The objects of the Theosophical Society

Katinka Hesselink

It seems the Theosophical Society is continually asking itself what its objects are for. I tend to think that this preoccupation is in part due to the fact that we do not really practice these objects. The first has become so common an ideal, that to actually say it out loud seems an anomaly to many. The second object has the disadvantage of talking about religion, philosophy and science in general, instead of theosophy specifically and the third is so far off general practice in the Theosophical Society that it seem irrelevant.

But let me start by reminding the reader of the three objects as formulated by the Theosophical Society, Adyar. The objects of the other theosophical organizations do not vary much from this theme, except that the third object is often left out and the second split in two.

  1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
  2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
  3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in Man.

In talking about the Theosophical Society, the first object has been stressed most. I think this is right, brotherhood (or sisterhood) is the most important ideal we could aspire to. All our talk about ethics is based on this object and all our aspirations about practicing these ethics are also based on this object. Still, even if this object seems as an ideal obsolete, as a practice it is very far away. Wars all over the globe point to the relevance of trying to live brotherly with those we disagree with, or look different from ourselves, etc.

The second object was added (historically) latest to the three objects. In fact it was the current third object that the Theosophical Society started with. At the time the aim of the T.S. was formulated as follows:

" II. The objects of the Society are, to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe." (1)

At the time it was probably assumed that this would include, perhaps mainly, the laws governing the spiritistic phenomena. Still, all anyone seems to be doing on this score is reading up on earlier work from within the theosophical movement, without considering the work done outside the Theosophical Movement.

The second object was for me personally the main reason of joining the T.S. I have always been fascinated with religion and philosophy and it seemed to me that this group of people were actually open to different points of view, guaranteeing free research. Now that I have been a member of the Theosophical Society for some years it seems to me that this is not entirely true. First of all (as often stressed) the Theosophical Society is in fact simply a group of people and while it (as a group) aspires to such tolerance and free research, its group-dynamics and the individual shortcomings of its members make actual tolerance difficult, though not impossible.

It seems to me that in this strange and fortunate moment in time when literature from people all over the world are so easily accessible, the Theosophical Society could be the place where people with different backgrounds and philosophical or spiritual preference could join hands and compare notes. Or otherwise put: learn to see that their own tradition is not the only one relevant to spiritual living. If we actually practised that, we might really be a force towards religious tolerance and free thought.

The same goes for the third object. If we actually studied (in practice, not just in books) the different techniques of meditation and healing practised in the "new age" world, and combined this with a knowledge of what Blavatsky and other theosophical writers have said about these and similar subjects, the Theosophical Society might help moderate some of the excesses of New Age.

I started this article in saying that we do not really practice the three objects of our society. What we do, and what many people seem to believe is the object of the T.S. could be summed up thus:

  1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
  2. To study the literature which originated with the Theosophical Movement and to compare this privately in each individual home with other spiritual and scientific literature.
  3. To condemn any use of spiritual powers and abilities because these automatically (it is thought) lead to black magic.

I think this is wrong, stupid and contrary to what H.P. Blavatsky, Olcott, Judge, Damodar and Subba Row were trying to do. To end this discussion on a positive note, I think the hope for free research lies exactly in the way we tend to think of the second object: to study different philosophies and sciences in the privacy of our own homes. The fact that this does happen means that in fact the Theosophical Society does practice the second object, though this might be strengthened by lodges and study-groups taking on the study of some book not published from a theosophical publishing house.

See also my article from 2011 on Issues with the Three objects of the Theosophical Society and why I'm no longer a member of the Theosophical Society.

(1)(Ref: The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society (1875-1925), ed. by C. Jinarajadasa. Pub. by T.P.H. (Adyar) 1925, pp. 243-250)