Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Theosophy and Politics
Practising Charity and Forgiveness
A New Year Message
Learn to Think in Centuries
A Principle of Success in Public Work
Ways of Disseminating Theosophy
Our Work in the Present and the Future
This letter amounts to a statement of policy in connexion with the relationship of the Theosophical Society to political activity, a policy which has been sacredly followed and unchanged both in generals and in particulars since the time of H. P. Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott. Readers may be interested in a somewhat similar statement of Policy made by H. P. B. and Colonel Olcott in June, 1883, which may be found originally printed in "The Theosophist."
Let me say, first, that you need have no fear of any kind whatsoever, that as long as I live the T. S. will wander one inch from the traditional Theosophical and extremely wise policy first inaugurated by H. P. B. and so faithfully followed after her death by dear Judge, dear K. T., and to be followed faithfully by myself, to wit, that the T. S., inside and outside, right and left, and up and down, and in every imaginable manner, is utterly divorced from politics, whether fundamental, or those perfervid fevers which arise in any country during election times. In other words, as so often stated, the T. S. is absolutely non-political as well as being non-sectarian in these matters. This has been something which I have always been very strong upon, and consequently this answers your questions as to "the direction in which the T. S. seems to be traveling." It is traveling in exactly the same direction in which it has always been traveling, to wit, to steer absolutely clear of any possible involvement of any kind great or small, in political questions of any kind great or small, for its sphere as an organization is not politics in any sense whatsoever; and consequently it is my duty to keep it absolutely non-political, and outside the sphere of politics.
Imagine for a moment, my dear Friend and Fellow-Worker in our Theosophical Cause, what would happen if I "took sides" in any political matter whatsoever! Can't you imagine it yourself? Can't you see it would be an utter abandoning of the traditional policy of the T. S., and merely copying what so many of the exoteric religious organizations are doing, either organizationally or through certain "inspired" representatives thereof?
Suppose, for instance, I were to take the attitude, and so declare it, that the T. S. is on the side of So-and-so, i. e., X: Can't you see what a tremendous hubbub in the T. S. this would raise, and very justly raise, on the side of those who absolutely disagreed with X? Suppose I took the contrary point of view and taught that the T. S. should interest itself in the politics or imaginings, of Y. Exactly the same situation would arise, involving not only an abandoning of our traditional policy of keeping free of politics in any shape or form, but would immediately be immensely unjust to those who in their personal wisdom imagine that X is the one whom the T. S. should back.
Suppose, again, that I were to abandon our traditional policy as an organization of absolutely ignoring politics and become involved in politics: would this be pleasant, agreeable, friendly, just, or right, to the hundreds and hundreds of our workers in other countries whose politics are quite different from ours, whose social life may be quite different from ours, in our own dear country here? The T. S. in such case or in either case would become merely a local or national entity, sinking or going down into the arena of political squabbles and heaven save us from any such folly as this!
I thought every F. T. S. knew and realized that the T. S. has been, and now is, and I pray forever will be, so divorced from politics that as an organization we remain apart and utterly calm, thus allowing our members as individuals to have what political opinions, or no political opinions at all, that they please, and thus giving equal-handed justice to all our F. T. S.
Our members in the matter of politics think what they please and act what they please, and it is no business of mine nor of yours nor of any other earnest and devoted F. T. S. to try to govern or direct or control the political convictions or opinions of any other F. T. S. What right have I to say to So-and-so that "you should vote for So-and-so" or "you should not vote for So-and-so"? Why, this would be an intolerable interference with that person's free will, and the T. S. would become a hissing and a by-word to all honest and honorable F. T. S. who love it and who want it kept far above the stormy arena of political squabbles, which, by the way, change not only from century to century, but actually from year to year, and almost from month to month.
No, my dear — , the T. S. is traveling in the same direction in these respects that it has always traveled from dear H. P. B.'s days, for our Work as an Organization, while allowing to every F. T. S. without a word of comment his own political convictions and freedom of thought and choice, which means free-will in thought and action, nevertheless avoids politics of any kind; but we concentrate our work upon the glorious and unspeakably beautiful labor of trying to change the thoughts of mankind to ever nobler and higher things, along the lines of universal altruism, universal brotherhood, peace on earth and good will to men. In other words, our Work is upon the spiritual, intellectual, and moral nature of man, I mean our work as an organization, teaching men to live better, to live an ever higher life, to be generous to others, to introduce thoughts of law and peace and honor and duty, so that wherever our F. T. S. may live, to whatever country they owe allegiance, they shall be respecters and dutiful followers of established authority, and may learn more fully to obey the laws of their country as good citizens and as honorable men and women.
I cannot nor will I tell our members that they must have this or that or some other variety or brand or color of political opinions. This would be an intolerable interference with their liberty of thought and action, and an attempt to influence their free-will, and therefore the utter abandoning of the traditional policy of the T. S., and a changing of the direction which it has always followed. The Theosophical Society as an organization can live at peace in any country, under any government, because it teaches the duty of its members as moral beings to obey the laws of the country in which they live, whether as natives or as visitors, and surely no sane government could object to this!
The world in the past has suffered too keenly, and too much human blood has been shed by former Western religious organizations taking part in politics and using religious influence for political ends; and the T. S. must never do this, and I pray the gods it never will.
I never concern myself with the political feelings or opinions or convictions of our members, whether in the mass or as individuals, for this is not my business nor your business nor the business of any other F. T. S., but is the business of the individual. Do you think I would criticize you, or could be guilty of such a moral crime, because you hold certain convictions of a political character? Certainly not, nor would I criticize any other F. T. S. for holding political convictions which might be the same as yours, or diametrically opposite. That is not our business, nor the business of the T. S., for you are a free agent, and you have the right to the undisturbed exercise of your free-will, and to do your duty as you find it best and noblest, and I would be the first to say that your rights in this matter must be protected. Surely you see this!
So therefore, please do not worry about something which really does not exist, but, I am afraid, is a mere figment of your imagination, thus giving you totally unnecessary anxiety. So strongly am I for what I have written above in this letter, that I have told our people again and again that no matter what their convictions may be of a religious or political character, a Theosophical platform is no place to voice them on, though they may hold what convictions they please of any kind; but they have no right to try to force their opinions from a public Theosophical platform into the ears or down the throats of their auditors; and on the whole I think our F. T. S. have tried faithfully to follow this.
I too sometimes hear things, even from our own platform, which I think have been unwisely expressed, but I try to make allowances in charity of heart, realizing that sometimes people are a little negligent or careless in speech, but really do not mean half that the words on such occasions might seem to imply, for I know that all our F. T. S. at heart love the traditional non-political character of the T. S. and would give the last drop of their blood to retain it. But I think I certainly would move to express my emphatic disapproval, were I ever to learn or to hear that any F. T. S. from a Theosophical platform had been giving out his own opinions of a political character, as the political opinions of the T. S., which would be an absurdity because the T. S. is a mere organization, no living person, and consequently not being a living person, cannot have any "political opinions of its own."
I think I have now expressed the situation just in the manner that H. P. B. would have done, or Judge, or K. T., and I know perfectly well that I am following the traditional policy, and I ask your kindly consideration and help, in helping me to do what you can in your own way to retain this traditional policy. It would be infamous if anybody tried to make you unhappy, acting as a representative of the T. S., by trying to change your convictions of any kind. It would be monstrous and utterly wrong; and I know that you would be the first to feel the same way if you heard that X had tried to control another F. T. S. named Y in the same manner.
Well, all these things seem very plain to me and are just the ABC of the policy we have always followed; so I don't think you have the slightest grounds for worry that the T. S. as an organization is going to forget its traditional policy or change its traditional "direction of traveling." Our work is with the hearts and minds of men, to try to make them better in every way, larger-minded, more charitable towards others, and more forgiving of others when others' opinions differ from our own. We must retain the individual freedom of will and of conscience and of speech which the Constitution of our great country, speaking now of the United States alone, guarantees to every one of its citizens. Holding this so sacredly as I do, I should consider myself guilty of a crime were I to try to control or even to influence the political convictions or free-will expression of feeling of anybody, so long as that person speaks as a mere individual and does not try to pass his opinions off as being the "teaching of the Theosophical Society."
We must remember that no nucleus of a genuine Theosophical Brotherhood will be fit to endure and to perform its proper work in the world unless it is based on those spiritual qualities which the Masters have pointed out to us as the sine qua non of a successful Theosophical organization; and first among these qualities, and in the front rank, the present writer would place the two grand virtues of universal Charity and perfect Fidelity: Charity not only to those of our own Family — our own T. S. — but Charity to all and to everyone without exception: as much to those who differ from us and who may even go so far as to attempt to injure us, as we are charitable or try to be so to those with whom we feel most spiritual and intellectual sympathy, they of our own Household, of our own Family. Let our record in this respect be so clean, on so high and truly spiritual a plane, that the mere thought of losing it or abandoning it would cause us greater and more poignant grief than any other loss we could possibly incur. . . .
It is futile and entirely beside the mark to say, as some may perhaps say, that in pointing out the desperate wickedness of other Theosophists we are doing our Masters' work, in exposing wrong and fraud to the world. In no case would we be manifesting the true spirit of Charity and Fidelity to our Masters' admonitions were we to call a Brother-Theosophist by names suggesting ignominy, such as "traitor," "impostor," "insincere," etc., etc. Outside of anything else, all this is very bad psychology, if not worse; and it certainly is not the way by which to reform any abuses that may have crept into the Theosophical Movement. Arrogance in criticizing others shows clearly self-righteousness in the notion that the critic's views are the only "holy ones," and that all who differ from him are on the "wrong path," or on the "downward path."
Let us pursue the contrary course to all this, my Brothers. Utterly true as we strive to be to our Masters' teachings, and to H. P. B.'s noble life, let us exemplify this Fidelity with which we follow them by practising Charity and Forgiveness. This is the quickest and best way by which to bring 'wandering sheep' back to the fold; for by throwing mud at them or stones, or missiles of any kind, we but drive them still farther away from us, and alienate them still more; and we certainly thereby do not exemplify in our lives the noble precepts which we profess.
The reference above is to mud-throwing, and the ascribing to Brother-Theosophists of unworthy and possibly evil motives. This is not only wrong, but is utterly contrary to the spirit of Charity. Obviously, however, it does not refer to the perfectly proper and indeed often beneficial results that follow from a candid, frank, generous, but always courteous, discussion, or even criticism, of religious, philosophic, or scientific opinions or writings proffered by others. It is one thing to condemn the sin; another thing to condemn the sinner. The evils of orthodoxy can be avoided in our beloved Movement by faithfully retaining the platform of free and open discussion which H. P. B. founded, and which she and all her true followers have cherished; and this likewise brings about the birth of keen intellectual and even spiritual interest in our teachings. Such open and frank discussion of doctrines and tenets therefore is not only permissible, but even to be encouraged; but even the simple-minded should be able to see that a criticism of doctrines or tenets is quite different from the throwing of mud at those whose views we dislike or the ascribing to them of motives either unworthy or evil or both. . .
A Theosophist may know The Secret Doctrine of H. P. B. from cover-page to cover-page; he may be able to rattle off at will incidents innumerable in the history of her life; he may be able to cite volume and page and word of the thoughts of our great H. P. B.; but if he have not her spirit of Charity living in his heart and enlightening his mind, he does not understand the Fidelity which was so eminently hers, and therefore himself is not faithful either to the Message which she brought, or to the Masters whom she pointed to as our noblest exemplars in life.
Let us then remain for ever faithful followers of the complete Fidelity and of the immense Charity which made H. P. B. not only the Messenger she truly was, but the chela she became because of them. On these White Lotus Day occasions, in commemoration of her great life, and of her even greater Work, let us one and all strive to become more alike unto her, and as best we can unto those Glorious Examples of the Master-Men whom she served so faithfully. Let these anniversaries, which we call White Lotus Day, be unto us times when we enter into the arcanum of our own souls, and, communing together, seek to expel from within us all unworthy things which should have no place in the Temple. Let us on each such anniversary-occasion strive to reform our lives each time a little more, taking a step forwards on each such occasion, and through the ensuing year hold fast to the progress thus achieved — at least in our hearts.
Only a fool is he who thinks that everything that he has done in the year just past has been done well, and could not have been done better; the wise man realizes that he is human, and that however lofty his ideals may be, and however great may be his desire to do better, he nevertheless at no time — or at least very rarely — does all the 'best' that he has the capacity to do. I for one belong to those who feel that we can never do enough in our Sublime Cause and that even our 'best' falls far short of what lies within our abilities and capacities to do. I suppose that the greatest mark of human folly is the feeling of self-satisfaction in our own impeccable virtues, a feeling which we but increase by foolishly comparing our own virtues with the real or imaginary manifold defects and imperfections and sins and failings of others around us, who belong more or less to the same line of spiritual effort to which we have consecrated our lives. No true Theosophist, no Theosophist worthy of that sublime title, can ever find real satisfaction in condemnation of others, or in pointing out how much better others might have done if they had but followed 'our' ways, or 'our' particularities of belief, or 'our' methods of performing duty.
Let us conscientiously examine ourselves rather than search for the failings in the characters of others, and thus doing we shall fit ourselves to be better servants of the Great Ones whose chelas we aspire to be. The haughty isolation of the egoist in his self-pride and biased judgment is probably one of the most pathetic spectacles that human folly offers for our study. It is the worst possible psychology to lie under the delusion that we can convince others that our ways are the better ones, if we choose the method of criticizing them or of throwing mud at them; for this foolishness simply alienates them from us instantly, and in addition arouses in their hearts a feeling probably of injustice, and in any case of antagonism and dislike. Sympathy, kindliness, frank confession of our own failings where such confession will lead to a better mutual understanding; purity of motive and of life, and the self-dedication of the heart without thought of reward to our blessed Cause — all without criticism of others: this I do believe is the Way which we should follow. Nor should these words be misunderstood or misapprehended to signify that I imply in any slightest degree a lack of love for, or trust in, or conviction of the righteousness and justice of, our own traditional methods and ways derived in unbroken line from H. P. B. Quite to the contrary. It is the man who really and sincerely strives to do justice unto all, and to do it in a kindly and sympathetic way, who is really successful in his purposes; and this is true because he is strong in his sense of right. He is not torn by hatred, nor is his mind distorted by crooked motives, and therefore he feels confident in his own strength and in the justice of his cause.
The fine and high qualities which he thus manifests arise out of the knowledge in his heart that egoism and selfishness, bitterness and hatred, injustice to others and lack of a sympathetic understanding of their difficulties, abide not within him.
So then, let us look forwards into the coming days of 1936 with both courage and prudence, re-affirming once again our inflexible determination to follow faithfully, and with the fulness of our strength, the pathway which our Masters have pointed out to us; with malice towards none, with sympathy and compassion for all and with love towards as many everywhere, irrespective of belief or prejudice, as it is within our power to bestow it plenteously and continuously.
1936 likewise will have its problems and its sorrows, as well as its joys and its successes; and let us therefore move forwards into the New Year with a heart manly set to overcome our problems and to carry our successes with modesty; and with an eye always on the fact that all who are with us in the Theosophical Movement, whether belonging to our own T. S. or not, and who are working sincerely along the same line of Theosophical effort that we aspire to follow, will best help us when we strive to help them — for all this never abandoning a single iota of our own convictions nor a single one of our principles, but extending the hand of brotherly fellowship to each and every one who will accept it in the spirit of kindly fraternity in which it is extended.
Time in its magical power of solving all difficulties, of righting wrongs and of establishing truth, will test and will prove and will confirm which — among the various Theosophical bodies which now exist — is the best and most faithful exponent of the Ancient Wisdom of the Gods and of its sublime ethic. We need not worry about results; our sole duty will be for ever to do our best; and in this spirit, with perfect assurance we may leave all results or consequences to the unerring Karmic Law.
Genuine criticisms are good for us, for an honest criticism is never to be neglected nor should it ever be scorned. The man or woman, Theosophist or otherwise, who thinks himself or herself so perfect in thought and conduct and so well-placed in situation as to be beyond the range of honest criticism is to me like the haughty fool of whom H. P. B. writes in The Voice of the Silence: "Self-gratulation, O Disciple, is like unto a lofty tower, up which a haughty fool has climbed. Thereon he sits in prideful solitude and unperceived by any but himself."
Let us be grateful for honest criticisms, my beloved Comrades everywhere, even though they may be often unjust, as indeed they have been at times in the past. Honest criticism should never arouse anger in any honest heart; and even if the criticisms be not wholly honest but be motivated in part by fear, nevertheless even in such case we can learn something of value to take to ourselves. But even though a criticism be honest, of course this by no means implies that the criticism is wisely made or founded on truth. We may be able to learn from the criticism, and yet at the same time recognise that it arises out of ignorance, and therefore must we be charitable and kindly.
I look to the future, and as dear H. P. B. used to say, a phrase often humorously quoted by K. T.: "I sit by the sea and watch the future through the weather." We must learn to think in centuries, not merely in lustra of five years each; for in this way we obtain a mundial or world-picture, and build intelligently for the future, instead of having our attention absorbed by merely the present or immediately coming events. Don't allow all your thought to be swallowed up in the events and problems of the immediate present. I think it is imperatively necessary to learn to think in centuries. It is likewise extremely comforting and absolutely kills all such things as discouragement, downheartedness, pessimism, etc., etc. Indeed we have much, very much, to be thankful for, and I bless the Masters and the gods for that immensely strong yet always outwardly invisible help which daily I can feel or sense or intuit, and which will be ours as long as we prove worthy, and therefore receptive vessels of its benign influence.
We Theosophists must remember, and remember all the time, that the platforms of our Lodges should not be made the fields for the apotheosizing of personalities, whoever these personalities may be; but that they should be devoted to the propaganda of our sublime Theosophical truths, doctrines, and teachings. The audiences which attend any public Theosophical gathering have a right to hear about Theosophy, because that is what they come for, and it would be very unfortunate if the platforms of our Lodges of the Theosophical Society should get the reputation of being devoted to the always one-sided and often ridiculous worship of Theosophical personalities. Such a thing in itself really is repugnant; but unfortunately some Theosophists do not understand this, and it is our duty, however unpleasant it may temporarily be, to bear with their failings, yet kindly but very firmly to deal with such situations should they ever arise.
I should deeply grieve if any representative F. T. S. were so far to forget himself or herself when visiting a Lodge-room of any other Theosophical Society, as to embark upon, when speaking there, a tiresome and totally unnecessary eulogium of myself. But indeed I cannot conceive that anyone of our F. T. S. could ever be guilty of such a discourtesy.
A declaration of love and trust in one's Teacher should always be made if the occasion arises, and this declaration should always be courageous, positive, and clear-cut; but there are proper times and places for doing this, and then such declarations are not uttered in violation of right and kindly courtesy towards others.
When a man is in difficulties, the thing he must do is to act, to move. Attack is the secret of victory, whether it is a commercial matter, or propagating a philosophy, or answering questions, or whatever else it may be. In anything a man does he has chances of success if he moves, goes out, acts.
The great principle of success in anything is to go after your objective, to take the kingdom of heaven with strength, and then the gods are with you. It is really a wonderful psychological secret; and it is better to move and to act, even if you make mistakes, than it is to sit still. You will discover your mistakes as you go along, if you have ordinary prudence, and can modify and change from step to step. Keep pushing forward, instead of remaining always quiet and allowing things to rest — which last all too often degenerates into dormancy.
I believe that generally our speakers on the public platform might adopt this principle more than they do, just in a little thing like answering questions from the audience. If they would drop the defensive attitude which some have, and cease imagining that the man on the floor is trying to trip them or to trick them, and would simply attack the question, go right at it, answer it positively, in other words guide the thought, then all Theosophical meetings, interesting as they are, would be much more interesting. This is the way by which to make a meeting really lively and really interesting; and if you combine it with constant courtesy and a little humor, you become almost irresistible.
I know there are many ways of disseminating Theosophy, of casting forth the holy seed into the minds and hearts of men. To me all ways are good if they are successful, but in each we must be able to find the God-Wisdom which we are here to teach. If we do not teach it we are negligent of our holiest trust. Greater than showing people how broadminded Theosophists are, greater far than this, although that is most excellent and good in its way, greater still is to give men hope, to instil comfort into weary hearts, courage into their lives, and to give them vision. 'Without a vision the people perish,' and if it is not a good vision, so great is the hunger of human hearts for reality, alas, all too often it is replaced by an evil vision. Evil takes the place of good. And yet so wonderful is the web of nature, and so mighty the power of the spirit, that even in an evil web we will find woven through the mesh like golden threads the light of the spirit.
No, while all ways of disseminating seeds of truth are excellent, provided the seeds be disseminated or sown, I myself can find no grander way than that of following the traditional Theosophical habits of thought and of teaching and of living which are, first: the setting the example in your own Self of the truth that is living and burning within you; next, calling our brothers ignorant of Theosophy to the spiritual and intellectual banquet. Those who are searching for light and know not whither to turn, call them to the Master's table! And the food is set forth in our standard Theosophical books, and in all the great literatures of all the ages.
I think our best way of teaching our own God-Wisdom — I say 'ours'; it is ours only because we are blessed in having received it, it is not ours in any other sense, it is humanity's priceless heritage the best way is to show its existence in all the ages in the great books that have come down to us, in our standard Theosophical books, and by teaching it technically; for there is no other way of teaching it properly.
In these exceedingly difficult times for all men, one's heart of necessity often aches for the common sorrow and grief, and for the heavy burthen that so many are now carrying; so there is a certain gravity or sobriety of spirit that must of necessity weigh upon us Theosophists also. Yet it is one of our first, indeed one of our elementary Theosophical tenets that it is precisely in times of difficulty and stress that men's hearts open perhaps more than ever before to the reception of spiritual ideas; and it is by means of our Theosophical gatherings, whether great or small, that we can bring a large measure of hope and comfort to weary and stricken souls. You will feel yourselves as members of a great body-corporate of other men and women the world over, who are all united, spiritually and intellectually as well as by the impulses of the heart, in our blessed Theosophic propaganda-work, in order that the Masters' teachings may reach an ever-widening circle of hungry hearts and eager minds, seeking for comfort and the sense that the great realities of life govern men and are behind all things, in spite of the turbulence and storm of human existence.
Let us never forget that mighty and strong minds are behind the spiritual government of our world, indeed of our globe; and that sooner or later karman adjusts all things to its majestic purposes, and in the spirit of universal brotherhood, peace on earth, and good will to all men.
I repeat, that in my judgment it is precisely in times of difficulty and stress, as has indeed been said by the Masters is the case of kali-yuga, that spiritual progress is more easy to achieve than in other and more quiet times; and a spiritual effort such as that in which the Theosophical Society is engaged is far more likely to be received by human minds and hearts now than in other days when the steady comforts of life and the sense of regular security, fine as these are, often blind men's minds to the reception of higher things.
Continue, then, your noble Theosophical Work with unfailing courage, and with the assurance that not only G. de P., but thousands of members all over the world, are with you in spirit; for amongst us Theosophists, national or even local, Theosophical efforts have back of them the tremendous force of united minds, strong intellects, and devoted hearts.