Suggestions to Branches
(Circular apparently composed in June, 1893)
FOUNDING OF BRANCHES
This paper is to give newly-formed Branches some idea of the methods which experience has shown to be the best for the conduct of T.S. work; to make some suggestions as to the opening of Branches; and incidentally to warn against certain mistakes which are easily made.
The Theosophical Society was founded with well-defined objects; nevertheless, because of the tendency to Occultism inbred in the character of almost everyone of its members, most of them sooner or later become students of that, and unless the original lines of work are adhered to strictly, few can escape the dangers and pitfalls surrounding the field of investigation of that science. The suggestions made herein are the result of many years of experience.
First. At the opening or inaugural meeting it is advisable that all the members and visitors present should grasp fully, and without any fear of misunderstanding, the objects and aim of the Theosophical body. For this purpose it is well to have some prominent member of the Society or well-known student present to address the meeting. But in order to avoid misconceptions as to who are and who are not members of the T.S. so many pretenders being abroad at present-information and advice as to this should first be obtained from the General Secretary’s office. If such a member cannot be present, then as a substitute this circular itself should be read and discussed.
Second. Many Branches newly-forming desire to have some kind of ceremony at the opening meeting; there is no objection to this, though no particular value is attached to it. But there is no ritual in the T.S., and none should be used at ordinary meetings, nor can anyone be obliged to attend or take part in a ritual or ceremony as an obligation of membership.
Third. A good form or method of opening is as follows:
1. Whoever calls the meeting to order should read aloud the charter granted to the Branch and then the Constitution of the American Section. Whereupon he declares the meeting duly convened to elect officers.
2. The officers should then be elected, if they have not been elected at a preliminary meeting; if they have, then that election should be ratified by vote.
3. The following paper may then be read.
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
While it is true that the Society was organized in November, 1875, at a meeting in New York at which Col. H. S. Olcott was made presiding officer under the chairmanship of William Q. Judge, and that thereafter Col. Olcott was made President for life with H. P. Blavatsky as Corresponding Secretary, it is also the fact that the impulse and direction for such beginning came, as is asserted by the three persons named, from a body of Adepts or perfected men who have come to be called in theosophical writings the Mahatmas, the Masters, Initiates, and the like. These, H. P. Blavatsky said, told her to have the Society begun on a broad and free platform and to help Col. Olcott and all others in doing it, to the end that a definite attempt might be made to form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood through the means of which the truth as to Man and Nature might be discovered, and toward which latter end the said Masters promised their help in messages sent to H. P. Blavatsky. These general facts and assertions were always made from the beginning. But at the same time the Society has not and cannot as a body officially declare those beliefs, and no one is asked to assent to them, nor does dissent disqualify anyone from membership. All that is asked is adherence to Universal Brotherhood. So too, while H. P. Blavatsky, Col. Olcott, and many others firmly believe that the Society is the outer body which for this century represents the great Inner one composed of the Adepts of whom H. P. Blavatsky spoke, members are not obliged to believe it nor debarred from membership or help because they do not believe it. But it is well for all members to know in the beginning what the founder said on the subject, and that she also said, claiming to speak for the Adepts, that once in every hundred years an attempt is made by them to bring to the world’s attention the great and universal truths taught by all great world-religions in their beginnings, and that this Society represents the attempt made for this century.
By reading the last of the Key to Theosophy, written by H. P. Blavatsky, you will find on pages 304-307 what she says on the matter of the end and aim of the T.S., of its opportunity, and of what is needed. Certainly all that should be looked into by those who have joined the body in which she was so important a person at its founding.
Before pointing out what would lead to the failure of the real mission of the Society, it is necessary to advert to the fact that in consequence of the success of the T.S. movement a number of so-called occult societies have sprung into existence, all of them bad copies of the original, and our members should be warned against them. These spurious and misleading bodies and teachers have come up since the T.S. was founded, and a very large number of them take a part of what this Society has given out or portions of what has come out of the Eastern Occult methods and use them for their own ends. There could be no objection to promulgation of good ideas, even without any acknowledgment, provided they were correctly given. But there is a distinct objection to the presentation of a mangled and distorted portion of the information merely to back up some wild theories of their own, as many have done. Through most of them some one or other Theosophical doctrine has been partially expressed, the rest of their teachings being platitude or unverifiable, unphilosophical matter, and the trusting student has frequently to pay large sums of money to get but a bad imitation of the teaching which is all given out in Theosophical literature free of charge. It is therefore necessary to paint out definitely to all members that before hurrying away from the Theosophical Society to obtain what may seem to them spiritual food from “occult” bodies they should examine carefully the literature now before the world to see if all that is or may be taught in these schools does not already exist in print, and if it be not merely a copy of that which has been said hundreds of times before.
The possibility of failure of the Theosophical Society lies in the following:
Dogmatism. That is, the definite statement by the Society as a body that this or that is an absolute teaching or doctrine of the Society. This has been the ruin of every organization of the kind So far formed, and this time it must be carefully guarded against. The Society was formed without distinction of creeds, and far any member to lay down the law to any other member or to any person as to what he should or should not accept as a belief of the T.S., is to commit a distinct breach of the contract he made an applying to join the ranks of the body. So too, members must not abuse their individual rights, asserting that belief in any doctrine or person is necessary in order to be a member or a Theosophist.
Priesthood. The possibility of forming a priesthood in a Society as free as this one may seem almost to have no existence. Nevertheless, So strongly is superstition grounded in the natures of the present race of men (although freer than their forefathers), and So weak is our race-character, that unless constantly freed from these tendencies and reminded of the necessity of leaning an our own Higher Selves far spiritual guidance, the danger is always present of priest-craft. This can be readily seen in the fact that not a new self-styled instructor turns up without his easily finding same pupils, and nearly every Hindu that visits our shores is run after by and often receives pledges, and also money, from persons who are too weak to think for themselves. This has to be guarded against.
Materialism. By this is meant a forgetfulness, on the part of the members, of their Spiritual Selves. Of course the study of the writings of agnostics and so-called materialists is invaluable in order that the Western ways of veiwing life may be known, but it should be recollected that we too easily tend to be drawn away from a study of the causes of things-the spiritual side of Nature-to mere examination of their effects. And one risks losing much of his true perceptive power, and perhaps more than he imagines, unless ever on the alert to avoid crystallization, or falling into ruts or grooves. That is a reason why the study of the ancient occult teaching is recommended.
Non-Cosmopolitanism. Many of the attempts made in past centuries have failed because they were kept confined to the minority, or to some particular race, or to some selected stratum of society. As far as possible, the work done by each Branch should extend all over the city or locality in which it is placed; the members not failing to recollect the existence of the law in Nature of compensation,-the more help that is given to the race necessitating a greater help in return from Nature.
These are the main causes of possible failure in the Society as a whole and in the Branches as parts. And now another warning:
In the true Spiritual Philosophy there has always been one fixed and unchanging law with regard to spiritual teaching: that it cannot be bought or sold. Hence if any member hears of a society or of a person giving occult instruction for money first to be paid, let him be sure that it is “of the earth, earthy.” He will not be aided by it in the long run, but only led astray; and he will form Karmic bonds to it which it may take years for him to sever. Many members who failed to take benefit by this warning, given out when the Society was first established and repeated at intervals ever since, have found by experience its truth. Besides that, it seems only just and right that members should first help the T.S. before they spend money on self-styled occult guides who wish, to be paid.
The Theosophical Society is formed on such a basis that each member can think as he chooses, yet maintain a willingness to learn from and to help others. In it all members are helped to learn, and will receive what aid can be given them through its ranks, and through older members, and through the information periodically given out by the Great Order of which it is a part. Like a great mother, the Spirit of the T.S. constantly keeps watch over the members, her children, permitting them to take what they can from every source of learning, spiritual and otherwise, silently instructing them in the best methods by which to help their fellowmen, but ever watchful lest they should go too far along some of the innumerable side-paths that lead off from that most dangerous and difficult of roads, the road of the Study of the Self.
WORK OF THE BRANCH
A Branch should never be formed consisting of those who have not read Theosophical literature. Hence if a Branch happens to be composed of those who have not so studied, then its first few months of existence ought to be used in private meetings for reading and study, so that members may have an acquaintance with Theosophy sufficient to enable them later to help others along that line. But where the Branch is the result of previous study and investigation, then it ought to hold open meetings to which all enquirers may come.
Publicity should not be avoided, once open meetings are started. If Theosophy has benefitted its members, the first of its objects demands that those benefits shall be extended to all accessible persons.
Discussion and argument by strangers are not a wise thing; they ought to be allowed to put questions on the subjects of the meeting, but those should be answered by members then or at the next meeting after consideration. No encouragement should be given to those who often come to ventilate their own views rather than to learn what the Branch is doing.
Lectures by non-members, no matter who, ought not to be allowed. If they are, it is certain the Branch will not get on, because the genius and spirit of this movement is to make each member a worker and thinker for himself. It is becoming now the habit of those outsiders who have ends of their own to serve to ask Branches to allow them to speak before them. Each one of these has a different personal aim, and none of them cares at all for the T.S. but only wishes to use it as a means for securing an audience. When it is proposed to a branch to have such speakers, it will be wise to first write to the General Secretary, who nearly always can give valuable information about these persons. At the present time sundry persons, some Americans, some Hindus and other foreigners, have been going around the T.S. offering to lecture to Branches for fees or for the expectation of subsequent payment. They should all in the most kindly spirit be avoided. Only a strong and large Branch can afford to let such a stranger occasionally appear before it. Our first duty is to the Branch, so that it, out of its own material, may grow to a healthy state and a right degree of Theosophical intelligence. And members ought to remember that the writing of articles in popular magazines taking up Oriental subjects constitutes no passport to a Branch. If such people are really interested in the T.S. they will join it and work for it freely, as all true workers do.
Some ways to work are:
(1) Reading of papers on Theosophical topics and discussion of the same at meetings. In this all should take part by asking questions and by having ready some matter taken from the mass of Theosophical books which bear on the subject at hand.
(2) Reading of selections from T.S. books and magazines, followed by discussion or interspersed with questions and discussion as the reading proceeds.
(3) Regular reading and discussion by the whole class of some good Theosophical work.
(4) Formation of classes to be held on a night or a time different from the regular open evening, which shall study systematically the best books on the subject.
(5) Formation of committees of one or more persons for circulation of tracts, circulars, and other means for propaganda among the people at large.
(6) Helping other Branches by attending their meetings and giving lectures, reading papers, or otherwise taking part in their work. This can be done by any Branch that is well advanced, and often by a new one of exceptional ability.
(7) Holding on Sunday or any other selected night an open free lecture to be given by one member for the benefit of inquirers and to be well prepared; it will be as effective through a written paper as by means of extempore speech.
(8) Preparation of a syllabus or list of subjects to be considered for a month or longer, and for the carrying out of which members pledge themselves.
Large Branches such as those in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and other places have added to their work committees for looking after the welfare of members who really need help and for extending help to needy people in the locality. And Sunday afternoon meetings for the young have been also started under the name of Lotus Circles, which have done a great deal of good. Information about these can be obtained from the League at New York and at other cities. We should not confine ourselves wholly to metaphysics, but try also to arouse the hearts of all our members.
COURSE OF READING SUGGESTED
The following is offered as a good order to take in the reading of books: Ocean of Theosophy, Modern Theosophy, Esoteric Buddhism, Theosophical Manuals Nos. 1 to 3, Key to Theosophy, Bhagavad-Gita, Letters that have helped Me, Voice of the Silence.
The following are for deeper study: Secret Doctrine, Magic White and Black, Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, and many others.
As there are a number of books of all sorts put forth outside of the T.S. as truly Theosophical while they are not so in fact, it will be well for Branches to write to the General Secretary, who will always be glad to reply to all questions relating to Theosophical work. One of such books deserves special mention because of its audacity. It is the Hidden Way across the Threshold, compiled by one Dr. Street, who also offers to have classes for teaching occultism. The book is a clear steal from our literature. When it was published it was pointed out in public that the first page was a deliberate taking of the first article of the first number of the Path of 1886 with but small change needed in the insertion of one or two words used to connect mutilated sentences. The body of the book steals pages from H.P. Blavatsky’s works, and also from other issues of the Path and various publications. Yet it was put forth as the inspiration of spirits or Adepts. This will illustrate what may be found in other directions.
Again, certain persons who cannot be accused of fraud are flooding the Branches with circulars offering to teach the science of the soul and Yoga and psychic law for so much per course. This is all misleading, and will only take from the T.S. the funds it ought to have. Members have gone into such classes in the vain hope of getting wonderful knowledge. All that is given is merely matter taken from books published by individual members and by oriental publishers. It is often garbled and will do harm, for Yoga cannot thus be properly taught. The warning has often been given that many of the practices do result in altering the system of the person, but the ignorance on the subject does not show at the same time the counteracting processes which are not known; it is well known that many have been ruined in health by it. In one place the teacher kept the members breathing through the nose until some of them became stupefied, while he told them nothing of the dangers nor the counteractions. And as some Hindus now in America are making the same offers, it is well for members to know that in India it is common knowledge that these Hatha Yoga practices are not to be indulged in until many years have been devoted to philosophy and discipline, and that many more years are required to get even the right rudiments of the practice. If the members wish to aid the enemies of Truth in the attempt to throw discredit on Theosophy which will surely come from continuing that which will after a while put the whole movement in a ridiculous position, they will encourage these things, otherwise they will not give any countenance to them.
Branch Paper No. 8 has important suggestions regarding Branch work. That paper is already in possession of the Branches.”
WILLIAM Q. JUDGE, General Secretary