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A Study of the Evolution of the "Objects of the T.S." — from 1875 to 1891

By Grace F. Knoche

The Theosophical Forum, October 1947, pp. 582-7

INSPIRED by the conviction that the Theosophical Society was the inevitable outgrowth of the spiritual demands of the century, its Founders valiantly strove, without concealment or equivocation, to "arrest the attention of the highest minds" in all fields of thought: science, philosophy, religion, literature, psychical and spiritualistic research, as well as Oriental philosophy. Starting with one broadly inclusive purpose, the infant society declared:

The objects of the society are, to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe.1

1. Chapter II of the By-laws of the Theosophical Society, published with the "Preamble," October 30, 1875. See September 1947 issue of THE THEOSOPHICAL FORUM for text of Preamble (reproduced below).

Within two years, H. P. Blavatsky had published Isis Unveiled, startling the Western world with its "striking peculiarities, its audacity, its versatility, and the prodigious variety of subjects which it notices and handles," as the New York Herald aptly commented in 1877, further describing it as "one of the remarkable productions of the century."

By the winter of 1878 a sufficiently wide crack in the moldy materialism of religious and scientific thought had been rent by the Theosophical Society (not least of which was due to the widespread acclaim of Isis) to enable the work in America to be left under the protective care of William Q. Judge, then Counsel to the Society, and soon to be elected Secretary of the Western Division, with General Abner W. Doubleday being appointed "President ad interim."

En route to India, H.P.B. and Colonel Olcott stopped in London to visit the British Theosophical Society (later the London Lodge), which included C. C. Massey, Rev. Stainton Moses, and the eminent biologist Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, arriving in Bombay on February 16, 1879. Despite unprecedented opposition from both governmental and missionary fronts, President Olcott delivered a public address on March 23, at the Framji Cowasji Hall, Bombay, "before a large and enthusiastic audience which thronged the spacious Hall," the occasion marking also a reorganization of the Society's officers with new By-laws (or Constitution), the original one-inclusive objective being amplified under Section viii into seven "plans" as follows:

(a) — To keep alive in man his belief that he has a soul, and the Universe a God.

(b) — To oppose and counteract bigotry in every form, whether as an intolerant religious sectarianism or belief in miracles or anything supernatural.

(c) — To gather for the Society's library and put into written form correct information upon the various ancient philosophies, traditions, and legends, and, as the Council shall decide it permissible, disseminate the same in such practicable ways as the translation and publication of original works of value, and extracts from and commentaries upon the same, or the oral instructions of persons learned in their respective departments.

(d) — To seek to obtain knowledge of all the laws of Nature, and aid in diffusing it, thus to encourage the study of those laws least understood by modern people, and so termed the Occult Sciences. Popular superstition and folk-lore, however fantastical, when sifted may lead to the discovery of long lost but important secrets of Nature. The Society, therefore, aims to pursue this line of inquiry in the hope to widen the field of scientific and philosophical observation.

(e) — To promote a feeling of brotherhood among nations; and assist in the international exchange of useful arts and products, by advice, information, and co-operation with all worthy individuals and associations; provided, however, that no benefit or percentage shall be taken by the Society for its corporate services.

(f) — To promote in every practicable way, in countries where needed, the spread of non-sectarian Western education.

(g) — Finally, and chiefly, to encourage and assist individual Fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral and spiritual.2
2. "Principles, Rules, and By-Laws," pages ii-iii, of "The Theosophical Society or Universal Brotherhood," issued at Bombay, 1879.

The official title of the Society was here, apparently for the first time, announced as "The Theosophical Society or Universal Brotherhood" (italics ours), the fourth Rule or By-law itself opening with the words: "The Society being a Universal Brotherhood . . . " — eloquent testimony that at last the original plan as conceived by Masters (vide Mahatma Letters, pp. 9, 17, 23-4, 252) could be publicly set forth as our basic spiritual directive for the next hundred-year cycle.[*]

[*See also "A Few Questions to 'Hiraf***'," written before the Theosophical Society was founded in which HPB broadly hints that the Masters' chief objective is to "unite for ever in one Immortal Brotherhood all antagonistic races." In H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings (1:375-8) is an 1878 Circular printed for "correspondents" which describes the origin, plan, and aims of the TS. According to editor Boris de Zirkoff, it was drafted by Olcott with HPB's help and ready for distribution May 3rd. Section VI states the "objects of the Society are various" concluding with "finally, and chiefly, to aid in the institution of a Brotherhood of Humanity, wherein all good and pure men, of every race, shall recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreate, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause." G.F.K. refers to this Circular in Note 7 of her next article, "The Corresponding Secretary"]

On December 17, 1879, at the palace of H. H. the Maharajah of Vizianagram, Benares, the General Council of the Society met to revise again its By-laws, which after ratification at Bombay on February 26 and 28, 1880, were circulated among the now rapidly spreading T.S., whose centers ranged from Paris to Egypt, Budapest to Ceylon, Odessa, Corfu and Manila to London and the U.S.A. — to say nothing of active branches in several parts of India. Here again we note the pointing up of the Brotherhood idea, Rule I now setting the keynote: "The Theosophical Society is formed upon the basis of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity." The alterations adopted in the seven "plans" were slight, but not unimportant: (a) and (b) — changes or additions indicated by italics —

(a) — "To keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions."

(b) — "To oppose and counteract — after due investigation and proof of its irrational nature — bigotry in every form," (continue as before).

Though unaltered in wording, the reversal in order of plans (c) and (e) placing (e) third, gives a subtle but persistent emphasis on the directive of promoting "a feeling of brotherhood among nations." (d) and (f) remain; while (g) receives stress by enlargement:

(g) — Finally, and chiefly, to encourage and assist individual Fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. But no Fellow shall put to his selfish use any knowledge communicated to him by any member of the First Section; violation of this rule being punished by expulsion. And, before any such knowledge can be imparted, the person shall bind himself by a solemn oath not to use it to selfish purposes, nor to reveal it, except with the permission of the teacher.3

3. "Revised Rules of the Society," 1880, Bombay, page 9.

At this period Active Fellows of the T.S. were considered as falling into three natural divisions, though no formalized classification was publicly set forth until the opening meeting at Bombay, on March 23, 1879.4

4. The following appears on page v of the "Rules of the Society," issued March 23, 1879, and is quoted here for historic purposes:

"Of these, the highest is the First Section — composed exclusively of initiates in Esoteric Science and Philosophy, who take a deep interest in the Society's affairs and instruct the President-Founder how best to regulate them, but whom none but such as they voluntarily communicate with have the right to know.

"The Second Section embraces such Theosophists as have proved by their fidelity, zeal, and courage, their devotion to the Society, who have become able to regard all men as equally their brothers irrespective of caste, colour, race, or creed; and who are ready to defend the life or honour of a brother Theosophist even at the risk of their own lives.

"The Third is the Section of probationers. All new Fellows are on probation, until their purpose to remain in the Society has become fixed, their usefulness shown, and their ability to conquer evil habits and unwarrantable prejudices demonstrated."

The General Council met again in February, 1881, and again revamped the Rules of the Society, this time the seven "plans" being condensed into four:

First — To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, the obvious philanthropic value of which must be beyond dispute, while the esoteric significance of a union formed on that plan, is conceived by the Founders, for reasons derived from a study of Oriental Philosophy, to be of great importance.

Second — To study Aryan literature, religion and science, which the Founders believe to contain certain valuable truths and philosophical views, of which the Western world knows nothing.

Third — To vindicate the importance of this inquiry and correct misrepresentations with which it has been clouded.

Fourth — To explore the hidden mysteries of Nature, and the latent powers of Man, on which the Founders believe that Oriental Philosophy is in a position to throw light.5

5. "Rules of the Theosophical Society together with an explanation of its Objects and Principles," as revised at Bombay, February 17, 1881, p. 3, issued by Damodar K. Mavalankar, as Joint Recording Secretary (for the Eastern Division, William Q. Judge being Recording Secretary for the Western Division, of the General Council).

It is of significant interest to note that the Three Sections into which Active Fellows of the T.S. are divided is mentioned here again in the Rules, but this time casually, Rule X stating that the "administration of the two superior Sections need not be dealt with at present in a code of rules laid before the public" — this withdrawal from public notice presaging the establishment seven years later of a formal Esoteric Section in October, 1888. In succeeding By-laws reference to the higher Sections is entirely omitted.

The final streamlining into the THREE OBJECTS used subsequently by the T.S. (with minor alterations) took place at the sixth anniversary nominally scheduled for November 17, 1881, but due to the extensive travels in India of the Founders not celebrated until January 12, 1882, when the General Council announced its "Primary Objects" as follows:

First — To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed or colour.

Second — To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literature, religions and sciences and vindicate its importance.6

Third — To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature and the Psychical powers latent in man.7

6. In 1885 the phrase "and vindicate its importance" was dropped; the following words being added in the statement of the Objects, Dec. 27, 1890: "and to demonstrate their importance to Humanity."
7. "Report of the Proceedings of a Public Meeting . . . of the Theosophical Society," Bombay, 12th January, 1882, page 5.

No further change was made in subsequent annual meetings until December, 1886, when the Third Object was slightly modified, including an interesting insert, making it read:

A third object, pursued by a portion of the members of the Society, is to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers of man.

The form of the Objects continued without change until the General Council meeting of December, 1888,8 when minor but suggestive alterations appear in the 1st and 3rd Objects as follows: First: the inclusion of "sex, caste," so that the last phrase reads: "without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color" — a far-sighted addition in view of the later Suffragette activities in the Western hemisphere, and the abolition of 'untouchability' in the Eastern; Third: while remaining textually identic since 1886, has the following paragraph added in brackets:

[The Fellows interested in this third object now form a distinct private division of the Society under the direction of the Corresponding Secretary]9

8. In The Key to Theosophy, ch. iii, published in 1889, H.P.B. significantly slants this third object by adding the word "spiritual," making it read: "To investigate the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the psychic and spiritual powers latent in man especially." (italics ours)
9. The Theosophist, Supplement, January 1889, p. 54.

H.P.B., sole head of the E.S. then one year old. Organizationally separate from the T.S., the Esoteric Section, nevertheless, was its vital heart, its raison d'etre. This extra paragraph, however, did not appear more than this once, being cancelled in session of the General Council at Adyar, Madras, on December 27, 1890, the last annual meeting of the T.S. before the passing of H.P.B.

The succeeding fifty odd years has seen a number of verbal changes in the Objects; but the spirit of the original directives has remained: the dissemination of Truth, strengthened by insistence upon the formation of at least a nucleus of a Universal Fraternity described by K.H. (M.L., p. 17) as the "only secure foundation for universal morality . . . the aspiration of the true adept."

ORGANIZATIONS, like men, may fall into ruts or grooves of mental and psychic action, which, once established, are difficult to obliterate. To prevent those ruts or grooves in the Theosophical movement, its guardians provided that necessary shocks should now and then interpose so as to conduce to solidarity, to give strength such as the oak obtains from buffeting the storm, and in order that all grooves of mind, act, or thought, might be filled up. — WILLIAM Q. JUDGE, Letters that Have Helped Me

Preamble of the T.S.

Dated October 30, 1875; reprinted in The Theosophical Forum, September 1947, pp. 515-18

The title of the Theosophical Society explains the objects and desires of its founders: they seek "to obtain knowledge of the nature and attributes of the Supreme Power and of the higher spirits by the aid of physical processes." In other words, they hope, that by going deeper than modern science has hitherto done, into the esoteric philosophies of ancient times, they may be enabled to obtain, for themselves and other investigators, proof of the existence of an "Unseen Universe," the nature of its inhabitants, if such there be, and the laws which govern them and their relations with mankind.

Whatever may be the private opinions of its members, the society has no dogmas to enforce, no creed to disseminate. It is formed neither as a Spiritualistic schism, nor to serve as the foe or friend of any sectarian or philosophic body. Its only axiom is the omnipotence of truth, its only creed a profession of unqualified devotion to its discovery and propagation. In considering the qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, sex, color, country nor creed.

That all the members of a society should acquire an equal degree of knowledge within the same period of time is not to be expected. Knowledge is always progressive, and proportional to natural capability and susceptibility to intellectual impression. Even the most intelligent and the most perseveringly studious must labor in order to obtain or attain. To all, however, are alike indispensable, rectitude of principle and conduct, and love of truth and wisdom. No student can win his diploma without undertaking a long course of study and proving a good character; and every handicraftsman has to serve his apprenticeship before he can be journeyman or master. So theosophy, which claims to teach the vital points of science and art, exacts from its adepts an assiduity of purpose, a catholicity of mind, an unselfish devotion, an unflinching courage and perseverance, and a purity of life and thought commensurate with the nature of their self-imposed task, before admitting them into the arcana of nature, and intrusting them with powers not shared by meaner souls.

The founders of the Theosophical Society begin their work with a solemn conviction of its importance. They do not undervalue the difficulties, intrinsic and extrinsic, of the task. Their work is that which the Spiritualists have neglected, the Materialists have not attempted, and the Theologians have misunderstood and undervalued. Starting with a hope, rather than a conviction, of the attainment of their desires, they are animated solely by an earnest purpose to learn the truth, wheresoever it may be found; and esteem no obstacles so serious, no pains so great, as to excuse them for relinquishing it.

They look in vain to the Church for such evidence of immortality as will satisfy the exactions of a fearless reason; in vain to her opponents for an explanation of the preterhuman experiences of mankind, from the earliest periods. The Spiritualists, who profess to be in constant relations with the departed, are unable to agree upon a system of philosophy. Thus the longing of the race for a practical demonstration of its future existence goes unsatisfied; the laws of intercommunication between the visible and the invisible worlds are not accurately defined; and the problem of the two eternities which bound this life remains unsolved, despite a multitude of churches and academies.

Everywhere the greatest activity in metaphysical speculation is manifested. In the East, the corrupted ancient faiths are confronted with European propagandists, who struggle to keep the foothold which was won for them by the sword and diplomacy. Japan is becoming educated in the modern arts and sciences, and her intelligent minds, in acquiring our languages, gain access to the most profound and persuasive teachers in all departments of advanced thought. In China, the missionary is pushing his way more and more deeply into the heart of the country, and coming into closer relations with its inhabitants. In India, the Brahmo-Somaj, or "Society of God," has begun in earnest the colossal work of purifying the Hindoo religions from the dross which centuries of priest-craft have infused into them.

In Europe, we see Materialism gradually encroaching upon the domain of the Church, and even gaining ground among her clergy; the congregations are composed almost exclusively of women; adult males, as a rule, are free-thinkers; the Roman Catholics are losing their political influence; and the whole Christian hierarchy is arraigned at the bar of public opinion by the philosophical scientists, who, in searching after the secrets of mere material nature, have had their own views of a God almost, if not wholly, obscured. Russia, in civilization the youngest of European nations, has just begun, through its Imperial University, a scientific investigation of the spiritualistic phenomena. In Great Britain, the safety of the Established Church is threatened by the non-conforming sects, and all by the principles promulgated by many members of the British Association, who, in indirectly teaching the doctrine of rationalism, strike a fatal blow at an establishment which is based upon simple reactionary faith, and is incapable of appeasing the newly awakened spirit of reasonable inquiry.

In the United States, the rebellion of the public mind against ecclesiastical authority has been comparatively more general than in the parent country, and at the present time, so inconsiderable has the influence of the Protestant Church become, that it may almost be said that the conflict is between the Romanists and the Spiritualists — the former representing the idea of ultra-montanism and intolerance; the latter, that of the absolute sovereignty of the individual in the matter of belief as regards their assumed intercourse with a spirit-world, and, with many, that of unbridled license in the relations of the sexes.

It is probable that, but for the extraordinary multiplicity of the alleged spiritual phenomena, and the consequent revival of faith in the immortality of the spirit, Materialism and various forms of atheism would have acquired a far more general hold upon the American people. As it is, however, the defection from the sectarian bodies has been to the advantage of Spiritualism, rather than to that of its adversaries, notwithstanding the numerous exposures of deception on the part of mediums.

In view of the existing state of things, it will be seen that the Theosophical Society has been organized in the interest of religion, science, and good morals; to aid each according to its needs.

The founders being baffled in every attempt to get the desired knowledge in other quarters, turn their faces toward the Orient, whence are derived all systems of religion and philosophy. They find our ancestors practicing important arts now lost to us. They discover them dealing with forces whose very names are now unknown, and the simplest demonstration of whose existence is impossible to our scientists. In the Bible occurs a multitude of passages which corroborate the inferences deducible from the picture-writings on the architectural remains of the ancient nations; while every important museum of antiquities augments the proof of their wisdom and enlightenment.

The Theosophical Society, disclaiming all pretension to the possession of unusual advantages, all selfish motives, all disposition to foster deception of any sort, all intent to wilfully and causelessly injure any established organization, invites the fraternal cooperation of such as can realize the importance of its field of labor, and are in sympathy with the objects for which it has been organized. (return to text)

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