I’m reading one of the classics in theosophical literature, from the former leader of the Pasadena TS (which is what I’ll call it for convenience, it’s headquarters have moved about a lot in the past century): ‘Messages to Conventions: and other writings on the politics, work and purposes of the T.S.‘, G. de Purucker (See here for meanings of theosophical abbreviations).
In one of the lectures G. de Purucker says the following – which I’ve heard echoed through theosophical debates a lot as well:
(p. 19) the most ‘practical’ thing … is for us theosophists to concentrate on disseminating Theosophy as it was brought to us by H.P.B. from the Masters.
Well, that rubs me the wrong way on several levels. First of all – theosophy isn’t just the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky (HPB). Theosophy includes the study of the world religions as well. Second – is study really the only way to be practical about theosophy? This ties in with something else de Purucker says on the same page:
in concentrating our thoughts and our minds on the heart of our Theosophical teachings: in living them, in teaching them, in giving them to the world, so that we may change men’s minds and hearts. (italics in original)
I’m not sure I agree that the hearts and minds of people can be changed merely through teachings. I’m not saying the Blavatsky teachings aren’t important. In fact I do feel that one of the implicit duties of the TS is to keep a knowledge of her work alive and to keep her teachings accessible. It does that quite well by publishing books and having study classes. Other theosophical organizations have taken on the work of publishing her work online.
Sure – but do the hearts and minds of people really get affected by book-learning? Don’t practical initiatives not work better in that area? Certainly in most countries, where the divide between rich and poor is larger than in my own (The Netherlands), the poor are hardly going to be impressed by teachings about inner unity if it’s a struggle each day to find a decent place to sleep.
I could go on – I will stick quite simply to saying that there is a TOS for a reason. The Theosophical Order of Service does work all over the world for poor people – for instance to get them food on holidays, help in case of disasters like the Tsunami or Katrina and also organize schooling for unwed mothers and their children. All that without asking people for their opinion on religion and without forcing a theosophical point of view on them.
Each individual has to decide for themselves where the weight of their theosophical work needs to be. It takes all kinds. We need theosophical scholars, but the world also needs people who are willing to get dirty. For myself I have not yet decided where the center of my activity needs to be. I do know that Blavatsky herself gave Annie Besant of her limited monetary supplies in support of Besant’s social work in London. So G. de Purucker doesn’t seem all that Blavatsky based to me in his emphasis on ‘teachings’.
In general: I feel a healthy lifestyle includes volunteer work. Certainly for people who’s profession or personal life generally doesn’t have a reach out aspect. I’m going to protest at the Chinese Ambassy in The Hague later today (sunday the 16th of March) – in the rain. Protesting against things is generally not my thing, but what goes on in Tibet does have my heart. Also, with the Olympics coming up, this is a good time to remind the Chinese government of the importance of respecting human rights.
I guess it comes back to balance. Or in Buddhist terms: the middle path.