Theosophical Leaders who Inspire Me
The Theosophist, Nov. 2005
[Talk given at the Adyar Lodge, 28 September 2005]
In the Theosophical Society we have to deal with a paradox: If Theosophy is a regenerative force, it should make an impact on the consciousness of at least the more serious members, and some of its leaders who guide its development must be true Theosophists, in tune with the spirit of the TS. But, at the same time, we do not worship personalities or rely on someone else. Knowing that nobody is perfect and everybody has trials to undergo, we have to examine our own character and leave each member to work on his own in order to become better tools for assisting human evolution. This is important, especially as it is said that every earnest seeker on the Path has to face occult forces that bring out his strengths as well as his weaknesses.
The reason for looking at the life of our leaders is not to deify them, but to gain inspiration for our spiritual journey. Fortunately, we have had, and still have, many exemplary Theosophists completely devoted to the great Cause. They might have made some mistakes, which is inevitable, but we see that their attitude was unquestionably based on self-forgetfulness, service and impersonal love.
Most of us are aware of the many great things our leaders have done and their abilities, but it is worth referring to a few, perhaps small, events in the life of some of them, from which we can learn about their outlook. It is relatively easy to gain knowledge, develop capacity and do remarkable things, driven by ambition, selfishness, the search for security and so on. Human history shows that many leaders had great ability, intelligence or knowledge; they did extraordinary things, but they were often selfish, using their power to exploit humanity. More significance lies in those with attitudes of abnegation, self-sacrifice, honesty and so on, because these cannot arise through self-centred activities, but are a sign of true spiritual development.
Let us start with one of our founders, H.P. Blavatsky (HPB). She was born in an aristocratic family and had, among other special abilities, musical and artistic talent. She could have been a marvellous pianist and had a pleasant life, but she was so eager for real knowledge that she left everything in her search for truth. She travelled ceaselessly all over the world, many times in utter poverty, for the cause of Truth. In contrast, we are frequently unprepared to let go of even superficial comfort or security. Of course, every person has particular dharma s to fulfil, and not all theosophists have to live a wandering life. But the temptation to have better employment, a more pleasant situation, or to accumulate more, often makes us invest greater and greater energy in personal life, leaving only a small superficial space to seek Truth. Therefore, although we may live our own lives, our direction should be marked one-pointedly towards Truth, following the example of HPB and others.
HPB also displayed considerable powers. From childhood she was the centre of psychic phenomena, for which she was naturally gifted. As a young woman, during an interview with highly placed priests of the Russian Orthodox Church, many phenomena took place, and a learned priest who seemed to understand the causes behind them, said to young Helena:
Let not your heart be troubled by the gift you are in possession of . . . for it was surely given to you for some purpose . . . . Use it with discrimination and you will be enabled to do much good to your fellow-creatures.
HPB made use of all her powers for the benefit of humanity in spite of the many hardships and troubles she had to face. Her whole life offers constant inspiration for us to offer whatever gifts we may have to the service of all beings.
On the other hand, she was unconventional and did not follow the superficial customs of her time. She did what she thought was right, no matter what the world said, not seeking approbation, unfettered by the prejudices of her race. Our actions are often distorted by external opinions, but in order to walk the spiritual path we should free ourselves of these shackles.
HPB had a deep realization that she was not an individual entity, different from the rest of humanity. As she wrote:
True occultism is the destruction of the false idea of self, and therefore true spiritual perception and knowledge are nothing else but the complete identification of our finite ‘selves’ with the Great All. It follows, therefore, that no spiritual progress at all is possible except by and through the bulk of Humanity.
Apart from HPB, one of the Theosophical leaders who faced many personal attacks was C. W. Leadbeater (CWL). In 1906 he was accused of teaching boys immoral practices to cope with the sexual urges of puberty. He was convinced that the remedy suggested by him in a few cases only, was far less harmful than the conventional immoral solution of resorting to prostitution. But as the prejudiced minds of that time could not understand, and bearing in mind the welfare of the TS, he undertook not to give such advice again and to retire from active work.
However, the case was made public and the name of CWL was dragged into the mire. He resigned from the TS, knowing he was not guilty of any evil intent, in order to avoid another crisis in the Society. It is said that the true man is revealed when crises come. Leadbeater accepted his karma with great serenity, without trying to defend himself. During that dark period he lived quietly, pursuing the investigations that were later published in Occult Chemistry and other books.
The history of the Theosophical movement records how some TS members became critical of the TS, and tried to draw away with them as many members as they could, or even to destroy the Society. CWL, on the other hand, left the TS with great humility and worked silently for the welfare of all.
At the same time, C. Jinarājadāsa, who had also to quit the TS, showed great character, never criticizing either Col Olcott or Annie Besant. He said:
In the communication read yesterday, Mrs Besant condemned me. She has condemned a greater one than me [CWL]. We know her, how great and noble she is. We revere and love her, and not one jot or tittle has our loyalty to her diminished. Some day the veil that blinds her now will be torn away, and then she will know who have been her true and loyal friends, and until that time we can wait in patience.
These wonderful words reveal a deep sense of impersonality, absence of self-centred reactions against those who were opposed to him and complete trust in the Law of Justice. When Annie Besant and Col Olcott came to know the facts, with the full consent of the General Council, their membership was reinstated. Both CWL and Bro. Raja continued their Theosophical work without any resentment and became very important leaders of the Society due to their unselfishness.
Col Olcott may have made a mistake due to his over-zealousness, but he had a great virtue (among others), which was described by Master KH as follows:
Where can we find an equal devotion? He is one . . . who may make innumerable mistakes out of excessive zeal but never is unwilling to repair his fault even at the cost of the greatest self-humiliation.
All this teaches us another lesson. Troubles and mistakes are not impediments when there is the correct spirit behind them. The cause of all crises are personal reactions, self-protecting attitudes and absence of abnegation. In fact, mistakes can be very useful, and we can learn a great deal from them when we are inclined to do so. Let us learn to face problems and even injustices in our work and life in the right spirit.
And what about Annie Besant? An incident shows that she was a seeker of Truth till the very end of her life, and that position meant nothing more than duty to her. She was convinced Krishnamurti was the vehicle of the Lord Maitreya and was giving a fresh message of Truth. In 1928, although she was eighty, and after a long life of leadership, she insisted on sitting on the ground with the rest of the audience instead of being with him on the platform, because she considered herself as a mere learner. A more remarkable thing was, as Krishnaji told Lady Emily Lutyens, that Dr Besant wanted to resign the presidency of the TS and follow him, but her Master would not allow it. In 1929, she herself said that her Master refused her request to retire, and therefore she continued her active work in the TS. This attitude revealed her eagerness for Truth, her humility and self-sacrifice, and her devotion to her Master. In 1931, two years before her passing, she wrote:
Our Search for Truth must be continuous, and we have the joy of believing that time is limitless.
All these examples strike one keynote. Our leaders were interested in working for the welfare of humanity and willing to shed their personal predilections, desires and conveniences. This is the theosophical spirit, since the Theosophical Society was founded to help humanity, and not just for individuals concerned with personal progress and satisfaction. When one works for the benefit of the Whole, recognizing that we represent all humanity and are not merely one personality, spiritual evolution is possible, and only under this condition is a person worthy of being a co-worker of the Masters. As the Mahatma M. said:
It is he alone who has the love of humanity at heart, who is capable of grasping thoroughly the idea of a regenerating practical Brotherhood, who is entitled to the possession of our secrets. He alone, such a man—will never misuse his powers, as there will be no fear that he should turn them to selfish ends. A man who places not the good of mankind above his own good is not worthy of becoming our chela—he is not worthy of becoming higher in knowledge than his neighbour.
The Theosophical Society is especially connected with what HPB called in The Voice of the Silence ‘The Secret Path’, the Path of the Bodhisattva, which implies ‘Renunciation [of the self] for the sake of others, of suffering fellow-men.’
Posted here with permission of the author in a version that may be slightly different from versions published elsewhere.