Talk at the National Congress of the TS in Russia 27 November 2021
The subject for your National Convention is a deep one. It is both complex and it is also quite simple. You are coming together this year to try and consider the idea of the importance of the theosophical Brotherhood and how to build it in the world today. I think, one thing we should probably start off with is that idea: as members of the Theosophical Society often we come with certain expectations. It is the normal approach that we come to the Theosophical Society – or most of our relationships – we come to it with a certain need within us. But I think that it is important for us to recognize something basic: that membership in the Theosophical Society does not change us. We change ourselves. But the influence of something like a Theosophical Society cannot be underestimated. In essence, what we do is we choose an environment, in which we try to grow. We choose an environment and then we respond to the influence of this environment. There are some people for whom their choice of environment is a battlefield. They feel that war and fighting is their need. For others the environment that they choose is a cave where they can be silent and introspective. In choosing to associate ourselves with the Theosophical Society and its members and its long lineage of wise people, we make a choice to put ourselves in the presence of an Ageless Wisdom. And if we are open and if we are aware, then it will inevitably have some influence on us. Although, I had a teacher early on and he had the expression that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. It’s a popular American expression. We can be in the presence of wisdom but remain unaffected if we are unaware. Actually, there are countless examples of people who were dying of thirst and found themselves they would find the people and they had died right next to a river not knowing that the water was there. So just wisdom in itself is not enough. Wisdom is present everywhere always but are we receptive?
A part of the idea of the formation of the Theosophical Society was to bring together, to create an environment in which certain qualities could be called out. An atmosphere in which individuals could unfold some of the deeper aspects of their being for the benefit of humanity. An atmosphere in which spiritually mature individuals could participate in the work and an atmosphere in which people could become mature in their inner world, in their inner life. Because really as highly as we may regard ourselves, we as a humanity are very undeveloped – really a childlike humanity. There is an expression that gives an example of this, that says, “no tree is so foolish that its branches fight among themselves”. But as human beings we continually face this idea, this conviction that somehow we are separate from one another. We do not fully grasp – even though we speak of it – we do not fully grasp the idea of Oneness, of Unity, of Brotherhood.
One of the important aspects of a maturing spirituality is the idea that we are aware that at every moment we are choosing and we are responsible for those choices. In the Bhagavad Gita one of the discourses of Lord Krishna is about action and inaction. Whether we believe ourselves to be not acting, to not act is to act. Everything we do influences the greater environment, so the awareness of that is the beginning point. Our actions produce results but our actions are produced first by our motivation, by our intentions. In the beginning portion of H.P. Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, she talks about three fundamental ideas – three fundamental propositions. And one of them – the third of them – talks about what she describes as this obligatory pilgrimage we are on – this pilgrimage of incarnation and action and results and motivation. And she makes the point that in this process of maturing, there are steps along the way. And that in the state of unawareness we are … all of our activities, our actions are determined by what she describes as natural impulse. We are pushed and moved by the environment that surrounds us. And much like leaves blowing in the wind we find ourselves moving according to forces that are outside of ourselves. But then she makes the point that something changes at a certain point. With a certain maturity we become active by what she describes as self-induced and self-devised effort. Our movement and our activity in the world become guided by internal rather by external forces. So it is really at a point such as this that something like a Theosophical Brotherhood can begin to have any meaning to us. Quite evidently none of us are involved with the Theosophical Society by accident or by chance. Something like the Ageless Wisdom would have no attraction or no interest to anyone who was somehow not receptive to what this Wisdom can give. But equally I think very often we come for what we can get but overtime we start to find that the only way that we really can receive is when we learn how to give, when we learn how to bend to the requirements of the environment we find ourselves in, environment we have chosen.
I do believe that for many people, for many of us we find ourselves attracted to this Theosophical Wisdom and we mistake it for knowledge. And there is no doubt that this Ageless Wisdom tradition is rich, really, it is inexhaustible in terms of the knowledge that we can acquaint ourselves with. And the pursuit and the association with knowledge is something that can occupy a lifetime. It’s inexhaustible, it’s endless. And it is also exceedingly valuable and necessary along this way but Ageless Wisdom is a very-very different thing from ancient knowledge, no matter what that knowledge may be. So, when we make the choice that we will have some level of relationship with the Theosophical Society and its work, what is it that we are choosing? I think, foremost of all, whether we become aware of it early or whether we become aware of it later, what we choose is to make an attempt at Brotherhood, at Unity, Oneness. There is the idea that this Theosophical Society although the people we look to as founders, we think in terms of Blavatsky and we think in terms perhaps of Ollcott but the real Founders are inner Founders. And the Theosophical Society’s founding was viewed by these inner Founders, these Masters of Wisdom as a necessary experiment for the betterment of the world. And the hope and the need was that it would attract people who had the capacity to actually come to some understanding of the meaning and the practice of Oneness, of Brotherhood. If we listen to H.P. Blavatsky’s reports about her experience, it has been a very difficult experiment. We’ve somehow found ways to frustrate each other in countless ways. But as important as our individual unfoldment may be, the real point of the Theosophical Society, the theosophical Brotherhood is to create a usable instrument for those Great Ones who stand behind this movement. And in the early days of the Theosophical Society – really it’s not any different than now – just countless times the Mahatmas even commented on the ways in which we throw up barriers to Their influence and it all comes back to personal often unobserved inner needs – so often our personal need to shine and to be recognized, our need to be known for the depth of our knowledge. H.P.B. made the statement that it is at the expense of wisdom that intellect generally lives.
So in terms of the importance of the theosophical Brotherhood and what it is we can do to bring it about in today’s environment, maybe, I can offer just a couple of things. I think, our work within the Theosophical Society is in many ways not that different from the work we do in what we call “ordinary life”. If we are awake, we have the capacity to observe and to correct behaviors. So, I think, first of all in our theosophical work we have to be willing and really we have to be desiring the possibility to make mistakes. Mistakes are so important. H.P. Blavatsky above all others made countless mistakes that were pointed out by the Mahatmas and by herself, by colonel Ollcott. She was constantly making mistakes but in the service of this Ageless Wisdom, in the service of others. One of the words that comes up again and again in the advices from the Mahatmas – there is one very little short word that you see all the time – they say for each of us the most important thing is that we try. The only people who will not make mistakes – there are people who will not make mistakes – but the only way you can do it is by not trying, by being inert – then you make no mistakes but you make the mistake of not trying. So the fact of the matter is that every moment that we live, that we breathe, we are involved in an experiment. We are constantly … the experiment of unfoldment of a life is what we are involved with from moment to moment. And with every experiment, with everything, there are certain risks that are involved. If you want experiment, if you want adventure with no risk, what people do is they go to Disneyland. Then there is no risk. But we experiment with how it is we can together express this principle, fundamental principle of Unity or Brotherhood. One of the ways in which H.P.B. described what is Theosophy is that Theosophy is first and foremost altruism. Compassionate activity first and foremost describes what is Theosophy. So in this effort to bring a wisdom into the world in this effort to address the universal suffering of all human beings we have to be willing to step out, to move beyond our normal limits and to know that in doing that you will make a mistake but you are supported by the Brotherhood within which you live and move. And I think this is often where – as a Theosophical Society as an attempt at a theosophical Brotherhood – we fall down in that we are not sufficiently generous with the mistakes of others as we would like them to be with our mistakes.
I think, in some ways, there is great value to not take ourselves so seriously. I think, all of us have certain qualities and aspects of our identities that we value, that we take pride in, that we protect, that we defend but really, in the big picture none of us are that important. We have lived in many bodies, in many places, over countless periods of time. Even at this moment we participate in an organism which we call humanity that is composed of 7 billion similar sorts of cells within this body. We are not all that important. And really, the thing that does elevate our influence is when we can reach that point where it is a recognition that this individual separated self that we value so much really doesn’t exist – it’s part of a greater thing. And at that point there is some capacity for the Ageless Wisdom to make itself known through us or through our Theosophical Society. There is a Daoist teacher who asked a question and then he gave the answer to the question. The question that he asked is “why are you unhappy?” And then the answer to that question which I found illuminating: he said that the reason why you are unhappy is because 99,9 per cent of your thoughts and activities and feelings are focused on yourself and there isn’t one – there isn’t a self, like the one you are focused on. So, perhaps, that realization of the non-substantial boundaries we place around ourselves, is something distant for us, but in the meantime there is work to be done.
I think for me very often I find I emphasize the value of gatherings, of meetings such as this one. This is a virtual meeting but it is real. Consciousness is virtual as well. So the idea that we ... our intention, our motivation is something that affects our involvement … we come with a motivation to be present, to be open to one another. And when all of us on occasion develop a certain harmony, that harmony makes it possible for the inner forces, for the Great Ones to finally have some instrument through which They may work in the world, even if only momentarily. Unity, harmony is the basis of all strength, is the basis of wisdom. That’s the field in which we need to work.
So these are just a few thoughts. Clearly there is no formula for theosophical behavior as there is no formula for life or living but our goal is to find that avenue toward a deepening understanding of Wisdom, of Unity, of Brotherhood.
Question 1 (by Pavel Malakhov):
You talked about experiments and about acceptance of mistakes … I agree with you, of course, everybody will, I think, but there is a question which we discussed several times during our Congress, and I would like to hear your opinion: how to deal with those people whose experiments and whose mistakes ruin and destroy our efforts – personal efforts or efforts of a group of people – destroy their deeds. How should we deal with those? Thank you.
That always is a challenging question because in our desire to be brotherly very often we are willing to overlook facts that are in front of us. One of the facts about this work is that all of us are functioning on different levels of unfoldment and of understanding. And particularly when we talk about Theosophy or the Ageless Wisdom to the minds of many people within the Theosophical Society – because this Ageless Wisdom is so vast – they think it is everything and anything. Which is incorrect. There is the expression that “theosophy is everything but everything is not theosophy.” So very often some aspect of the Wisdom Tradition becomes attractive to an individual and also becomes colored by that individual’s temperament and limitations – we all have them. But the Buddha lived – after He had his Enlightenment – He lived for another 50 years and was continually teaching – vast body of teaching – but at the end of his life He condensed his teachings to just three things. And the three teachings that He gave were: number one - do no harm, number two – do good, number three – purify your minds. And I think, with these cases that continually present themselves of individuals who willfully or unknowingly do harm to the Theosophical Society, we have to apply that idea – do no harm. Where it is being done we sometimes have to take the step of interrupting that process by various means. Just to share some of my own experience – in Russia as everywhere else I’m sure you have a number of things that are problematic – as International President imagine what I deal with. But I can tell you this and it’s something that would … when I first became a member of the Theosophical Society this fact would have seemed very strange to me. The greatest problems I have encountered have been with people who are either very knowledgeable – intellectually knowledgeable about the theosophical teachings – or with people who have a personalized devotion to some idea that is theirs about the theosophical work. So it’s not been with just casual members who have just personal ambitions but it has been often … the deeper problems have been with ones who have acquainted themselves but have not acquainted themselves with themselves. So again, you probably know, Pavel, my answers tend to be, perhaps, too long but these are no small things we are talking about. So, there is again no formula for how to approach that but the main idea is: do no harm and, where it is possible, do not allow harm to be done.
Question 2 (by Alexey Besputin):
As International President you travel a lot, give a lot of talks in many places, communicate with many theosophists and many local Theosophical Societies, so in which Society and in which country, in your view, the idea of Brotherhood is realized in the best way?
May be a question we ask our mother or father: “which is your favorite child?” In a certain sense, this is an unfair question. I think everywhere the attempt is being made – in every country. I think, in some places some aspects of it are more present, in other places different aspects are more present, in no place is it fully realized. My hope is that if I am asked the same question in future years, I will be able to point and without doubt I’ll say: the TS in Russia.
Question 3 (by Svyatoslav Lipsky):
We listened and read the translation of your talk recently to the Inter-American Federation where you described the process of creating the Mission Statement which is very interesting and important. And the question is actually about the formula of the very Mission because there is this word “realization” which could mean two things: understanding or make something happen in life, in reality. So which one is it in the Statement?
I have to say it’s more than what we have time for here but I do have to say that the experience of the coming into being of that Mission Statement was really one of the high points in my years within the Theosophical Society at seeing this idea of Unity in action. There were more than 30 people involved in that when we finally came up with the actual Mission Statement itself – 30 people sitting together around the table in Naarden in the Netherlands. And, you know, there is the idea that a committee or a large group of people trying to bring something important into being … that there are difficulties with that. There is an expression that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. So, there are certain difficulties but with this particular experience it was really one of the moments where the personal aspects disappeared which allowed for interaction that brought something really quite sublime, in my opinion, into being. The Mission Statement of the Theosophical Society, which didn’t exist for 142 years prior, is very compact. In English in total it’s 24 words. But I can remember very well over the 3 or 4 days that we were working on that – we had worked on that prior but over the three or four days that we worked together – there came the moment when that last word was presented and the silence that was in that room ... I can remember the quality of the light that was shining in and the sense of this expansion that was universally felt there. It was really remarkable. And it gave some small glimpse of the possibilities that are spoken of in this theosophical work.
But the word “realization” – I’ll say something about that. So, within the Mission Statement the idea leading up to that is that we are in a process of an ever deepening understanding and realization. And initially the word “realization” was not included in this Statement. It was “an ever deepening understanding of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual self-transformation and unity of all life”. But the idea was that understanding by itself might be perceived as personal and static; but that the idea of realization, that the pathway that we are on, understanding leads to the realization, the actual experience of what this Ageless Wisdom is about.
But you also have to be aware that within this Mission Statement everything is connected to everything else, so realization doesn’t just stand alone as a quality or as an experience – it’s connected to other things. So it is “an ever deepening understanding and realization of” and then it’s three things: a realization of the Ageless Wisdom or, you know, the Divine Wisdom, Theosophy; a realization of spiritual self-transformation; and a realization of the unity of all life. So these are the three dimensions of this word “realization” that in some way this Mission of the Theosophical Society points us toward an ever deepening experience, connection with these three dimensions of the Ageless Wisdom. But I especially appreciate this question because the question arises really out of the very intent of such a Mission Statement. The idea in producing such a thing was that first of all we fool ourselves if we believe that any words we can put together can capture the fullness of this exalted Mission but we have to do something with words. So the intention was in the most compact form possible just like a sutra that something could be provided that in our own thought, our own meditation would be able to expand endlessly. So, I’m really quite grateful for this question because it indicates that this work is having its effect.
- The subject was “Importance of theosophical brotherhood”
- “To serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual Self-transformation, and the Unity of all Life”