Participants of the July 2018 Naarden meeting - photo Damon Scothern
A Summary of the General Council Planning Meeting, ITC Naarden, the Netherlands, July 2018
Tim Boyd – USA & India
To serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and
realization of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual Self-transformation, and the Unity of all Life
Since its founding in 1875 the Theosophical Society (TS) has grown into an organization with membership, branches, and sections in more than 70 countries worldwide. The scope of TS activities has similarly grown and changed over the years, with publishing, education, programs, lectures, TS centers, communication, and meetings assuming new forms to suit ever-changing times. One of the recognized features of our time is the rapid nature of change. Unlike the recent past, no nation, culture, or geographical location is unaffected by the currents of change sweeping the planet. This condition places strong demands on all of us. More is required of us than mere repetition of past formulas or insistence upon “staying the course” in maintaining the forms of previous activities. With all of its uncertainty, this is a powerful moment in which we are living. It is a time that cries out for the depth of understanding and potential for harmonious living that the Ageless Wisdom can provide. The question for the TS now, as in the past, is “How can we communicate this wisdom to the world in a usable way?”
Historically, the General Council (GC) of the TS has met for a few hours once each year – on the day before the opening of the annual International Convention at Adyar. This approach has placed severe limitations on the ability for heads of national Sections to share necessary information and allowed little or no time for meaningful dialogue on long range plans for the international organization. In an effort to provide an opportunity for more extended planning, in 2015 a second meeting specifically devoted to strategic planning was added immediately following the close of convention. At the GC meeting in December 2016 it was determined that a 5-day planning meeting would be held in March of 2017 at the International Theosophical Centre in Naarden, the Netherlands. That meeting was primarily focused on brainstorming-allowing the space for all manner of ideas to come to light and be considered. Mere ideas were not enough, and each of the more than 40 projects proposed at that meeting had people assigned to make them real.
During the course of the year the progress and difficulties of the various projects were monitored by a small coordinating team, charged with both reporting and helping to keep the work on track. Special attention was given to 11 priority projects. In the beginning of July this year we met again at the ITC in Naarden, this time as an official GC meeting. In all, 30 members (20 GC members and 10 invited participants) attended from a variety of countries: the Netherlands, England, Belgium, India, the USA, Kenya, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, the Philippines, Spain, Germany, Italy, Brazil, and Argentina. It is the intention to formalize this extended meeting as an additional annual meeting of the GC. The report which follows is a summary of this year’s gathering.
- The policy paper includes the mission statement of the TS
The policy paper discusses the direction of the work of the TS and will frequently be updated. All policies are, of course, subject to approval of the GC. A major feature is the mission statement included above, which emphasizes the TS role in and for the world, the reason why it exists. It is extremely important, as it clarifies the task or role of the TS in the world, not only for TS members, but also for people at large. It also refers to the three Object of the TS. For internal use it may have a strong impact, with a greater focus on our work, on what members and people can/should expect, such as our Lodge work. It clarifies that we are not to please the spiritual ambitions of our members, nor a New Age style of organization. As a statement, it can be considered "the other side of the coin” of our Freedom of Thought statement, being the practical implication of our three Objects. Sections are requested to include the mission statement in all TS publications, while TS writers are encouraged to write articles, giving their view on the statement.
- Introductory books lowering threshold for people at large
Many of the introductory books we continue to reprint are over 100 years old. While pearls of wisdom in these books are timeless, communication has changed considerably since, as has our approach to theosophy. Many recently published books are for “seasoned" TS members, whereas some of the introductory books deal more with the interest of the writer, rather than the reader. The public at large spends little time reading complex books to meet with initial interest. The plan is to publish a range of contemporary low-cost introductory publications (books, brochures, and other communication channels) with special emphasis on the spiritual life of the beginning reader, where possible making links with practical daily life. Thus theosophical concepts become recognizable for the reader in a modern, undogmatic way, thus raising interest, triggering further contacts, and deeper study. The publications, if possible translated in all major languages, can also be used for introductory courses in theosophical lodges.
- Make TS Publishing Houses future-proof
The publishing world has been undergoing very rapid ranges due to the popularization of eBooks and the rising cost of printing and distribution. The different theosophical publishing houses are also undergoing difficulties in sustaining their operations. It has been deemed desirable that publishers explore areas where they can cooperate with each other, adapt to new approaches in publishing and distribution, and seek ways to increase the reach of theosophical literature in the world. The team on this project has proposed that there be one global e-bookstore for all theosophical books, taking advantage of the present capability of Quest Books USA to sell eBooks on their site. This is now being explored.
- Meditation Course for a broader public
One of the services that the TS can offer is a meditation course for the general public – those seeking inner peace or equanimity. The team is now gathering time- tested practices that have been used within and outside the TS, and a few options will be recommended to the different Sections.
- Establishing theosophical schools
A major project that had been agreed upon is establishing theosophical schools in various parts of the world. As a specific initiative, the General Council has approved founding a theosophical school in Adyar up to high school level to start mid-2019. In addition, new initiatives are now going on for new schools in the Philippines, Argentina, and Brazil.
- Theosophy World: An online theosophical resource centre
- Internal site-sharing best practices within the TS
Around the world many Sections have already developed many practices that have proven successful and effective in many aspects of theosophical work, such as membership record and lodge management, establishment of retreat centres or communities, dissemination methods, online courses, seminars, nurturing new members, and so on. Sections which have difficulties in these areas can learn from their experiences, difficulties, and successes. They do not have to start from scratch. A team is now compiling best practices on theosophical work from Sections around the world and this will be uploaded in a theosophical resource site. This will have restricted access and will be limited to certain officers of the TS.
- TS Centers
- Harmonizing core teachings
For the past one hundred years, certain basic theosophical teachings that have been popularized in the TS have internal contradictions or have terms or nomenclatures that have different meanings and have caused confusion among new students of theosophy. Examples of these are the use of the words Monad, astral body, Logos and the different versions of the principles of the human being, life after death, etc. While it is not the intention to make final definitions, which would contradict the freedom of thought declaration, recommendations for initial use for new students can be useful. A team has been tasked to solicit the opinions of writers, leaders and scholars to hopefully come up with proposed harmonization of basic teachings for introductory theosophical literature. Whatever recommendation the team proposes will not be taken as an official position of the TS.
- International speakers list
The list of international speakers is aimed to create an authorized list of international speakers, who are competent and available to be invited to give lectures or seminars or conduct schools or workshops. The list would be updated yearly by a team at Adyar and introduced at the December Council meeting. Recommended criteria for an international speaker has been created. These criteria are very important, as each speaker acts as a representative of the international TS. The aim is also to create a policy for funding the travels. Travels should generally be covered by the inviting Section, possibly supported by the regional Federation. Overseas travels may be considered to be funded. Aim is also to support Section or Federation for weaker areas to encourage theosophical study.
- Self-Transformation Seminars
The Self-Transformation Seminars have been conducted in about 20 countries and facilitators have been trained in 10 countries. It has been found to be useful and effective as a seminar offered by the TS, both for members and the general public, for personal development and spiritual growth. The plan is to encourage more Sections to conduct this seminar and to train more facilitators who can transmit this to the public.
- Animal Rights and Welfare
Nowadays many animals are being bred solely for production, therefore society accepts factory-farming as a means for producing meat. Humankind should know by now that animals do have emotions, can feel pain, and that some animals even have a level of self-awareness and a remarkable sense of justice. Knowing this, the TS should not remain silent about the indescribable suffering that is inflicted on our younger brothers and sisters. Although the TS as an organization cannot align itself with any movement, it is imperative that we help cultivate an informed awareness of this issue. A working group created a concept manifesto dealing with this theme: “A society without any animal products would be ideal.” Primarily because of the appalling suffering caused to animals, a vegan diet is what we strongly propagate, with its obvious environmental considerations and benefits.
The Theosophical Society is part of a movement that is planetary in scope. As we learn to move toward a collaborative approach in our work, our effectiveness and relevance will grow. Now, as in the past, our greatest resource is our committed members. We look forward to an exciting development within the TS, where teams all over the world are working together across a range of projects to fulfill the Theosophical Society’s mission of serving humanity. New projects will be added in due time. This most important process will be coordinated, followed, and approved by the General Council.