What is meant by the phrase: the hierarchical system of the Theosophical Society?
Most people seem to think it means this: that the system of government in the T. S. is a great big boss at the top, delegating authority to smaller bosses but yet big ones who are the Presidents of the National Sections; and these, passing down the hierarchical system of authority, delegating their bossism to still smaller bosses, who are the Presidents of the Lodges, in other words that the hierarchical system of the T. S. is but a delegated system of bosses; and that is absolutely false and wrong — mischievous.
What we mean when we say the hierarchical system of government in the T. S. is simply the following: As in all else, we endeavor to copy our Brothers of the stars, of nature, in our case the gods who govern and inspire nature. Their system of government, if you will examine it, is not a system of bosses or autocrats or dictators in nature, for you won't see that anywhere. But a single body-corporate, a universe, a solar system; our own T. S., infilled with one life, having at its head a head; but every individual unit or limb of the body-corporate as free and independent in its own sphere as the top head in his, and maybe more so. Because under the hierarchical system of government of the spirit, the higher you go along the ladder upwards, the more the chief or head becomes the servant. It is the gods who serve the most, who are the servers of all below; so that as I, as the present Leader, have often said, quoting a Christian saying, Ego sum servus servorum Dei: I am the servant of the servants of the Divine.
The higher your soul is raised in understanding, the higher your hierarchical rung, the more universal you become, the more comprehensive — you take in more. The lower you are in the evolutionary development, the less you understand the universality of things, and the more you want to gather in to yourself: constriction. The I comes uppermost. There is no autocrat, there is no despot, there is no worshiper of force, so fanatic as precisely he whose ideas are the least universal, the least spiritual; for spirituality means universality. The biggest boss in nature is precisely he who is not big enough to take others into his life. Do you catch it? Bossism means the imbodiment of selfishness: "I" and "my way."
The government of the T. S. is this: Every National Section is autonomous under the provisions of the Constitution of the T. S. This means it runs its own affairs as it will, well or badly. The Leader never interferes with the internal affairs of a National Section. Should he be asked for help, for advice, for counsel, he gives it instantly; but always with the reminder: Remember, Companions, you will never learn what responsibility is, you will never learn how to stand on your own feet, and do your own job like men, until you are willing to do it. I have refused a thousand times, I should think, to give advice which would have had the effect of making people look upon the Leader as a kind of Delphic Oracle, to whom they could come expecting him to bear the burden of all their own internal difficulties, solve all their problems, and do their thinking. I said: No! This guaranteeing under the Constitution of the individual freedom of the various units of the T. S. is my side of the problem and my duty and my happiness.
Another side of the picture is that throwing these dear people back upon themselves, they become men. They begin to think, begin to work. They thus feel their own responsibilities. And do you know, that is some of the finest training you can give to a good man, to put responsibility on his shoulders. Tell him to go do it. Then he does something, then he becomes an achiever instead of a dreamer or a leaner.
Similarly, within a National Section every Lodge is autonomous under the provisos of the Constitution of the T. S., and the By-laws of the Section. In other words, every Lodge in the T. S., in subordination to the Constitution and its national by-laws, can do exactly as it pleases, run its own affairs without interference from anyone. If the members of a Lodge make a hash of it, so much the worse. Then they are in hot water! But they learn from it.
Now, where is your system of bossism in all this? It is just the opposite. This system is based upon the inherent elements so dear to the human heart; the inherent, the fundamental, elements of human psychology and spirituality. Our fundamental law is a freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of action, and courtesy towards others, and brotherly love. The Leader's job is not only to keep the peace, but to see that these laws of freedom are held inviolate. These are glorious and beautiful ideas and ideals, the tradition of the heart of mankind. Freedom is fearless, slavery is always an abject hatred; and there is no slavery like that of selfishness, inability to see that the other man has just as many inherent rights in freedom and in duty as you have, no more, no less. He is a human being, your brother. He has the same right to think and feel in liberty of conscience; and as long as he conducts himself as a man and a gentleman should, in the T. S., there is no power that will gainsay him.
This hierarchical plan is based on nature. Look at the Solar System. The sun infills his kingdom with light and with life, and all within that kingdom are held subordinate to these common principles. But every planet follows its own path, spins on its own axis, produces its own inhabitants, has its own individuality, breeds its own productions: one common life, one common ideal, all in indissoluble unity, yet freedom under the law or constitution. That is the T. S. Authority is delegated from the Leader to the National Presidents, from them to the Lodge Presidents and officials, to see that these simple principles of our Constitution be carried out.
Any member of the T. S. of course has a full right of appeal to his Lodge President or to his National Secretary or President, or even direct to the Leader, if he think he does not get adequate justice; but actually, while this right exists, it is more or less academic. In the ordinary course, so dearly are these principles cherished, that the right of appeal is exercised, if ever, with extremest rarity; for all our members realize that the most straightforward and honorable way, if an injustice should ever occur, is to lodge an appeal with the immediate official superior, who thereupon transmits the appeal, if he himself cannot determine it, a step farther along, etc.
Hierarchical? Yes, because we live in an indissoluble unity of ideas, and ideals, and in one common life, in one common inspiration, in one common love and one common code of brotherly law. Not written, this code, but engraved in our hearts by our Theosophical traditions and teachers. And one fundamental law written, but likewise living in our hearts: the Constitution of the T. S. Show me any bossism in this system, the big boss at the top, delegating to smaller bosses and then to smaller ones still, the authority to rule more or less arbitrarily — for that is what real bossism is; and any man who says to any other man, "You should believe as I do," is a tyrant, and in his heart has no conception of the blessings of liberty, freedom. There is not an atom of such bossism in the T. S., not an atom; and the Presidents of our National Sections and the Lodge Presidents are coming more and more to understand all this, for they have always loved it. The more they can give of brotherly love and understanding and helpfulness to other Theosophists, the closer they will come to the spiritual life to which we incline our hearts in reverence.