Canadian Theosophist, January 1934, Vol. 14, #11

If I Were President

The Election Manifesto of Ernest Wood

As I have consented to accept nomination as a candidate for the office of President of the Theosophical Society, the voters have a right to expect from me a Declaration of Policy. First, then, to be quite formal, if elected, I would preserve the Constitution of the Society in spirit and letter. Regarding the office of President as a purely executive position, I should try to preserve a just and even attitude to teachers and students holding different views of Theosophy. I should make it very publicly and clearly known that the Society (in common, it may be said, with all progressive scientific societies) commits itself to none of them, either temporarily or permanently, although it is profoundly, even fundamentally, committed to a policy of brotherhood. My idea on this point is that the Society is not a brotherhood of creeds or a chorus of orthodoxies, but, a brotherhood of seekers for ever more and more perfect expressions of love and truth. I would maintain also that the Society does not need the aid of other organizations to fulfill its purposes, and that any activities which it may deem necessary or useful to that end should be incorporated into its constitution and carried on under its control. The greatest object of my solicitude would be that golden step on the stairway of the temple of wisdom, an open mind. What to the individual is an opens mind, to the Society is the open platform, where the white dove of truth may halt and place her weary and generally unwelcome foot. A clean life, an open mind ands a pure heart will surely lead on to brotherliness for all and an unveiled spiritual perception. Even those who believe in the Masters must not try to make them into a belief; rather let us say with H.P.B. that "the pure element in the Society" is "love and devotion to the truth, whether abstract or concreted in the 'Masters'." (see. Mahatma Letters, page 484).

So much for policy. As to material matters, I should like to lay much emphasis an making The Theosophist a very modern magazine, likely to attract the attention of the best, minds; I should like to cultivate our membership among reading people in addition to those more disposed to attend meetings and lectures; I should like to have more frequent official Conventions or Congresses of the Society in different countries (somewhat on the model of the British Association for the Advancement of Science); and I should like to see Adyar a busy and happy community of workers and students, with a corner for the old and more than a corner for the young, and a welcome for visitors from far and near.

My opinions as to the Society's functions are, in fact, much the same as those

--- 322

expressed by Colonel Olcott with great lucidity in his last important lecture (see The Theosophist for August 1906). I will therefore quote from him: -

Col. Olcott's View

"The secret of the persistent vigour of the Society is that its platform is so drafted as to exclude all dogmas, all social contests, all causes of strife and dissension such as are begotten of questions of sex, colour, religion, and fortune, and make altruism, tolerance, peace and brotherliness the cornerstones upon which it rests . . . . .

"One objection which has been rather persistently urged... is that while we profess to make fraternity our chief ideal we do nothing to practically illustrate it . . . . These views are based upon a total misapprehension of the constitutional character of our Society. Its aim is to float ideas which are likely to benefit the whole world, to give clear ands just conceptions of the duty of man to man, of the way to secure peace and goodwill between nations, to show how the individual can secure happiness for himself and spread it around him by pursuing a certain line of conduct, and how ignorance, which has been declared by that great adept, the Buddha, to be the source of all human miseries, can be dispelled. One of its chief objects is to discover and expound the fundamental basis on which stands all religious systems and to make men divest themselves of every shadow of dogma so as to become tolerant and forbearing towards all men of other faiths than one's own. It was never even dreamt that we should amass capital as a Society to organize societies of any kind, whether socialistic, religious or commercial, and I have set my face from the first against every attempt to make it responsible for the private preferences and prejudices of its members, repudiating in toto every procedure, however seemingly innocent in itself, which could be construed into a breach of our constitutional neutrality. The members of the French Section will recollect that quite recently I had to officially reprobate the passage of a resolution expressing the Society's sympathy for the work of a Peace Society. Should we once begin this ill-advised departure from the neutral ground upon which we have grown and flourished, and express our collective sympathy with socialistic, temperance, vegetarian, anti-slavery, esoteric, masonic, political and charitable societies, we should soon fall into chaos; our resolutions of sympathy would soon become a drug in the market and all our present dignity would be sacrificed in gushes of uncontrolled sentimentality. It is hard for me to have to utter this word of warning, but I would rather a hundred times sacrifice the friendly opinion of my colleagues than keep silent while they, in their inexperience, are trying to drag our car to the crest of the slope at whose foot lies the chasm of ruin.

"I hope you all understand that while I am defending the rights of the Society as a body, I have not the remotest wish or thought of interfering in the least degree with the liberty of the individual. Quite the contrary. I sympathize with and encourage every tendency in my colleagues to ally themselves in movements tending towards the public good. I even go further in setting the example of working for the promotion of education among the Buddhists of Ceylon and the Pariahs of Southern India; I am also a Trustee and friend of the Central Hindu College managed by Mrs. Besant at Benares, without either she or I, in our work among the Hindus and the Buddhists respectively, attempting to throw the responsibility for it on the Society.

No Evidence of Character

"Another complaint made is that we are responsible for the whole litter of little occult societies ...Needless to tell any of you older members, the Society is not only not responsible for these little centres of selfishness and superstition but they are abhorrent to its ideal ..... The psychic faculty, like a sharp sword standing in the corner of a room, may be used for a good or an evil purpose. The possession of clair-

--- 323

voyance - whether retrospective or prophetic - clairaudience, the power to speak or write in unlearned languages, to move ponderable objects without touch, to read thought, to travel in the astral body, to precipitate pictures or writings upon paper or other material, to see and describe absent persons, etc., are no evidence whatever of purity or elevation of character or spiritual evolution. I have known persons rarely gifted in one or other of these respects who were immoral in habit and false in statement. Patanjali specially warns us to avoid at all costs the following of these perverting psychical powers into the side paths which lead the pilgrim away from the straight road that runs towards the top of the mountain of spiritual development. They are but the spawn floating on the surface of the water over which we must propel the bark of our higher self to arrive at the port of adeptship . . . .

"I wish to impress upon your minds, that no more dangerous obstacle lies in the Upward Path than credulity. The first great lesson taught by the Adept Master to his pupil is to use his reason and common sense in all things; no teaching is to be taken as inspired, no teacher to be infallible. "Act" wrote a Master to me in the beginning of my pupilage, "as though we had no existence. Do your duty as you see it and leave the results to take care of themselves. Expect nothing from us, yet be ready for anything." This was a life lasting lesson to me and I have acted upon it to best of my ability ever since. In the very early days I had the tendency of taking as almost unquestionable the teachings that I got through Madame Blavatsky: I was afraid not to follow blindly her instructions lest I might unwittingly be disobedient to the wishes of the Masters. But experience cured me of that and threw me back upon the exercise of my common sense, since which time I have had nothing to regret. I pass this lesson on to you beginners, in the hope that in the early stages of your career you may be willing to listen to the advice of an elder brother whose experience in psychical matters already dates back fifty-five years..."

Left The Other Undone

These are my views, but I feel that I must also explain my position with regard to other bodies whose protagonists desire to propagate and practice their systems of organized access to the Masters power and blessing wherever Theosophists foregather or establish themselves. This is a question to be considered practically as well as theoretically, so I shall open the subject with two typical experiences from among many within my direct knowledge: -

One is the case of a Lodge. At the time of which I am speaking it showed a deficit of #9 in its accounts, and there was much discussion about it - various proposals including a reduction of the already small expenditure on advertising lectures and the removal of the Lodge to a smaller room, comparatively obscure and inconvenient. Scarcely had the removal taken place when up came the question of starting a Co-Masonic Lodge. All the leading members were canvassed on the subject; it was whispered round that the Masters were keenly anxious to have the new movement promoted, and would give of their power and force to or through those who joined it. In a trice the members hustled to ransack their monetary resources, and very soon hundreds of pounds we're forthcoming.

It may be argued that this proves that the Theosophical Society was not really wanted by the members and that the CoMasonic Lodge was what they really cared for. Truly, it is difficult to find many people who care for mere truth and the power of truth for which the Theosophical Society stands. Even those who were struggling towards it, fell before the concreteness and the pomp of a ceremonial movement backed by the statement of an organized access to the Masters' power. The love and brotherhood of the members were beautiful and touching, but the Theosophical Society was no longer the highest thing. The more presentable new members after that were very soon drawn

--- 324

into the arcanum; and presently no one was really "one of us" unless within the more intimate brotherhood. No longer did we hear the words: "Seek us through the Theosophical Society" and "It is our law to approach every such an one (natural allies) even if there be but the feeblest glimmer of the true 'Tathagata' light within him," for organized access took the foremost place.

The Second Visitor

My second example is that of a Theosophical Federation. It had invited for its President an old and well-known member who had left the E.S. when Dr. Besant closed it in 1928 and had not rejoined when it was reopened; also, although he had occupied a high position in Co-Masonry he had left that too in order to devote himself more fully to the work of the Society. All preliminaries were settled, but the question soon arose: "Who will satisfy the Masonic and E.S. part of the programme, and bring to the occasion the blessing of the Masters?" So a second visitor must be invited for that. That being settled, it was next hinted to the original invitee that perhaps as he was an important person and very busy he would prefer not to come. He, replied that he would be disappointed not to meet his old friends, as arranged, so it was decided that both should come. But it was painfully clear who was to be the unnecessary President of the occasion, and who the Indispensable Visitor.

Approximately this has come within my notice three times lately. How many hundreds, even thousands, of decisions as to Presidents, Secretaries, etc., have been made on non-Theosophical-Society grounds, who can tell? And can it then be said that the decisions are made "without distinction of creed"? If not, in such cases they are no longer fundamentally Theosophical Society gatherings, and no mere words can mend the break. In such ways the Theosophical Society has in many places become a mere subsidiary of other organizations, and, its own natural leaders are nipped off in the very bud.

To Protect The Society

I have no fault to find with the weakness of human nature; it is a fact. And I have no fault to find with leaders, who try to prevent the effect I have cited, but cannot do so because followers are so often "more royalist than the king." But because of this effect upon the Society I am among those who - while admiring these movements in their proper and dignified places - want to find some way to protect the Society from their influence. I submit that we cannot settle this question without taking into consideration the frailty of human nature, with its consequent effect upon the Theosophical Society, and I would request the Societies concerned to devote their energies to the establishment of their own platform and their own gatherings, such as the Theosophical Society achieved after many years of hard work. From my side, I could, of course, allow these organizations no official place in the Society's activities, on its platform or in its programs, except that which is accorded to all religions as subjects of earnest and reverent study and investigation.

I suppose I must not leave out reference to Mr. Krishnamurti, especially as it is known than I greatly value his ideas. To his movement I would accord the same position as the others, although I recognize that he is more parallel to the Theosophical Society than they are, when he emphasizes the importance of an unresting search for truth, absolutely untrammeled by any creed, or when he attempts, as Colonel Olcott put it, "to make men divest themselves of every shadow of dogma." It would have been silly to form the Theosophical Society with its non-dogmatic constitution (see The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society, by H. P. B. ) had there not been the thought which Krishnamurti now emphasizes that to make any move towards spiritual realization men must rely fundamentally upon themselves, and allow the flower of their own life to unfold itself from within, with no alien

--- 325

hand trying to open the petals of the rose by external force. Organizations which bring in formularies of belief in dogmas, in persons and in systems, are repugnant to his method, and it is only because those have overgrown the Theosophical Society that he speaks disapprovingly of Theosophy in the same breath as the other organizations.

Society Has No Teachers

Admiring his clear-sightedness, Dr. Besant hailed him as the veritable incarnation of her conception of the Supreme Teacher of the Occult Hierarchy, which constituted a great recommendation to us to study him. Some, however, wish to exclude his movement from the Headquarters at Adyar, while admitting others "because they are Theosophical." However, the Society has no teachers. It should unquestionably extend to Krishnamurti the reverent attention given to other teachers of past and present, even though he disapproves of views and practices called "Theosophical" by some. The Society is bound by neither side, and cannot label some teachers, Theosophical and others not; so if it extends courtesies and conveniences to one it must do the same to the other. If any member of the Theosophical Society becomes a spiritual teacher, in that capacity he is simply a private individual, for our Society has none, just as the Chemical Society does not maintain a soap factory.

Our late President, Dr. Besant, recognized something of these dangers, and spoke about them in reference to the E.S. in an important lecture just before her election (see The Theosophist, October 1907, page 33). She said:

"In the T.S. we have a curious mixture. The Exoteric Society is purely democratic - it is only fair to admit this fully. On the other side we have an Esoteric body which is practically autocratic in its constitution. . . The existence of a secret body to rule the outer Society made the constitution of the T.S. a mere farce, for it was wholly at the mercy of the inner . . . .

All the differences that arose between the Colonel and myself were really on this point; he could not believe that I was serious in saying that I would not use the E.S. against him, but slowly he came to understand it.. . The greatest power will always be in the hands of the E.S., and not in the head of the Society... I know that I exercise a quite unwarrantable power. This is what makes some people say there should not be an E.S.T. But you cannot help its existence; you cannot say to members that they shall not join a secret Society, so there is no power in the society to say it shall not be; we must recognize the danger and try to neutralize it. At any time during the last fifteen years I could have checkmated the Colonel an any point if I had chosen, and I do not see how the Society can guard itself against that danger; it is impossible to neutralize the authority of one to whom thousands look up as to a spiritual teacher."

School For Discipline

My view of the E.S. is that it is a purely private organization for following a particular spiritual teacher (now Bishop Leadbeater), and I should take care to leave no room for misunderstanding on this point. I regard it as a school for discipline, not as a holy of holier for the Society (E.S. members, please read again Dr. Besant's circular on the reopening of the E.S. in 1929), and I do not regard those members of the Society who are outside it as having less access to the Masters than those who are within it. The Christians set up proprietary shrines rounds Christ; we need not repeat that error.

As regards the Liberal Catholic Church, Co-Masonry and similar organizations, it may be argued that my attitude implies non-belief in the statements made by prominent clairvoyants as to the Masters' interest in those movements. To this I would reply that the Masters have said that the Theosophical Society is only a fragment of their interest, and have also said that they du not usually try to prevent mistakes. If, however, they founded the Theosophical

--- 326

Society with a certain purpose, I cannot believe that after many decades in which they gave no hint of it, they suddenly wanted to permeate the Society with these other organizations, having other methods which do differ from that of the Theosophical Society in that they are all sects with creeds, and the Theosophical Society is a great attempt to establish a Society in which no creed shall influence any appointment of any officer or any activity of any branch.

At the same time it is only fair that I should let my own views be known; that I do not consider the psychic experiences of any person whatever (and I have had much experience while working for the Society in a variety of responsible ways for over thirty years) so constantly and completely reliable as to justify any approach towards an autocracy (even if established on "confidence") in the Theosophical Society -unless it openly gives up its old position, as, of course, it may choose to do.

Dr. Besant's letters

I have received a circular containing two private letters of Dr. Besant's, dated in 1926, now made public in order to show the electors that Dr. Besant and the Master want Bishop Arundale to be elected. If, however, Dr. Besant had wanted to make a nomination she could have done so, and no doubt the Master also could have made his will known; they having abstained, we have this unfortunate attempt to correct their deficiency by publishing old letters. The Society has now in force a new system of election of President which has ultimately resulted from a suggestion made by Dr. Besant. Wishing to avoid some of the faults of the old method, she wrote: "why should not two or more names be submitted, and an absolute majority of the votes cast be sufficient for election?" (The Theosophist, September 1907, page 882). This being so, the fact that she did not use her right to give a nomination seems to me to show that she desired the members to vote with absolutely free judgment, not influenced by her as a spiritual teacher.

Early in 1929, on my return to Adyar from travel, she appointed me Recording Secretary, and about that time gave me her views and what many would call "orders" with regard to the movements associating themselves with the Theosophical Society. She spoke of the danger of crystallization in the Society and the growing influence of other organizations; she reminded me of her decision not to appear again in the Liberal Catholic Church; she gave great praise to the enthusiasm which had brought various movements into prominence in connection with the Society; then she spoke of the difficulty, which she felt on account of their pressure on one side, and finally said: "I wish some of you would push equally hard on the other side. It would make it much easier for me." I must go further, and let it be known that she told me that she had scarcely used her own psychic powers for years, but had been relying upon others.

Set Aside Personal Appeals

I am still carrying out her wishes, as well as the principles which I believe to be right. I should, however, feel it much harder to stand against the powerful combination of Bishop Leadbeater (my greatest and most honoured friend and benefactor for many years) and his two distinguished pupils, were I not confident of my position with regard to the real Annie Besant and her Master. In any case, I could not admit any injunctive value in Dr. Besant's private letters of 1926. Nor could I expect her or the Master to respect me if I did. Further, they belong to a period of mistaken confidence. It is curious that they should now be used (after Dr. Besant kept the matter private to the end) to implement the prophecy which they themselves mention. As to personal affection (alas that such sacred matters should come into print), I also have in my box some letters, scattered over nearly thirty years, with "My dear son" and, "Affectionately, yours", and mentioning "great gifts" and great expectations, but let them remain there as unsuit-

--- 327

able for election propaganda, or indeed, for general consumption at any time.

But, fellow-members, I implore you to set aside all these personal appeals for pour vote. Gather up, my friends, your intuition and your knowledge, with resolve to do what is best for the integrity and usefulness of the Theosophical Society and without regard to occult fear, or favour, cast your vote as a stone into the sea of fate - not a little stone, but possibly the stone which may decide much of the future history of the Society. Take your stand on the old declaration: "He who does his best does enough for us;" but if you have not yet the courage for this, stay your hand, I say, and do not vote at all.

- Ernest Wood.


1st November, 1933.