What is the Theosophical Society?
Where are its Australian centres located?
What is the meaning of the emblem of the Society and its symbols?
What are the benefits of membership?
What is Theosophy?
These questions and more are addressed in the following pages. This booklet is intended for those who want to find out more about the Theosophical Society (the 'TS') and Theosophy; also, for people who are thinking of joining the Society.
The Three Objects of the Theosophical Society
1. To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
2. To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
3. To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in the human being.*
- Resolution passed by the General Council of the Theosophical Society, 1896
* Slightly modified for use in Australia
Members of the Society are united by their sympathy with the above Objects. The Society provides an environment which allows for individual differences in approach, without distinctions. Therefore the TS attracts a broad range of members from many cultures, religious backgrounds, and with varied interests. A phrase which was coined by a former International President, Dr George Arundale, describes this well: 'Together Differently'.
Our Mission Statement
To serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realisation of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual Self-transformation, and the Unity of all Life
What are the Historical Origins of the Theosophical Society?
The Theosophical Society was established in 1875 in New York city by seventeen founding members. Its principal Founders were Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (of Russian birth) and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (an American). It was formed at a time when spiritualism and scientific materialism were very popular, to help point human beings towards the deeper significance of life beyond the observed psychic and physical worlds.
In 1879, the Headquarters of the Society was transferred to India. Since 1882 the International Headquarters has been located in Adyar, Chennai (formerly Madras) in South India.Today branches of the Theosophical Society exist in about 70 countries throughout the world.
There are also centres of the Society around Australia.
What is the Theosophical Society?
The Theosophical Society was formed to help 'make it known that such a thing as Theosophy exists', to use Blavatsky's words.
Theosophy is the spiritual heritage of all humanity which has been in existence from ancient times, and may be thought of as the essence of the great religions and philosophies of the world. More information about Theosophy appears further on in this booklet. The Theosophical Society may be characterised primarily as a spiritual/religious/ philosophical Society.
Members of the Society are united by a common search and aspiration for Truth in their lives, not by a common set of beliefs. Ultimately, such a search is individual, serious and sacred, and the Society seeks to provide an environment in which it can take place. This search may express itself in different ways, such as:
- increasing awareness of the interdependence of all life
- greater emphasis on spiritual living
- open-minded exploration of the Ageless Wisdom teachings, also known as Theosophy.
- selfless service to others
- concern for the well-being of the many forms of life on this planet
- an interest in human self-transformation The following passage provides an overview of the Theosophical Society and a theosophical approach to existence:
A Theosophical World-View
THE THEOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, while reserving for each member full freedom to interpret those teachings known as Theosophy, is dedicated to preserving and realising the Ageless Wisdom, which embodies both a world-view and a vision of human self-transformation.
This tradition is founded upon certain fundamental propositions:
The universe and all that exists within it are one interrelated and interdependent whole.
Every existent being—from atom to galaxy—is rooted in the same universal, life-creating Reality. This Reality is all-pervasive, but it can never be summed up in its parts, since it transcends all its expressions. It reveals itself in the purposeful, ordered, and meaningful processes of nature as well as in the deepest recesses of the mind and spirit.
Recognition of the unique value of every living being expresses itself in reverence for life, compassion for all, sympathy with the need of all individuals to find truth for themselves, and respect for all religious traditions. The ways in which these ideals become realities in individual life are both the privileged choice and the responsible act of every human being.
Central to the concern of Theosophy is the desire to promote understanding and brotherhood among people of all races, nationalities, philosophies, and religions. Therefore, all people, whatever their race, creed, sex, caste or colour, are invited to participate equally in the life and work of the Society. The Theosophical Society imposes no dogmas, but points toward the source of unity beyond all differences. Devotion to truth, love for all living beings, and commitment to a life of active altruism are the marks of the true theosophist.
A Resolution by the Society's General Council (governing body) on 'Freedom of Thought':
Freedom of Thought
' As the Theosophical Society has spread far and wide over the world, and as members of all religions have become members of it without surrendering the special dogmas, teachings and beliefs of their respective faiths, it is thought desirable to emphasise the fact that there is no doctrine, no opinion, by whomsoever taught or held, that is in any way binding on any member of the Society, none which any member is not free to accept or reject. Approval of its three Objects is the sole condition of membership.
No teacher, or writer, from H.P. Blavatsky onwards, has any authority to impose his or her teachings or opinions on members. Every member has an equal right to follow any school of thought, but has no right to force the choice on any other. Neither a candidate for any office nor any voter can be rendered ineligible to stand or to vote, because of any opinion held, or because of membership in any school of thought. Opinions or beliefs neither bestow privileges nor inflict penalties.
The Members of the General Council earnestly request every member of the Theosophical Society to maintain, defend and act upon these fundamental principles of the Society, and also fearlessly to exercise the right of liberty of thought and of expression thereof, within the limits of courtesy and consideration for others.'
- Resolution passed by the General Council of the Theosophical Society, 1924
The above resolution is extremely important and has helped shape the character of the Theosophical Society today. In fact, it probably makes the Society unique as a spiritual organisation. It implies that there is no final authority on the study of Theosophy and that members are free to engage in theosophical study as they see fit, while allowing others to do likewise, with a spirit of courtesy and consideration. This resolution points to the fact that personal views expressed in meetings and journals are not official views of the Society.
A Resolution by the General Council of the Theosophical Society on 'Freedom of The Society':
Freedom of The Society
'The Theosophical Society, while cooperating with all other bodies whose aims and activities make such cooperation possible, is and must remain an organisation entirely independent of them, not committed to any objects save its own, and intent on developing its own work on the broadest and most inclusive lines, so as to move towards its own goal as indicated in and by the pursuit of those objects and that Divine Wisdom which in the abstract is implicit in the title, The Theosophical Society.
Since Universal Brotherhood and the Wisdom are undefined and unlimited, and since there is complete freedom for each and every member of the Society in thought and action, the Society seeks ever to maintain its own distinctive and unique character by remaining free of affiliation or identification with any other organisation. '
- Resolution passed by the General Council of the Theosophical Society, 1949
This statement affirms the independence and neutrality of the TS. Before we proceed any further, it is also useful to consider what the Society is not. It is not a so-called 'New Age' organisation, although one of its founders, H. P. Blavatsky, is sometimes referred to as the 'mother' of the New Age movement. To give some examples, it is not a yoga organisation, an organisation to promote any one spiritual teacher, nor an organisation to promote psychic development. Also, it is not an activist organisation, nor a political organisation. For those who are interested in activist pursuits and involvement in specific areas of community service, an allied organisation exists known as The Theosophical Order of Service ('TOS'). Many members of the Theosophical Society, as well as non-members, choose to take part in its activities.
In The Key To Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky wrote: "If Eastern comparisons may be permitted, Theosophy is the shoreless ocean of universal truth, love, and wisdom, reflecting its radiance on the earth, while the Theosophical Society is only a visible bubble on that reflection. Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent. Theosophy, finally, is the fixed eternal sun, and its Society the evanescent comet trying to settle in an orbit to become a planet, ever revolving within the attraction of the sun of truth. It was formed to assist in showing to men and women that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities."
The idea that the Three Objects are subject to the name of the Society, which is “Theosophical”, is made very clear in the “Freedom Of The Society” Resolution, passed by the General Council in 1949. The Resolution points out that “it is not committed to any objects save its own, and intent on developing its own work on the broadest and most inclusive lines”. It goes on by saying “so as to move towards its own goal as indicated in and by the pursuit of those objects and that Divine Wisdom which in the abstract is implicit in the title, The Theosophical Society”. Therefore, ‘Theosophy’ is the vision. The Three Objects are aspects of a mission statement, or qualitative tools in the service of attaining Divine Wisdom. The character of the work carried out by Theosophists inherits this vision, and hence Theosophy becomes both an inspiration and a goal. It is a star in the distance to draw out ones highest qualities and also an unfolding plan in which to discover and find ones purpose.
Yet just as the TS operates under the guiding light of the Three Objects, so in turn can this Resolution, the “Freedom of The Society” best be read and interpreted when it is blended into, and brought under the broad umbrella of, the Three Objects.
What is Theosophy?
The core principles of Theosophy have been restated in different ways by great sages throughout history. They are offered by the TS for study and consideration, also being present in teachings such as those of ancient India and China, the Egyptian Thoth or the Greek Hermes, the neo-Platonists, and Gnostics of the early Christian era.
The word itself comes from the Greek theosophia meaning ‘Divine Wisdom’. Divine Wisdom is a high state of consciousness; and Theosophical teachings, when assimilated, can help one ascend towards such a state. If you ask members of the Theosophical Society, ‘What is Theosophy?’, a variety of answers will be given. Some will say that it is a world-view which gives meaning and purpose to life. Others will say it is a spiritual philosophy which has been with us since time immemorial. Still others will stress that it is a way of life, a path that leads to peace and understanding through selfless service. Theosophy is all these and more.
Hence, Theosophy has been called by different names such as the Ancient or Ageless Wisdom, the Wisdom Religion, the Wisdom Tradition, the Perennial Wisdom and the Perennial Philosophy.
Why is Theosophy important? Because its teachings are perennially relevant to human problems, broad yet deep, challenging and comprehensive, presenting a holistic world-view which emphasises the unity and interconnectedness of all life – the basic oneness of all peoples and species of life on Earth. They point to the spark in each of us which emanates from one Source.
Madame Blavatsky, who re-presented Theosophy in its modern form in the late nineteenth century, drew together teachings from sources which included Plato, Confucius, the Vedas, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, and many ancient seers, scientists and other contemporary thinkers of her day. Her teachings weave a tapestry which depicts the Cosmos as permeated with Spirit and Intelligence and divinely guided from within.
She portrayed human beings as both earthly and divine, with vast potential still to be unfolded throughout immense future cycles of evolution. She also described the human being as sevenfold, with a capacity to develop increasingly higher expressions of emotion, concrete and abstract thought, intuitive insight, compassion, realisation of unity and Spiritual Will. Furthermore, she described superphysical worlds or fields around and within us, from which intelligences and energies play upon us and all of Nature.
Theosophical teachings throughout history have explained life’s seeming inequalities as consequences of Karma, the Law of Balance and Harmony. This Law, or reharmonising process, gives us feedback on our actions and provides learning experiences. It expands our perspective to the possibility of many lifetimes through which we grow toward spiritual maturity.
But perhaps most importantly, a way of life is implicit in Theosophy. It implies a regard for all life and actions based on an increasing realisation of our oneness with all others. There is much to be said for living in increasing harmony with all forms of life. Growing ecological awareness today is one aspect of this. Theosophical teachings also imply a way of living which allows our greatest human qualities to unfold such as intuition, understanding, insight, love, compassion and creativity.
It was mentioned that Madame Blavatsky gave the world Theosophy in its modern form. Just as Theosophy has been taught by many before her, since her death in 1891 others have explored and interpreted Theosophical teachings in their own way. Members of the Theosophical Society and members of the public attending lectures or seminars are encouraged to question, ponder and consider ideas put forward by various theosophical presenters. Certain teachings will appeal more to some than to others. The Theosophical Society does not claim to have conclusive answers to life’s deeper purpose, but does provide an environment for free enquiry and exploration into the Theosophical tradition.
A Balanced Approach: It is sometimes said that we need to balance our lives through study, meditation and service. Too much of any of these can create an imbalance. A Theosophical way of life implies one in which basic principles of the Wisdom Tradition are studied in an open-minded way, absorbed in moments of quiet, and put into practice.
Not a Religion, Not a Dogma, Not a Sect: Theosophy is not a religion, although its fundamental concepts are found in the major world religions. It has been said that in one sense Theosophy is religion itself, or the essence of true religion, as already mentioned. Theosophical teachings are not compatible with dogmatism or sectarianism, as they are based on universal principles.
Shallows and Depths: The basics of Theosophy are reasonable and easy to grasp, but there are also depths that can challenge us, providing a lifetime of study for those inclined to seriously pursue these teachings. It is suggested that the spiritual Path, towards which Theosophy points the way, can help us reach heights beyond ordinary human conception as it leads to the unfoldment of our highest spiritual potential. Theosophy offers a philosophy which allows us to grow without limits while living effectively in our day to day circumstances.
What Subjects are Explored at Meetings of The Theosophical Society?
Enquirers are welcome to attend public meetings of the Theosophical Society around Australia. We enquire into a broad range of subjects which fall within the the scope of the Society's three Objects and its Mission Statement. They include areas such as ethical living, modern science, reincarnation, karma, the human constitution, the spiritual Path, the Oneness of all life, teachings from various religious and philosophical traditions, meditation and practical aspects of spiritual living, to name a few.
Although speakers from outside groups may be invited to give presentations at TS centres on various topics, it is important to remember that the Theosophical Society is independent. As already mentioned, no speaker at a meeting of the TS speaks officially on behalf of the Society.
What is The Meaning of the Emblem of The Theosophical Society?
Motto: 'There Is No Religion Higher Than Truth'
SATYÂT NÂSTI PARO DHARMAH
There is no Religion higher than Truth
Around the emblem appears the MOTTO of the Theosophical Society. Truth is the quest of every theosophist, whatever his or her faith, if any. Every great religion reflects in some measure the light of the one eternal and spiritual wisdom. Each points a way toward the realisation of Truth.
The whole emblem speaks to an inner perception, to the intuition and to the heart, calling forth the divine in each individual who contemplates it. In its totality, it represents a synthesis of great cosmic principles operating through involutionary and evolutionary cycles, bringing us all, in the fullness of time, to the realisation of our divine nature.
How is the World-Wide Theosophical Society Organised?
As mentioned previously the International Headquarters of the Theosophical Society is located in Adyar, Chennai, India. The office of the International President is located there.
The Society’s international governing body is called the General Council; this meets at least once a year.
There are a number of aspects to the organisation of this international Society:
Lodges, Branches and Sections
Seven or more members may form a Lodge (sometimes called a Branch) with the agreement of the International President. Seven or more chartered Lodges/Branches in areas which are territorially adjacent can apply to form what is known as a Section.
The Theosophical Society in Australia is also known as the Australian Section.
Every Section elects a leader, usually called a General Secretary. In the Australian Section the holder of this office is called the National President.
Several international Federations have been formed which are important bodies that strengthen the bonds between the theosophical centres in their regions and help further the work of the TS. These Federations do not span the whole of the world-wide Theosophical Society but include many Sections. They exist in Europe, America, the Indo-Pacific region and Africa. The Australian Section is part of the Indo-Pacific Federation, which has meetings every three years in different countries in our region.
An International Directory appears in the international theosophical journal, The Theosophist, and on our national website. It includes all Sections an d Federations.
Administration of The Theosophical Society in Australia
The Australian Section includes Lodges, Branches and various formal and informal Groups. Most members belong to such centres but there are also 'National Members' who are attached directly to the National Headquarters, which is located in Sydney.
The governing body of The Theosophical Society in Australia is called the National Council. The National Council consists of the National President, the National Secretary, the National Treasurer and one democratically elected State Representative from each of the six Electoral States within the Australian Section. The National President is elected by the Australian members for a three year term of office and may be elected for up to three consecutive terms.
The State Representatives elected in each State represent the Lodges (Branches), Groups and National Members in that State in all meetings and affairs of the National Council. They liaise with all Lodges (Branches), Groups and National Members in their Electoral State, representing their views to the National Council and to National Society Officers, as required. As well, they receive and deal with representations from individual Members within their Electoral State, and refer the representations when requested or deemed necessary.
The Section also has an Executive Committee which carries out the ongoing administrative and business work of the National Society. The Executive Committee consists of the National President, the National Treasurer, the National Secretary and five members appointed annually by the National Council. The Committee normally meets every two months.
Annual Business Meeting
The Australian Section holds its annual Convention Business Meeting in January each year during the national Convention. Approval of reports, results of ballots, motions to change the Rules, financial and other matters are dealt with. The meeting also provides an opportunity for members to present points of view on various matters and raise any issues of concern.
The previous pages have given you an overview of the Theosophical Society and Theosophy. Some information is now provided on membership.
Benefits of Membership of The Theosophical Society
We are a membership organisation and our members are greatly valued. The Theosophical Society welcomes as members all who are in sympathy with its Three Objects, which were listed previously.
If you choose to join the TS you will not be asked to accept any particular teachings or to surrender any of your existing beliefs. You may belong to any religious tradition, or to none at all. This is in keeping with the Society's policy on Freedom of Thought which appeared earlier in this booklet.
If your application to become a member of a Lodge or Branch, or else a National (unattached) Member, is accepted, you automatically become a member of The Theosophical Society in Australia as well as our world-wide Society. Lodge/Branch members are also National Members attached to a Lodge or Branch.
Activities and Publications Available to Members of The Theosophical Society
- Meetings, talks, discussions, seminars and workshops for members are held in various TS centres. There are also study groups and other specialised activities.
- A number of centres in Australia and throughout the world have libraries and bookshops. Lodges and Branches normally include library membership with their membership dues.
- Annual Conventions for members are a highlight of the Australian TS calendar, held during January at university colleges in different states each year. Experience a week of quality time with other members, interesting talks, workshops, outings and cultural programmes.
- An annual international Convention for TS members is held at the International Headquarters in India.
- A World Congress for members takes place in different countries, normally every seven years.
- A triennial Conference for TS members is held in rotation around various countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
- The TS has a national Education and Retreat Centre at Springbrook in south-eastern Queensland, less than an hour's drive from the Gold Coast. In simple, comfortable rooms, members enjoy schools of Theosophy, seminars and retreats in a secluded and serene mountain setting.
- Some members' events are also held at a second national centre located in New South Wales at Canyonleigh, about half way between Sydney and Canberra.
- Members in or visiting Perth can attend events or else have personal retreats at the Mt. Helena centre in the Hills district, east of Perth.
• A magazine for Australian members is published quarterly.
• Various TS centres around the country send regular newsletters to their members.
• For the first twenty-two months members receive a monthly new members’ letter from the National President concerning various aspects of Theosophy and providing further information about the Society.
• Members can visit and conduct research at The Campbell Theosophical Research Library at the National Headquarters, Sydney, by appointment.
• Members can view the dedicated members’ access area of the Section’s website containing magazines, videos and more.
• International contacts are important. Watch out for any members’ only presentations by visiting lecturers from overseas, who normally tour annually. And if you travel overseas you will be made welcome wherever the Society has a presence.
Membership of the Theosophical Society can therefore provide access to various events, publications and facilities.
If you are undecided about becoming a member of the Society, it is suggested that you join a theosophical library if there is one nearby, or attend a few meetings and get to know some of the members. Some Lodges/Branches require two sponsors for membership applications. Membership fees vary depending on the Branch you wish to join. There is also an initial joining fee of $5.
In areas not close to a local Lodge or Branch it is possible to join as a National Member, with postal access to the Media Library and the National Members lending library at the Australian Headquarters.
An application form for membership may be obtained from your nearest Lodge or Branch, from the Australian TS Headquarters, or from the national website.
Apart from all of these benefits, and perhaps more importantly, many people appreciate the value of joining a society which stands for unity rather than division, free exploration of Divine Wisdom with like-minded people, and a society which holds a special regard for the Sacred in an essentially materialistic world. As can be seen, there are many opportunities to engage with other members.
Although unable to be active, some people maintain their membership as an affirmation of, or personal commitment to, the ideals and Objects of the Society.
The Theosophical Order of Service: For Those Who Are Interested in Practical Community Activities
It was mentioned previously that the Theosophical Society does not involve itself in political or activist pursuits. The Theosophical Order of Service ('TOS') was therefore founded by a former International President of the Society, Dr Annie Besant, in 1908. The TOS provides an opportunity for members and non-members to participate in activities which promote the first Object of The Theosophical Society: 'to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour'. Defining itself as 'a union of all who love in the service of all who suffer', the TOS offers a framework in which the individual may demonstrate practical and humanitarian action in a theosophical spirit, and acts as a forum where members may air their views on affairs of public interest.
The TOS is active in various countries throughout the world and in many of the Lodges/Branches of The Theosophical Society in Australia, but is organised independently from the Society. It includes seven streams of service: information service, social service, citizenship, world peace, animal welfare, healing and the arts.