Similarities and Differences of Theosophical Traditions

Jim Colbert – USA

[This essay was first published in the spring 2014 issue of International Theosophy Magazine. It is reproduced here in a slightly revised form.]

Introduction:

The article you are about to read does not portend to touch the depth and scope of all Theosophical traditions. It is meant to provide a platform for comparison and understanding. It is said by some that the act of recognizing the similarities and differences between traditions can help one to gain a firmer understanding of their own tradition. It is our hope that it will bring forth comments from all traditions with challenges and agreements. We will give focus to the Theosophical Society Point Loma, the Theosophical Society Adyar, and the United Lodge of Theosophists. We are aware there is a significant tradition associated with the Theosophical Society Pasadena. Although they possess an extensive Theosophical library, they do not seem responsive towards the possibility of a greater Theosophical unity at this time. There is also the Alice Baily tradition, Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy and the Liberal Catholic Church. However, rightly or wrongly from our perspective, these traditions appear to have blended with Christianity and it is hoped a separate article should give focus to these traditions. Possibly we will be challenged on this view. Finally, there are multiple other smaller traditions plus “independent Theosophists” that are deserving of recognition. We plan to offer a forum in the future for these views.

Most all Theosophical traditions, including the three to be described here, rest on the shoulders of H. P. Blavatsky, and to some extent, The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.

There are at least three major, easily proved, gifts H. P. Blavatsky gave to the world.

1. She brought the cultures of East and West together. She, along with earlier Theosophists, reminded the East of its spiritual heritage. Hinduism and Buddhism were hardly recognized in India at the time of her writing. Eastern ideas of karma and reincarnation were almost nonexistent in the West. Interestingly, cremation, in the United States, was first done by Theosophists.

2. Blavatsky brought in the New Age to the West. Quoting from The New Age Encyclopedia: "No single organization or movement has contributed so many components to the New Age Movement as the Theosophical Society. ... It has been the major force in the dissemination of occult literature in the West in the twentieth century” (1). The above is ably described in the wonderful article, “The Secret Doctrine as a contribution to World Thought” (2).

3. She was prescient in modern physics and in other sciences. Perhaps this is one of the reasons a man such as Albert Einstein suggested to Warner Heisenberg that he read The Secret Doctrine (3). Blavatsky spoke of Universes rather than a Universe. Her statements on the infinite divisibility of the atom have the resonance of modern times.

The criticism often given in writing on differences of Theosophical traditions is that the focus is on organizational structure and personalities rather than the teachings. The critique could easily have application to what is found here. We maintain that all Theosophical traditions come from and are based on the writings of H .P. Blavatsky. This is the similarity of all traditions. The organizations which arose after her death and developed their own traditions were and are highly related to the leaders of those organizations. We intend to describe these developments and include some of the differences. We are giving emphasis to each as a contribution. Criticisms of each tradition exist in Theosophical literature. Maybe we can start a tradition with a positive approach.

The Theosophical Society, Point Loma Tradition

After H. P. B.’s death, William Q. Judge, one of the original founders of the Theosophical Society, carried on the work primarily in the United States. Although his contributions were extraordinary, he too passed on only five years after Blavatsky’s death. Katherine Tingley became the leader of this tradition. She consolidated most of the activity in Point Loma, California which became a center for many scientific, artistic, and literary works in the world. Point Loma is near the city of San Diego in California, USA. The primary focus of this tradition, in this era, is now in The Hague, The Netherlands with Herman C. Vermeulen presently the leader.

There have been two expressions of Theosophy, dating from the early work, in spreading Theosophy. One has been referred to as the exoteric (public presentations, literature, and meetings); the other is esoteric (secret and more sacred). In the latter there is a pledge starting with, “I pledge myself to endeavor to make Theosophy a living power in my life.” Although the Point Loma tradition no longer has an esoteric section, the original writings are used to give meaning to what they consider to be living a Theosophical life.

There is focus on compassion with an emphasis on reaching out to others. If there is a choice between a public activity where there may be those new to Theosophy and those already familiar with the teachings, they will always choose the public activity as this will bring greater awareness for Theosophy. In the well-known and abridged version of the Mahâ-Chohan’s view on the Society, which K. H. sent to A. P. Sinnett we read: “It’s time that Theosophy should enter the arena.” The Point Loma tradition strongly tries to bring this about.

One of the ways this is done is through a course they offer called, “Thinking Differently.” It is a twelve lesson bi-weekly course which they are giving now in different parts of Europe. Although the components are derived directly from Theosophical teachings, one is not initially aware of this. It includes ideas from Plato and Buddhism. This author considers the course to reflect some of the main concepts of present day Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Many participating in the course eventually ask where these ideas come from and they are then provided with an introduction to the Theosophical teachings.

Finally, in the emphasis to make the teachings “accessible,” modern technology is widely used. Their magazine, Lucifer, (title taken from H. P. B.’s publication) is now available in English as well as Dutch. The material for this summary was largely taken from an article in the first English publication of their magazine, “Theosophical Society Point Loma Blavatskyhouse: about the Point Loma tradition.”

For Lucifer follow this link:

http://www.blavatskyhouse.org/pdf/lucifer-february-2013r.pdf .

The United Lodge of Theosophists Tradition

ULT, as it is called, stems from the lineage of William Q. Judge. It was founded by Robert Crosbie and others in 1909 as an independent association to study the teachings. The word “association” is used here deliberately as participants of ULT are called “Associates” implying all are gathered together to study and work for Theosophy. The approach is not to stand in the way of the original teachings with officers, by-laws or organization. For public presentations the names of the speakers are not given nor are current authors’ names used in written materials.

It is a mistake to view ULT as having no organization at all. Lodges, although independent, often have a business arm connected which does have officers and by-laws. In Los Angeles this is called Theosophy Company and it is a non-profit fiduciary body. It is seen as a supplementary for paying bills, maintaining property, publishing, and taking care of all matters of this type. The study classes, public presentations and all else related to the teachings are considered as activities of United Lodge of Theosophists. It is their position that the original teachings of H. P. Blavatsky’s and William Q. Judge’s are what is important and nothing should get in the way of this.

In the many years following the passing of H. P. B., thousands of “changes and corrections” had been made to the original writings of H. P. B. and Mr. Judge. Such deletions and additions were the product of prominent “post H. P. B.” Theosophists. It was difficult for many to find the original teachings as they were not available in print. This became part of the work for ULT. Some of the associates were able to locate the original plates and photographic facsimiles of the original publications. Although these publications are now widely available, in the early part of the twentieth century, they were not. The work of the associates was important. Robert Crosbie did not publish books of his own. After his death some of the students put together many of his letters into a book entitled, The Friendly Philosopher which was published in 1934 (4).

The vision Crosbie had for ULT can be found there. He writes, “Members of any organization or unattached, old and new students, could belong to it without disturbing their affiliations, for the sole condition necessary would be the acceptance of the principle of similarity of aim, purpose, and teaching. The binding spiritual force of this principle of brotherhood needs no such adventitious aids as Constitution or By-laws – or Officers to administer them. With it as basis for union, no possible cause for differences could arise; no room is found here for leader or authority, for dogma or superstition, and yet – as there are stores of knowledge left for all – the right spirit must bring forth from ‘Those who never fail’ all necessary assistance.” The magazine Theosophy is no longer being published but there are excellent magazines being published, one through the Santa Barbara ULT, called Vidya and The Theosophical Movement Magazine from the ULT in India.

For Vidya follow this link:

http://www.theosophysb.org/site/publications.html

For The Theosophical Movement Magazine follow this link:

http://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html

The Theosophical Society, Adyar Tradition

The Theosophical Society, Adyar is, by far, the largest Theosophical tradition. As such, it encompasses divergent and convergent approaches to Theosophy. It includes students making Theosophy the fundamental center of their life and, others, who join it as an adjunct to their main spiritual path. When the original Theosophical Society began in 1875 it was open and still is to persons from all religions.

Recently, this author was somewhat amazed when he was attempting to make contact with other Theosophical students in Pakistan and found not only were they members of the TS but they were Muslims as well. The international headquarters is in Adyar, India. After the death of H. P. B. the person that became most prominent of this tradition was Annie Besant; truly an incredible leader. She fought for women’s rights and became a member of The International Order of Co-Freemasonry Great Britain, Le Droit Humain, eventually becoming the head of the Great Britain section which admits both men and woman. She became involved in politics in India, joining the Indian National Congress.

When World War I broke out in 1914, she helped launch the Home Rule League to campaign for democracy in India and dominion status within the Empire. This led to her election as president of the Indian National Congress in late 1917. After the war, she continued to campaign for Indian independence and for the causes of Theosophy, until her death in 1933 (5). She also started the Theosophical Order of Service which still is fully active throughout the world responding to natural disasters and promoting social justice, vegetarianism, animal rights, and environmentalism.

Annie Besant worked with Henry S. Olcott, one of the three main founders of the Theosophical Society and later with C. W. Leadbeater. Jiddu Krishnamurti, a speaker and writer on philosophical and spiritual subjects,who was brought up and groomed in a typical Theosophical environment but who distanced himself from the TS-Adyar in 1929, is still held in high esteem by many Theosophists associated with this tradition.

The Esoteric School is an important part of the activities of the TS-Adyar. For those wishing to know more about this, Pablo Sender’s article The Esoteric School of Theosophy (6) is recommended. It is understood that the Esoteric School acts independently from the Society itself but many members participate in both. Furthermore there are autonomous sections, regional associations, presidential agencies and lodges which are directly attached to the headquarters of the TS-Adyar in India, throughout the world.

One can find excellent Theosophical libraries on various continents, but four of them are highly recommended: The Campbell Theosophical Research Library in Sydney, Australia and The Theosophical Library in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. They have collections of Theosophical publications from all the Theosophical traditions. Many of these publications are available online and in many languages. The third one, the Henry S. Olcott Memorial Library in Wheaton, Illinois USA has an excellent collection of works from all Theosophical traditions. Last, but not least, the Adyar Library and Research Centre in Chennai, India is one of the most important oriental libraries in the world. It contains over 250,000 printed volumes and around 20,000 palm-leaf manuscripts from India, Sri Lanka, China and elsewhere. *

There are multiple national and international conferences scheduled throughout the year. In the United States some are held at the American headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois and at the Krotona Center in Ojai, California. Online courses in Theosophy are available in the form of webcasts and webinars from the Wheaton site.

Follow this link: http://www.theosophical.org/

Similarities and Differences

As indicated in the opening part of this article, the similarity of the traditions is they are based on the work and writings of Helena P. Blavatsky. Copies of the original writings are now available through all three traditions. All three organizations are international in scope and the meeting locations in various cities can be found on their websites:

http://www.blavatskyhouse.org .

www.ult.org .

www.ts-adyar.org.

Early in the history of the Theosophical movement there were indications of disagreements for those involved in making the teachings available. With some remarkable exceptions there was very little in the way of intercommunication between groups. This has changed. While some may stay focused on the past, the past is over one hundred years ago. Today, if a person from one tradition visits or gets to know persons associated with other traditions the discovery is amazing. We are all so much alike; we find others who have great knowledge and ideas to offer. Truly, we find our friends. To this observer the Point Loma tradition gives greater focus to the practical application of Theosophy in daily life. The United Lodge of Theosophists gives focus to the core teachings. The Theosophical Society, Adyar has a broader base in which to reach a wider band of other souls in other religions in their spiritual search. Think of the power if all three traditions were working together and helping each other to expand these areas of focus. Maybe then Theosophy can begin to enter the arena.

References:

  1. (1) Melton, J. Gordon, J. Gordon, New Age Encyclopedia

  2. (2) Ashish, Sri Madhava. The Secret Doctrine as a Contribution to World Thought, found in “Theosophical Symposium” http://www.theosophical.org/files/resources/selfstudy/Sample_SD_Symposium.pdf

  3. (3) Algeo, John. Theosophy and the Zeitgeist, [American Theosophist75.10 (November 1987, Fall Special Issue): 322-332.]

  4. (4) Crosbie, Robert. The Friendly Philosopher, The Theosophy Company, 1934

  5. (5) From Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant

  1. (6) Sender, Pablo. The Esoteric School of Theosophy

http://www.theosophical.org/publications/quest-magazine/2951 .

*The Theosophical Libraries as mentioned in this article:

  • The Campbell Theosophical Research Library in Sydney, Australia

http://www.austheos.org.au/tsia-campbell-theosophical-research-library.html

  • The Theosophical Library in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

http://www.theosofie.nl/bibliotheek/

  • Henry S. Olcott Memorial Library in Wheaton – Illinois, USA

http://www.theosophical.org/library-home

  • Adyar Library and Research Centre in Chennai, India

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/adyar-library-and-research-centre

Text Size

Subscribe to our newsletter

Email address
Confirm your email address

Who's Online

We have 165 guests and no members online

TS-Adyar website banner 150

Facebook

itc-tf-default

TS Point Loma/Blavatsky House

Vidya Magazine

TheosophyWikiLogoRightPixels

Donate

If you enjoy reading Theosophy Forward, you could help the magazine by considering a monetary contribution.