Organized Life of the Theosophical Society
A talk given at the World’s Parliament of Religions, September, 1893
THE SOCIETY ABSOLUTELY UNSECTARIAN, WITHOUT A CREED, AND OPEN TO PERSONS OF ALL FAITHS. ACCEPTANCE OF DOCTRINES LARGELY TAUGHT IN THEOSOPHICAL LITERATURE NOT INCUMBENT. ITS RELATION TO CIVIC AFFAIRS AND EDUCATION.
Brothers and Sisters—It is now my duty to attempt to deal further with the subject of the Organized Life of the Theosophical Society. Brother Wright has taken up some points which I would have taken up in other circumstances; Brother Chakravarti has outlined to you as a Brahman, as a member of the Indian Section, what he thinks is the mission of the Theosophical Society and what its mission there so far has resulted in. You have had from Brother Wright a great deal of fact …. I think that you will believe him, that we have accomplished an enormous amount of work in eighteen years against most strenuous and bitter opposition. And it is the custom in America, and especially in the West, and most especially in Chicago, to measure results by money. How could we have accomplished all this, how could we have printed all those books without printing presses, without paper, without salaries, without people to do the work, and that you think takes money?
Perhaps you think we have a secret fund from which we have drawn some millions, laid away amongst the buried treasures of India, which one or two of us can draw from now and. then, so as to enable us to do work which other bodies can accomplish only by the use of money. But it is not so. We have little money and never had much. We do not want it, do not expect it, and the day when we shall have a large fund and be able to collect $5,000,000 in imitation of Western missionary bodies will be the day when the Theosophical Society will die. It is not money that has done this. It is the energy of the human heart. These people who are here with me are only representatives of many, many persons all over the world who are willing to give their life, their energy, their time to a movement which they think will benefit man. They get nothing for it; they get no preference. What is it of honor to preside at a meeting like this? What is it for any person to be a member of a Branch? What is it to be the President of the Theosophical Society? Nothing at all. There is no honor in it whatever. There are no places, no salaries, nothing at all but work.
Brother Chakravarti gave you an idea of our future. It has been said against us that this movement of ours was an invention of the East, but he must have made you suspect that perhaps this movement is unique, that it came neither from the East nor from the West. The East has solidified, crystallized, stood still; it would never have commenced such a movement. The West did not know about such things; it did not want them. We are wrapped up in material progress, and never would have started such a movement. Where, then, was the movement really started? It was started in the spiritual world above both East and West, by living men. Not by spirits of dead men, but by living spirits, living spirits like yourselves, who have risen above creeds and nations and castes and peoples, and are simply human beings. They started this movement by giving the impulse and the message; that is why we who have been in it so long have the confidence born of knowledge, knowledge that it will succeed.
We began at the time under direction, when we knew that materialism was spreading, not only over the West, but insidiously all over the East. It was turning the mind of the East, not to Christianity—never could that be done—but into the grossest forms of materialism. That is to say, the West itself with its missionaries was corrupting a vast mass of men and turning them into men who believed in nothing but annihilation after this life. If you could have succeeded in converting them to Christianity, it would have been well enough, for then they could rise up higher into another spiritual life. But instead of succeeding with them in that, as I know from facts, from having been there, you were simply flinging them from their own beliefs into materialism, which the Theosophic Society was started to prevent, both there and in the West. It has done something—it has not been the one cause, but it has been the little lever, the little point in the centre, around which we are all working with all effectual means for the good of humanity. It is trying to offer the key to all these Congresses and to show all men where the truth is.
Now, when the Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 . . . there was nothing else but laughter and jokes. The Society was an immense joke, they said, a new kind of spiritualism, something of that sort to tickle men’s fancies—and we have had that to contend with all the time. But we have succeeded always in remaining at the post and saying just what we meant to say all the time for all the laughter. We took no salaries, but we had belief in the human heart.
The objects of the Theosophical Society having been explained to you, you know the Society has but one doctrine, that of Universal Brotherhood. You cannot belong to it unless you believe in that; you won’t want to belong to it unless you believe in that. But you are not required to believe anything else. You are not required to believe in Brother Chakravarti; you are not required to believe what, as the newspapers say, are the doctrines of “that woman Besant”; you are not required to believe in Madame Blavatsky, who was a woman, a human being, just the same as the rest of us; you are not required to believe in those great beings of whom Brother Chakravarti has been speaking. It has been supposed by some that in order to be a Theosophist you must believe in Mahatmas, that you must believe in H. P. Blavatsky, in reincarnation, in Karma; but you do not have to believe in any of those things at all. But, I take it, you must believe in Universal Brotherhood.
The reason why people have been a little confused is this: they have seen the Theosophical Society absolutely without a creed, absolutely without any dogma, and as inside of it they know of a large number of people who believe in those ideas and doctrines, they think that is what the Theosophist must believe. But it is not. For, don’t you see, if we started a Universal Brotherhood, and started a Society to find out the truth, and then fixed a dogma, that moment we would be telling a lie and forfeiting the whole object we started to accomplish. We can never have a creed. We do not know what the truth is. It may be that we are wrong; it may be we will find out more. It is true we will never go back to those old dogmas and creeds, although there are still many members on the books of the powerful churches. We can never go back there, but we may go further on, and we are quite willing to.
We are promulgating our philosophies which we talk about as individuals, and on our own account. As Vice-President of the Society I have no right to say that any particular thing is true, and I never do say so. But I have the right to say, as I myself emphatically do, that I as an individual believe certain things are true, and I would be a poor sort of man if, believing certain things to be true, I did not try to show that they are. But at the same time I have no right to say, as man or official, you must believe it because I do. I simply present it to you for your consideration, and it is for you to decide, not for me. I am not going to stop saying that I believe so-and-so because a few other persons cannot believe it. They can go on with me and we will agree to disagree, and we will only forward the cause of Universal Brotherhood.
Beliefs in particular creeds have nothing to do with how you treat another man. What creed is there in the statement republished by Jesus, promulgated by him, to do to others as you would have them do unto you? No creed about that; no paving of hell with the skulls of infants about that; no belief in a particular sort of transmission of the spiritual life from St. Peter or Paul in that; nothing at all to abridge the treatment of man and woman by man and woman in the way they should treat them. We have no creed, then, and we should have none.
But the question is often, asked: What have you as an organization to do with labor, with legal questions, laborsaving forces, with education, with society? We have nothing to do with them. Is it not true that man, if he has a knowledge as to how he ought to live, needs no law whatever? Was not St. Paul right when he spoke of that and said you could become your own law; knowing the truth, you need no law.
What, then, has the Theosophical Society to do with law? If there are to be laws, let them be passed and execute them, but the Theosophical Society has nothing to do with it as such. Every brother in the Theosophical Society must obey the law of the land in which he lives, for he would be a poor Theosophist if he did not. The Theosophical Society has nothing to do with education. Its members may have as much to do with it as they please, but they have no right to say what is the Theosophical Society’s idea of education. They can only say “That is my idea of it.” And always they must and shall preserve these distinctions.
We have been asked why we do not join the Bellamyites and other cooperative societies? If you want to go in, go in. The Theosophical Society, as such, has nothing to do with it. I am perfectly satisfied to live where I am and do my duty where I stand, without any new law of property, or with it, whichever you please. The religion of the West which logically ought to support all the various socialists and anarchists and nihilists is the Christian religion, because in the beginning it was communal. Jesus’ system was a community in which everything was common property, and the early Christians threw all their money and property into one common box. Why, then, should not the Christian religion logically carry out all the plans of the socialists, anarchists, nihilists, and all the other ists who want to change the face of the earth by legislation?
The Theosophist knows that legislation changes nothing whatever. There are laws now on every statute book in every State in the United States—laws enough, if men would only execute them and live up to them. But a law that socialists shall share in this, or that there shall be no Trust in that, is passed; and then there are the lawyers to get around the law, as they always can. So what is the use of passing the law at all? There is no use whatever. Hence the Theosophical Society, as such, has nothing to do with such trumpery and democratic things as legislation. Let the men engaged in legislation go on legislating. If a Theosophist is born to be a legislator, let him legislate as a citizen and not as a Theosophist, or if he is born to be a judge, let him be a judge and skilled lawyer. If they would know that philosophy which shows them what human life is, they will have begun to follow the law without knowing what the law is.
America is the only land of all countries where the law is followed without the people knowing much of it. In America the people are orderly; they understand life a little better than other people in the world, but they don’t know so much about the masses of laws they have on their books. I believe personally that the day is coming when America is to be the country where the new race will be born that will know all about the true laws and what is right, and will be able to perform it. So, then, the Theosophical Society is not prepared to give out promulgations as to this or that particular item of legislation or education or civic affairs that people would have taught.
They ask also about marriage. Why, you understand about marriage. You know how it is accomplished. We have nothing to do with it as a Society. We know there are many kinds of marriage, sometimes merely by tying a string, sometimes by walking around the fire. As a body we have nothing to do with these forms nor interfere with them. And as to prayer, if you want to pray, pray. But if you pray, and if you say you have a certain belief, live up to it. If you do not do so you are no Theosophist, nor a man, nor a proper living person. You are only a hypocrite.
Now, the Theosophical Society is an unsectarian body. It does not have a creed. It never will have one if those persons in it now can possibly prevent it. It does not need a creed. It is open to everybody, of all sects and faiths, and for that reason it has been possible to bring into it men of all religions, men from India, China, Japan, Brahmins—as you have seen and as you have already before your eyes, which could not have been accomplished by any sect, Christian, or Buddhist, or Brahman. If the Buddhists started in India a Buddhist society, the Brahmins would not accept it. And if the Brahmins started a Brahmin propagandist society, the Buddhists would say they did not want it. So it is with the various Christian denominations; the Baptists, the Catholics, the Methodists, the Presbyterians. If anyone of them, as a society, asked others to come in, none of the other different stripes or classes of Christians would come in. Each says it teaches the truth; still the others do not come in.
Theosophy comes forward boldly and says: “All religions have underneath one single truth. None of the religions are perfectly true. It is impossible that they should be, because man is prone to err. Come into the Society in which as brothers helping each other we will examine all these faiths so that we may find out the truth under all. For we believe that in the beginning of human evolution great teachers gave the truth out—one single truth before the mingling of tongues on the tower of Babel—to man.” That single truth was variously accepted and variously perceived, and out of these different perceptions they built up different creeds, and so they made a great many different sorts of faiths. But suppose you look into all of them. You find the Christians teaching for many years that man has a soul. Do you think that the Christians are the only ones who taught about the soul? The Hindus have been teaching about the soul for ages. They have said always that man has a soul. The Japanese do the same thing. So do other races and religions. So in that one point they have always together been teaching the same thing.
The Christians have been teaching about heaven and hell; about a sort of heaven which is very material, I admit, with pearly gates and golden streets and. angels with robes such as no one ever saw and crowns upon their heads; and hell full of fire and brimstone, with devils throwing people around with forks into the fire. The Buddhists have been teaching the same thing for ages. I can read to you out of their books about a copper vessel full of boiling oil into which they say fate puts a man. In this he goes down and down for thousands and thousands of years until he gets to the bottom; then he begins to rise again to the top, rising for ages again, and when he gets to the top and thinks he is going to be let out, he begins to sink again, and that goes on for ages more. Is not that as bad and as material as the Christian hell? And then the Eastern teaching of heaven, of an inimitable and incomprehensible place, yet just as material but better than the Christian heaven.
The Abbe Huc went to Tartary many years ago. He was a Catholic priest. There he found ministers, monks, nuns, similar ceremonies to the Romish, the ministers using the different vestments and draperies of the Catholics, the taper, bell, candle, the book, the rosary, what not, everything. He brought back the tale to Europe and he published it. The explanations of the priests—of course they would not say so now—was that it was the invention of the Devil, who, knowing that Christianity was going to be abroad, went ahead of it and founded that imitation in the East so that Christian people would be confused. Well, now, that is not the way to explain it. The proper way is, that man has these things as a universal property and always makes some mistakes. And so it is in Buddhism and every other religion. In Tibet they have a pope who is the great successor of the original founder of the thing, just the same as the Catholic pope.
No matter what sort of Western religion you bring forward; the religions of the East are the older religions and the fountain, but there is a single stream of truth underneath all, and that single stream is what the Theosophical Society digs for and implores these religious men to find out. We ask them not to go before each other and say their own religion is the true one. But they—ask if—we can give mercy to a man’s soul, wash away the blood from his hand, and take away his sin? We say, Come, we will wash away your sin. How? By giving men reasons to make them do differently. The history of the past shows that belief does not make men better. We think there is a philosophy which will compel them from within to do right, and that is what this search will reveal. It will reveal underneath all these religions this one diamond which shows its light through them all; then all men can perceive it, then there will no longer be any necessity for the Theosophical Society, or for either creed or church; it will simply be truth and the people will know.
Look fairly and squarely at Christianity. I am simply asking you to consider facts. Here we have Jesus saying: Worship in secret. The Christians do not do it. Then there are all the different and contradictory statements made by the same religion. How can churches have the enormous cathedrals, the immense wealth, the cannons and soldiers in their possession, if they are the representatives of Christ? How can that be possible unless men are running after creeds and not truth? Even in the words of Jesus is to be found everything we want. I simply repeat to you that old truth taught by him long ago, for to find out the truth in respect to ethics is the chief object of the Theosophical Society, and to establish by Universal Brotherhood a basis from which that ethic may be preached, practiced, and followed without any mistake.
Therefore, then, we ask you this: You have seen us here and you have seen our heathen; some of them are now on the platform. We would like to know what you think of our heathen, and what you think of this heathen Society that has been so much abused? Is it a Society for spiritualism, for wonders, or for folly? It is here to talk common sense and not merely to talk about H. P. Blavatsky, a woman who is dead, but who was the grandest woman or man that I ever knew. It is not for that. It is to bring back the truth about the soul, which truth these heathens represent as well as we, and they themselves are just as much in error as we. They do not know much more about it than we do. But these poor heathens have in their philosophy a little better statement of the truth than we have been able to invent. So I would ask you to wipe out of your mind that hymn which has done so much harm to Christian men and women, which reads:
What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle,
Where every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile.
Wipe that idea completely out with a sponge, and then you will see that we are all brothers and that by tolerating each other, by looking into each other’s beliefs, not setting up creeds and dogmas, we shall at last realize that great ideal germ of perfection—human brotherhood—which object has equally engaged the attention of the great Initiates of all the human race.