On my position in the Theosophical World

Katinka Hesselink 2012

I joined the Theosophical Society at 19. I left it in 2011 at 37. As I write this it's about half a year after I quit and it's become apparent how the chips will probably fall.

I feel I need to make it clear that this website will stay up. I was inspired by each and every article or quote on this site and the material will remain so that others may be similarly inspired. I always meant it when I wrote that I did not agree with every letter. This is as true as it ever was. However, I don't believe in only studying what one believes in or agrees with. That would be thoroughly boring as well as useless.

Annie Besant wrote a book 'In the Outer Court' in which she described the Theosophical Society as an outer courtyard (to the inner mysteries). She of course assumed the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society was the Inner Courtyard. (1)

What does that mean? To me it means that the Theosophical Society as I have experienced it is a great place to broaden your mind, to learn about various spiritual traditions and metaphysical systems and to prepare the mind for the spiritual path. If you're unsure where to go with your spiritual practice, do visit your local theosophical lodge and talk to the members. If you're a good listener they'll share inside information on any local group of standing and many others as well.

Where theosophists generally falter is in the practical application of the path in their lives. Most traditions are somewhat unbalanced: the trick is to find a tradition that fits your needs. The fault inherent in the work of the Theosophical Society (any, but my work was mainly in the Theosophical Society with headquarters in Adyar, India) is that it tends towards the cerebral.

My story would have been very different if Theosophists hadn't closed the doors on me so often. (2) They closed the doors on me at 19 when I wanted to join the Esoteric Section (ES): I was too young. Sure, there are all kinds of reasons why that's a reasonable objection. In fact, leaving the TS would have been psychologically impossible to me had I joined the ES. So in that sense I am glad. However, by the time I was old enough, I'd decided that however much I respected Radha Burnier as a lecturer and author, I did not see her as a spiritual teacher. I even had the (naive) guts to write her that: telling her how much more I respected her father N. Sri Ram.

At 19 however I would have been glad of an environment of trusted adults to talk about my issues. In hindsight the TS was not at all fit to give the guidance I needed and in the end I managed alright. However, had they helped me at that junction, I'd have owed them a dept of gratitude. Deep enough that however disenchanted I might have become, leaving would never have been an option.

I did not join the ES. I do wonder how much that choice has influenced the story that follows.

At every turn theosophists have refused to give me the responsibilities I asked for. When I wrote articles, they were not published, nor was I given feedback. When I did volunteer work, I was left out of the meeting before hand, 'to protect me' (against my enthusiasm I think). I was insecure enough not to be too annoyed about my stuff not being published, but when I did was getting success online, it did start to grate a bit. The TS could have been instrumental in fostering me as an author. Instead they ended up strengthening my insecurities. Again: had they fostered my strengths, my gratitude would kept me in the TS.

At the last I was getting too much positive feedback from 'the world' to believe my work wasn't good enough. The TS was also no longer a place where I had anything to learn. The only reason to stay in became: it is a good place to work. Or so I thought. However, it turned out that even with me fully qualified for two responsible positions I was willing to fill unpaid, I was still not good enough. In neither case were there any convincing arguments forthcoming. The only conclusion can be that I wasn't trusted enough. Sure - I had given them some reason not to trust me. However, I know full well how to work within an editorial framework and would have done so. Although I have been publicly critical at times, I've also publicly supported the theosophical leaders wherever I could possibly defend them.

Behind the scenes other things happened that I won't go into here. A few months after health reasons forced me to quit doing most of my volunteer work (I'm still involved in bits here and there) I found that I could no longer be happy about being a member of the TS. So I left.

My relationship to the theosophical work can be summarized as follows:

I still support the idea that people should research all spiritual traditions before picking one. I recommend studying with theosophists and theosophy as such. However, when it comes to walking the path, one does have to choose.

To the extent that Blavatsky taught a living path, I believe it lost, though there are some who claim to be her spiritual heirs. Reading her Esoteric Instructions and the Mahatma Letters I've always been struck by the authors' frustration at the direction of the questions the disciples asked. Both Blavatsky and the Mahatmas went along with what their students wanted, as any teacher in danger of losing their audience would. However, the resultant teachings share the inherent limitations of those students. (3)

Theosophy as Blavatsky taught it is very close to Tibetan Buddhism. It therefor makes sense that I choose Tibetan Buddhism as my own path. Especially in the living path of the Gelugpa geshes and lama's everything is available for a balanced spiritual path that may in time lead to Enlightenment. 

One theosophist practicing the Gelugpa tradition told me that Blavatsky recommended studying the Lam Rim. I have not been able to confirm that Blavatsky did recommend that, and I did at one time study all of her Collected Writings.

However, I do agree that the Lam Rim is essential study and meditation material that would do Theosophists a world of good. As I tell the few Buddhists I meet with an interest in theosophy: the Voice of the Silence is essentially a Lam Rim (it's a genre as well as a specific book). Studying the Lam Rim Chenmo by Lama Tsong Kapa will help theosophists better understand this theosophical classic. A warning though: like Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine it will prove a difficult study without a qualified teacher. I recommend the FPMT geshes. The FPMT Discovering Buddhism program is basically a Lam Rim as well.

Lecturing in a Theosophical Lodge the other day (4), one of those present told me that within the TS I'd always been rather tense. He was right: I'm personally much happier NOT being a member of the Theosophical Society. I'm sure this is to a large extent due to the fact that I'd grown into a role I was not fit for. In other words: I'd outgrown the TS and the TS I was working for was a very different TS from the one other prominent members were working in. Ultimately their vision of theosophical work won out.

If the TS is going to work on it's limitations, it will have to find qualified meditation teachers for it's lodges and centers. I would recommend Buddhist meditation teachers again: in my opinion the Buddhist path has been westernized with less pollution than any other eastern tradition.

I would urge theosophists to remember that as Blavatsky often repeated, motivation is essential in karma. This applies especially to the spiritual path as a whole and meditation in particular. I do hope meditation will soften theosophical idealism with compassion and loving kindness. I would wish on the Theosophical Movement that it becomes a place where people can flower into their best selves and grow towards enlightenment all the while benefiting mankind to the best of their abilities.

I'll close with a Blavatsky quote that embodies the theosophical ideal I personally aspire to still:

Hast thou attuned thy heart and mind to the great mind and heart of all mankind? For as the sacred River's roaring voice whereby all Nature-sounds are echoed back, so must the heart of him 'who in the stream would enter,' thrill in response to every sigh and thought of all that lives and breathes.(Blavatsky, The Voice of the Silence)


(1) The Esoteric Section as it exists in any Theosophical Organisation today is very much the result of the checkered Theosophical History. None of them can be assumed to be anything like the ES as described and envisioned by Blavatsky in her Esoteric Instructions. See also Blavatsky Collected Writings Vol. 12

(2) The exception is my late mentor Henk Spierenburg. He was a living example of scholarship, spiritual intuition and generosity. I owe him an eternal dept of gratitude. He was a member of the Theosophical Society with headquarters in Adyar at the end of his life, but was an independent theosophist at heart. He was respected in all the theosophical organisations. I've learned to trust less in organisations than in people.

(3) See my selection of quotes and articles on the ES and the spiritual path in general.

(4) I love teaching, writing and lecturing, so as long as theosophists invite me, I will continue sharing what insight and wisdom I find in their midst.