adyar, but Olcott changed his mind and refused to do this, and Judge...was much disappointed with the Colonel's refusal. I was in the office at 144 Madison Avenue when Judge received a letter from Olcott postmarked and stamped from Spain, and Judge remarked 'Now everything will be all right.' But the letter was not what Judge expected and his disappointment was very obvious. This phase of the situation has never been explained, and I have never been able to learn whether Judge counted with warrant on Olcott's support, or whether it was really a right-about-face on Olcott's part, for Judge certainly expected Olcott to support him. Judge had collected $17,000.00 in America and sent it to Olcott when the Adyar treasurer embezzled that amount...Judge and Besant were all right till H.P.B. died and we can honour and depend upon them up till that point. After May 8, 1891 we have had to depend upon ourselves and should be charitable to our neighbours."
—A. E. S. Smythe.

[ This letter from HPB was written and sent with B. Keightley, April 1890. Published in Theosophist, January 1922. HPB Articles I pp 108 - 114 ]

"...the Esoteric Section has nothing whatever to do with the T.S., its Council or officers. It is a Section entirely apart from the exoteric body, and independent of it. H.P.B. alone being responsible for its members...the E.S. as a body, owes no allegiance whatever to the T.S., as a Society, least of all to Adyar...H.P.B. is loyal to the death to the Theosophical CAUSE, and those great Teachers whose philosophy can alone bind the whole of Humanity into one Brotherhood...Therefore the degree of her sympathies with the "T.S. and Adyar" depends upon the degree of the loyalty of that Society to the CAUSE. Let it break away from the original lines and show disloyalty in its policy to the CAUSE and the original programme of the Society, and H.P.B. calling the T.S. disloyal, will shake it off like dust from her feet.

And what does "loyalty to Adyar" mean, in the name of all wonders? What is Adyar, apart from that CAUSE and the two (not one Founder) who represent it ? ...

There is no longer a "Parent Society;" it is abolished and replaced by an aggregate body of Theosophical societies, all autonomous, as are the States of America, and all under one Head President, who, together with H.P.Blavatsky, will champion the Cause against the whole world. Such is the real state of things....Madame Blavatsky does not owe the slightest allegiance to a Council which is liable at any moment to issue silly and untheosophical a Society which owes its life to them [she and Col. Olcott], and for which they are both karmically responsible...she will ever protest against the decision of the General Council, were it composed of Archangels and Dhyan Chohans themselves, if their decisions seem to her unjust or untheosophical, or fails to meet with the approval of the majority of the Fellows. No more than H.P.Blavatsky has the President Founder the right to exercise autocracy or papal powers...It is the two Founders and especially the President, who have virtually sworn allegiance to the Fellows, whom they have to protect, and teach those who want to be taught, and not to tyrannize and rule over them."
—H P B "A Puzzle from Adyar" Lucifer Aug. 1889 HPB Articles I 219-220

"...Sections and Branches like the "London Lodge" and others which are autonomous...Is not the Blavatsky Lodge, like the London, Dublin, or any other "Lodge," a branch of, and a Theosophical Society ?"
HPB Articles I 221

On the Theosophical Society -- Its Future

"The Theosophical Society was chosen as the cornerstone, the foundation of the future religions of humanity. To achieve the proposed object, a greater, wiser, and especially a more benevolent intermingling of the high and the low, the alpha and the omega of society, was determined upon."
Lucifer, Aug. 1896 "The Great Master's Letter" Theos. Art and Notes, p. 190

"The Society will never perish as an institution, although branches and individuals in it may."
M L , p. 245

"The Society in India is flourishing and can never die [ see also p. 366 ]. In America it is becoming a grand movement."
—HPB M L , p. 483

In 1885 when HPB was exiled from Adyar, the Master wrote:

"The Society has liberated itself from our grasp and influence, and we have let it go...It is now a soulless corpse, a machine run so far well enough, but which will fall to pieces when...Out of the three objects, the second alone is attended to; it is no longer a Brotherhood, nor a body over the face of which broods the Spirit beyond the Great Range."
[Theosophist, October 1907] Theosophy Mag. Vol. 6, p. 477

"There is no longer a 'Parent Society;' it is abolished and replaced by an aggregate body of Theosophical Societies, all autonomous...such is the real state of things."
—HPB [ Lucifer, Vol. 4, p. 508 ] Thy. Mag. Vol 6, p. 477

As the President of the freshly constituted Theosophical Society in America, Mr. Judge wrote:

"Let us then press forward together in the great work of the real Theosophical Movement, which is aided by working organizations, but is above them all...We will then each and all be members of that Universal Lodge of Free and Independent Theosophists which embraces every friend of the human race."
—WQJ Letter to European Convention 1895 from the Theosophical Society in America -- Path Vol. 10, p. 136

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