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The Theosophical Society is a world wide association dedicated to practical realisation of the oneness of all life and to independent spiritual search. Unsectarian and nonpolitical, it was founded in New York City in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky, Henry S. Olcott, William Q. Judge, and several others. As an expression of a spiritual and educational movement that has been active in all ages the TS has several objectives. Firstly, to demonstrate that the oneness of all life is a fact in nature, and to form a nucleus of men and women dedicated to the ideal of universal brotherhood. This, according to Blavatsky, is because:
“All men have spiritually and physically the same origin, which is the fundamental teaching of Theosophy. As mankind is essentially of one and the same essence, and that essence is one – infinite, uncreate, and eternal, whether we call it God or Nature – nothing, therefore can affect one nation or one man without other nations and all other men. This is as certain and as obvious as that a stone thrown into a pond will, sooner or later, set in motion every single drop of water therein.”
The Key to Theosophy, p.41
Another objective of the Society is to help promote better understanding among all people and recognition of the essential unity of life by encouraging the study of ancient and modern religions, sciences, and philosophies:
“it is only by studying the various great religions and philosophies of humanity, by comparing them dispassionately and with an unbiassed mind, that men can hope to arrive at the truth. It is especially by finding out and noting the various points of agreement that we may achieve this result. For no sooner do we arrive – either by study, or by being taught by someone who knows – at their inner meaning, than we find, almost in every case, that it expresses some great truth in Nature.“
The Key to Theosophy, p.59
Further objectives encourage investigating and sharing these natural truths – the spiritual, psychological, and material laws and powers found in the cosmos and in the human being. Each person, being a portion of the whole, contains, latent or expressed, all the qualities and attributes of the cosmos. Thus, to know oneself fully is to understand the universe and everything in it. The Society, however, cautions against deliberately seeking psychic powers, by-products of evolution which will in time arise naturally. Cultivating such powers distracts from the deeper goals of human growth and can lead to imbalances in development and consciousness.
The primary purpose of the Theosophical Society is to encourage altruism and compassion. Beyond supporting its objectives, those wishing to join need not accept any particular beliefs, and members may belong to any religion or to none. While members may pursue whatever activities they wish, the Society itself is open to all people regardless of race, nationality, class, creed or gender. Its endeavour is to aid humanity rather than promote or strengthen the self interests of its members.
In addressing this question Blavatsky held that the very root idea of the Society is free and fearless investigation. To be a Theosophist, she continued, one need not necessarily recognise the existence of any special God or a deity:
“One need but worship the spirit of living nature, and try to identify oneself with it… Be what he may, once 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.”
The Theosophist, Oct 1879, p.6
The primary requisite for Fellowship in The Theosophical Society is an acceptance of the principle of universal brotherhood. No dogma or creed is binding upon members, who may belong to any religious faith or none. It promotes independent thought and encourages members to rely on their own inner perceptions and strength while trying to make compassion a living force in their daily lives.
Reincarnation and karma are the most widely known ideas popularised in the West by Theosophists. Although considered Oriental, reincarnation was present in Platonic philosophy, Judaism, and early Christianity and was not excluded from the Church teachings until the 6th century. Together, reincarnation and karma explain the causes of each person’s character and circumstances, tracing them to thoughts, actions, and desires in this or a past life. For this reason people are responsible for their own lives, and no other being – divine or human – can take away or neutralise the results of any of our actions. We are each the product of our accumulated past and evolve spiritually through self-directed and self-devised efforts over a series of lives.
The basic Theosophical idea is the essential oneness of all beings. Because we are fundamentally one, altruism and compassion are expressions in human life of universal realities. Humanity is more closely joined inwardly than physically, and our thoughts and feelings have a potent impact on others. By trying to live in harmony with the divine as best we can, we not only benefit our immediate surroundings but also humanity as a whole. The ideal is to put the welfare of humanity and all that lives ahead of one’s own self-realisation.
“…the essence of Theosophy is the perfect harmonising of the divine with the human in man, the adjustment of his god-like qualities and aspirations, and their sway over terrestrial or animal passions in him. Kindness, absence of every ill feeling or selfishness, charity, good will to all beings, and perfect justice to others as to oneself, are its chief features. He who teaches Theosophy preaches the gospel of goodwill; and the converse of this is true also – he who preaches the gospel of goodwill, teaches Theosophy“
As beings rooted in divinity, we each have the ability to discover reality for ourselves. To progress we must learn to judge what is true and false, real and illusory; we do not grow by blindly following the dictates of authority, however high. G de Purucker (a previous Leader of the Society) compares the Theosophical student to a scientific researcher, and adds:
“we must consult our consciences before we accept anything…In order to do that, we have to think; we also know that even if in doing so we should, through our own blindness or incapacity, reject a truth offered to us, we shall nevertheless have done aright, because we have been faithful to ourselves and to our consciences, and that the karma of that rejection will be merely temporary, because the inner man understands, and the truth in time will dawn in faithful hearts.”
G de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, p.289
In following our own spiritual instincts and intuitions we awaken our latent potentials. For this reason, it is harmful to force others to adopt what any one of us believe to be the proper avenue of thought; each must follow his or her own unique path of unfoldment.