A FEW WORDS ON THE THEOSOPHICAL ORGANIZATION
BY MOHINI MOHUN CHATTERJI AND ARTHUR GEBHARD
[Published for the first time by C. Jinarâjadâsa in a booklet-form reprint of “The Original Programme” and the “Preliminary Memorandum of the Esoteric Section,” pp. 51-59 (Adyar: Theos. Publ. House, 1931). Reprinted by permission of the Publishers.]
As an act of Theosophical duty the following observations on some features of the present organization of the Theosophical Society are submitted to those interested in the progress of true Theosophy. In the “Rules of the Theosophical Society together with an explanation of its objects and principles” for 1885 (the last published) it appears that “The whole Society is under the special care of one General Council, and of the President, its Founder. The members of the General Council shall annually be elected by the Convention and their duties shall consist in advising the President-Founder in regard to all matters referred to them by him.” On pp. 2 et seq. is to be found the list of additional members of the Council, which with some variations has continued for years. This list gives the names of those about whom alone there can be any elective rights exercised by the Convention, the rest being members ex officio. If the election is at all like what is known in the world outside the Theosophical Society the gentlemen appearing in the list ought at all events to be known to the Convention for some acts in pursuance of the “special care” of the Society vested in them by the Rules. But notoriously that is not the case. Practically they are all appointed by the President-Founder. The power of the General Council extends to “advising the President-Founder in regard to all matters referred
to them by him.” But in the meantime the President-Founder is empowered to issue special orders and provisional rules “in the name and behalf of the General Council” (Rule iv, p. 20). Thus the President-Founder is empowered to pledge the name and credit of the General Council, which enjoys the right “of advising the President-Founder” in the terms of the Rule quoted above. It only remains to add that five, and in emergent cases three, members constitute a quorum of the General Council meetings and that there are over a hundred and fifty members on the Council.
There is no such institution in existence as the Parent Society which by the Rules is competent to issue and nullify charters without which “no Branch can be formed or continued.” If however the Parent Society has any existence its constitution is as mysterious as that of the Venetian Council of Three. The centre of power in the Society is thus vested in [a] President who is further armed with the authority of this mysterious body.*
The Convention mentioned before and described in Rule ix (p. 20) is in no sense a representative or legal body, being nothing more than the gathering of those among the members who pay a visit to Adyar during the Christmas holidays. These gatherings have a value of their own in contributing to mutual instruction of members. But this value is certainly not increased by grossly misconceiving its character. There is no possibility of any gathering of members of the Theosophical Society binding the whole Society by its resolutions. For a member does not give any undertaking beyond what is implied in his application.† From the standpoint of Universal Brotherhood, however, such action would never be contemplated by any meeting calling itself Theosophical. In illustration it may be mentioned that the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society has completely ignored the rules published by the Head-Quarters at Adyar.
Thus it is plain that the Theosophical Society has laws without sanction, a legislative body without legality, a Parent Society without existence and a President-Founder above all rules. How far this is consistent with Theosophy and Brotherhood requires serious consideration. It is also noteworthy that the system of centralization of
* Without a word of explanation the Parent Society has disappeared from the “Rules” dated 1886.
† The form of application given in the “Rules” (1885) requires only acquaintance with the rules, while that dated 1886 declares willingness to conform thereto. But neither would validate Rules passed ultra vires as by the Convention. The change in the latest Rules is perhaps intended to remedy this illegal proceeding on the part of the Convention.
power discussed above is in contravention of rule II (p. 19) which expects members “to govern themselves in their mutual relations according to that principle” (i.e., of Universal Brotherhood).* The matter is placed in a more striking light by the declaration in rule XIV (p. 24) † that the Society has “to deal only with scientific and philosophical subjects.” Hence it is quite evident that the power and position claimed in the “Rules” for the President-Founder, the General Council, and the Convention are opposed to the spirit of the declared objects of the Society. There is no raison d’être for any controlling authority. The different Theosophic groups can but (a) preach and practise Universal Brotherhood, (b) study ancient religion and philosophy, or (c) investigate psychical phenomena. Now, with regard to these matters Theosophy teaches self-culture and not control. The Society rests upon the declaration of sympathy with its objects, which every member makes before admission. As a Brotherhood it must aspire to bring about the state in which the sense of duty is the only incentive to action. Those amongst us who realize it most can and will but recommend greater simplicity of organization and not the reverse.
The Parent Society ‡ being what is described above, no charter to Branches can be issued. Nor is it necessary to do so. The same holds good of diplomas to members on admission without any test of merit.
The admission fee paid by members to the office at Adyar is of the nature of taxation and therefore inconsistent with the principle of Brotherhood. Nor does it appear that the Theosophical Society ought to be in need of money. The expenses for the maintenance of a central office at Adyar for keeping records and concentrating information cannot be more than would be met by voluntary contributions. Those for the annual gathering would always be paid by such members as perceive its benefit. A forced gift is unbrotherly; and moreover if the Society and its work are so little appreciated that a closer acquaintance with them will dissuade members from helping them with money to the amount now paid, then it can only be that those who join the Society do so only through misconceptions, and in that case it is better that the Society should cease to exist than that it should be the recipient of gifts which might produce subsequent regret in the donors. For the Theosophical Society to insist upon the fee of £ I before accepting as a brother one who asks for that recognition is the sale of Brotherhood. It is
* This rule is not specifically mentioned in the “Rules” (1886) but is clearly implied.
† Rule 25, p. 19 (1886).
‡ The argument is not affected by the substitution of the Parent Society by a Council of Seven.
worse than useless to keep up a Society, call it Theosophical, and yet show no faith in Theosophy and the principle of Brotherhood.
The above was written under the misapprehension that the “Rules” bearing date 1885 were the latest. It has since been found that there is a later version of the rules dated 1886, which have modified the older rules on a great many points. But it is necessary to examine the earlier rules to ascertain the underlying principle which runs through the present ones as well. The chief point is that the Convention has no power to make any rules, as such a power is opposed to the spirit of Theosophy and also because the Convention itself is devoid of legal existence. Is there anything in the declared objects of the Society which allows of the existence of the Convention? Further, the Executive Council constituted or supposed to be so, by the Convention can have no power exceeding that of the Convention. But this it has by rule 14, clause (c), p. 17 of the “Rules” (1886), which limits the power of the Convention to the disposal of “all questions of importance laid before it by the President and Executive Council.” It has no power of effectually checking either. The whole question turns upon this—Is the Theosophical Society a Brotherhood or not? If the former, is it possible to have any centre of arbitrary power? To hold that there is a necessity for such a centre is only a roundabout way of saying that no Brotherhood is possible, but in point of fact that necessity itself is by no means proved. There have been no doubt Brotherhoods under single Masters, but in such cases the Masters were never elected for geographical or other considerations. The natural leader of men was always recognized by his embodying the spirit of Humanity. To institute comparisons would be little short of blasphemy. The greatest amongst men is always the readiest to serve and yet is unconscious of the Service.
Let us pause before finally tying the millstone of worldliness round the neck of Theosophy. Let us not forget that Theosophy does not grow in our midst by force and control, but by the sunshine of brotherliness and the dew of self-oblivion. If we do not believe in Brotherhood and Truth, let us put ashes on our head and weep in sackcloth and not rejoice in the purple of authority and in the festive garments of pride and worldliness. Better it is by far that the name of Theosophy should never be heard than that it should be used as the motto of a papal institution. The fact must be recognized that the highest authority in the Society is to be found exactly where there is the untheosophic demand for authority. By rule 12, p. 17 (1886) “no Bye-laws and Rules of Branches shall be valid unless ratified by the President in Council.” What is the meaning of this power? Is it to be understood that the Executive Council sitting at Adyar knows better than the local members what is needed by a distant Branch, never perhaps visited by a single member of the Council?
More words are useless. Enough has been said to show that the organization called Theosophical presents many features seriously obstructive to the progress of Theosophy, and that unless the danger is perceived in time we shall not know what answer to make when the day of reckoning comes.
It would be out of place to suggest any specific measures. For no one who has any faith in Brotherhood and in the power of Truth will fail to perceive what is necessary. While on the other hand if the foregoing words are but a cry in the wilderness, not evoking any definite perception of duty in members of the Theosophical Society, no Theosophic measures can be suggested for the reform of that which is not Theosophical. There is another reason which determines the present course. The tyranny of majorities over minorities is opposed to the principle of Brotherhood. Truth does not depend on show of hands.
It only remains to express fraternal wishes that every one of our brothers may feel the full sense of the responsibility which he has undertaken in the name of Truth and Brotherhood. It behooves us to bear in mind—Theosophy first and organization after.
MOHINI M. CHATTERJI, F. T. S.,
for self and
A. GEBHARD, F. T. S.
The absence of one of the signatories to the foregoing necessitates the ensuing note to rest on the responsibility of the undersigned alone. That the Convention has practically no authority is evident from the following considerations. By rule 21, clause (d), p. 19 (1886)* it is laid down that “an annual subscription of two shillings shall always be paid in advance by all the active Fellows of the Society”. It is well known that not only individuals but even Branches have refused to pay this subscription. The refusals have been acquiesced in, to all appearances, without any reference to the Convention. Comments are not necessary to show what bearing this has upon Theosophy and the Organization. Is it better to make demands which are abandoned on resistance being offered, or to leave such contributions to the Theosophical feelings of the members?
The question for consideration is not whether the Theosophical Society is doing good, but whether it is doing that kind of good which is entitled to the name of Theosophy. And also whether it is
* This rule was first adopted at the Convention of 1883-4. In the edition of 1885 it is Rule II (p. 22).
not doing spiritual wrong by calling a particular and limited line of good work Divine Wisdom thus excluding other similar work which is being done by other organizations upon which a slur is cast by the limitation put upon the term Theosophy by the Society.
MOHINI M. CHATTERJI,
Sep. 23, 1886. 77, Elgin Crescent,
ARTHUR HENRY PAISLEY GEBHARD-L’ESTRANGE
Courtesy of his widow, Mme. Marie-Josephe Gebhard-L’Estrange.
(See Vol. VI, pp. 435-36, for biographical data)