Theosophical Society and Reforms
The Path, April, 1894
ZEALOUS THEOSOPHIST. Don’t you think the Theosophical Society ought to take some definite stand on the questions of reform?
Constitutional Theosophist. What put that into your head? Are you a Nationalist or a Single Taxer?
Z.T. I was reading that “Chat on the Roof” in February Theosophist, where one of the chatters says: “I believe the T.S. must sooner or later adopt a definite attitude toward this question of reform,” and although he speaks in reference to Hindu social problems, still it is just as important here as there, while the circumstances are different. The “chat” did not in any way settle the point, but left it all up in the clouds of talk. But we ought to do something.
C.T. Evidently the conversation published is an expression of a desire to get a prominent Theosophist like Mrs. Besant to throw herself on the side of some social question there, forgetting that it is not one or two persons who make up our movement and that our Constitution rules in such matters and not persons. If you mean that the Society should as an organization take “a definite stand” such as seems called for in that “chat,” I cannot agree with you.
Z.T. Do you mean that you are opposed to social or other reforms?
C.T. No, I do not. Whatever reforms are needed—and there are many—they should be taken up by individuals or the State, but that is a very different thing from asking the Theosophical Society to adopt a definite attitude either way. It has been proposed that the T.S. should formally approve of hypnotic suggestion as a means of curing drunkenness, lying, and stealing. Why not have us go in for that as well as social reforms? Those vices have a great deal to do with social difficulties.
Z.T. Well, why not? Take definite corporate action, and then members will have something tangible to talk of and to work for.
C.T. A few members, you mean; the rest would leave the Society. Divisions would arise and sides be taken. But the proposal is contrary to our Constitution, it is against the very reason for our existence, it nullifies our organic law, it is contrary to the spirit of the Society. The Constitution wisely prohibits the adoption of such definite attitudes. This applies to every doctrine, to all schemes, save the doctrine of Universal Brotherhood, the one idea on which men of all religions will agree. Other doctrines and plans have supporters and opponents; they have no majority; but Universal Brotherhood has a constant and growing majority of supporters. One would have supposed that this “Chat on the Roof” of the building where was reposing the recently revised Constitution of the T.S., certified and published, should have led to some of the chatters adverting to this fundamental point before the conversation was printed. That revision puts the matter in strong terms, thus:
The society does not interfere with caste rules or other social observances, nor with politics, and any such interference in its name is a breach of the Constitution.
And immediate expulsion is the penalty fixed for violation of this rule.
Z.T. Then you place social questions and reforms under the same ban as religious doctrines and creeds, in so far as definite corporate action by the T.S. goes?
C.T. Most certainly. Why, man, reflect a moment. Is it not true that H. P. Blavatsky, H. S. Olcott, and William Q. Judge have always since 1875 proclaimed their personal belief in the Mahatmas or Masters as facts and ideals?
Z.T. Yes, they have; and of course had a perfect right to do so, as they never said it was a T.S. belief.
C.T. Well, have they not persistently said that this belief, regarded by many as vital, has no place in our Constitution and cannot be—must not be—erected into a T.S. dogma either directly or inferentially? It stands precisely with social reforms so far as “definite attitude” is concerned. But, curiously enough, there are those who loudly object to the expression of personal beliefs by such as have firm ones regarding Mahatmas, while at the same time the objectors would heedlessly violate the Constitution by having us adopt some definite attitude toward a passing question of social reform.
Z.T. I think I begin to see that in zealousness for getting into the gaze of the world I had almost forgotten that we are a free Society, wholly unattached, founded on toleration, neutrally situated between all contentions, and drawing our support from men considered as souls and not from any sectarian or separatist feeling. That must be why you did not encourage or discourage nationalism, but opposed the endorsement of it by the T.S.
C.T. Precisely. Had we endorsed that social movement, where should we be now? Opposed by every man and woman who is not a nationalist. But at the same time recollect that many members of the T.S. were prominent in the starting of that movement when it began in Boston. Similarly with questions in India. Were the T.S. involved with widow-remarriage, it would be violently opposed by a large body of men who found their opposition to such marriages on the religious books of the land. We might as well be asked to endorse and support Moslemism against purely theological Hinduism. A good man can live under any form of government or social order. What we should strive to do is to increase that toleration for every one which alone will open up men’s minds to the truth.
Z.T. Do you know of any striking instance in our history to illustrate these paints?
C.T. Yes. In the Indian Headquarters once, while H.P.B. was there, a prominent Hindu asked her to get the opinion of her Masters on a question relating to widow-remarriage or that of child-marriage. The opinion was authoritatively refused, although there was an opportunity to enlist many prominent Hindus interested in the question. Had the distinct opinion been given, we should now have to be fighting far it or against it as a dogma. Happily we are free, and supporters and opponents alike of bath sides are yet in our ranks.
Z.T. But what definitely is the proper function and attitude of the T.S. in and to social and other reforms?
C.T. Its attitude should be neutral as to any form or method, but not neutral as to the general doctrines of justice and Universal Brotherhood. The latter doctrine supports all applications of justice; it is sufficiently declared in the Constitution; there is no need for further declarations. The function of the T.S. is to give its members aspiration to high ideals; to furnish a free, tolerant platform where all men may assemble if they wish. The bigot—social or theological—who asserts that no one else is right violates in himself the principle of toleration, and has no place on our platform because his nature is intolerant; hence he will either leave the T.S. if he cannot ruin it, or he will be gradually altered by the silent but powerful influence of the toleration, even for his bigotry, which surrounds him in our ranks. Toleration, then, is our watch-ward, far it is one effect and one expression of brotherhood; that will bring unity in diversity, and with diverse elements held in one bond our strength would be invincible.