The Society

ALAS and after- International Theosophical Conferences - the Rise and Fall

Jacques Mahnich – France

The Society JM 213 b ITC

Jacques in his garden

The initiative carried out by International Theosophical Conferences  (ITC) for more than 10 years is a good example of the modes of operation and the difficulties that exist in communities which transmit spiritual teachings. 

Driven at the outset by momentum, great enthusiasm and a sincere desire to improve the quality and scope of the message conveyed, this type of movement almost inevitably encounters pitfalls on its path. The history of religious, spiritual, philosophical, political movements is littered with difficulties and failures, and they all have one thing in common: PEOPLE. More precisely, that part of the human we call the personality at this stage of development on this earth, has not yet acquired the maturity to approach the challenges of life with serenity and hindsight. As each failure is also an opportunity to bounce back and rebuild, it is important to understand and properly diagnose the root causes that lead to the difficulties and the inability to resolve them. Lucidity and honesty will be essential, so we do not hide behind pseudo-justifications.

I joined ITC in 2013, after attending the annual meeting in New York, where I discovered a living, vibrant community of Theosophists from all walks of life. This included those who were affiliated or not, to existing movements, and all were enthusiastic to the idea of acting together in the great spirit and work of transmitting the Teachings of Ancient Wisdom. The diversity of profiles present was enriching and, as the organizational aspect was not yet predominant, a scent of freedom floated in the atmosphere. At that time,  ITC was governed by a Board of 16 Directors drawn from all the theosophical trends. Then, we had the meeting at Naarden in 2014, the founding meeting, although the origins of the movement can be traced back to the early nineties, around Willie Dade and the Colbert family. Indeed, the presence and the participation of the leaders of the principal theosophical currents in Naarden, on one of the sites of the Theosophical Society Adyar, resulted in legitimizing a little more, and propelling ITC to the front of the stage. This was later followed by  invitations from the International President of the Theosophical Society-Adyar to the President of ITC, and to members of the various theosophical streams to come and participate in various editions of the International Convention in Adyar. This was unique in the modern history of the Movement.

In 2014, the famous "Naarden Declaration" laid the foundations for a way of working together for the different participants. This statement, prepared by the working groups on site and then formulated by the executives of ITC, aimed to identify the "lowest common denominator", that is, the basis of uncontroversial theosophical teachings on which we could lean on to work together. It was not intended to establish an absolute dogma from which one could not deviate later. It should be noted that this statement, as formulated by the working groups and which was given to the participants before the leaders' debate, did not include this small annotation which would later alter the scope of its meaning. The initial wording was: "in accordance with * the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky and her Masters", the (*) originally meaning: "in agreement with the participants of ITC 2014". Later, this little add-on was transformed into "in harmony, in accordance and consistent with".

Then there was the Den Haag, in English The Hague, meeting in 2015 which saw the beginning of "cross pollination" materialize, with the invitation of speakers from the various theosophical movements. There also emerged a form of dogmatism with the advocates of “TRUE Theosophy” affirming loudly and clearly, even during presentations, their points of view within the framework of joint work. The working groups also reflected this drift.

The 2016 meeting in Santa Barbara, which had as its theme “Theosophy and Social Responsibility” was very rich in content and participation, but it confirmed once more this unfortunate dogmatic drift, in the way of selecting the subjects and the recommended readings, as well as in the organization and preparation of working groups. The consequence was a confinement of free thought within a closed canvas that does not tolerate external contributions. This was the last meeting I attended.

Since then, we have witnessed that some years ago one, of the two Vice-Presidents who was enthusiastically vocal in supporting and promoting the initial ITC idea left the Board, apparently aware of the dogmatic drift of the movement, while earlier this year ITC’s President and one prominent Board member quite abruptly resigned. Because this happened in a relatively brief time frame, it seems to me that there must have been discord about the fundamentals of the ITC initiative.

Now, what can we learn from it and what lessons have we learned in this adventure? The history of the Theosophical Movement is, from its very beginning, littered with such misadventures which have left many scars. These misadventures all have the same thing in common: …

… at some point in history, one or more personalities claim to "hold the truth", "to be the sole guarantors of the integrity of the message".

We have seen it with all the splits that have occurred since the departure of H. P. Blavatsky, Judge and his successors, but also Crosby, Steiner, Bailey, Roerich, countless clashes of personalities. In 1931, a precursor initiative of the modern ITC was initiated by G. de Purucker, who proposed to bring together members of different theosophical currents on the anniversary of the birth of H.P. Blavatsky, in Point Loma. A "gesture of fraternization and reunion" which was not a success; Ms. Besant and de Purucker both claiming to be the sole holder of "True Theosophy".

The Society JM 213 c

Robert Crosbie

Robert Crosbie, who left Point Loma in 1904, and, together with some students, launched the ULT in 1909, has left us a testimony, a crystal clear understanding of what we are trying to tackle:

It is futile to accept revelations on anybody's say-so. They convey no knowledge, and it is actual knowledge that is required by each one. Theosophy is in the world to present the means by which each one can acquire knowledge for himself. Its study and application call forth the judgment and discrimination latent in the man himself. Truth is not a man, nor a book, nor a statement. The nature of Truth is universal ; its possessors in any degree will be found to be appliers of universality in thought, speech and action. . . They will never be found among those claiming to be the chosen spokesman of the Deity.[1]

Later in time, a unique character added: "Truth is a Pathless Land ".

It should be noted that these events also enriched the movement by diversifying it and attracting other sensibilities.

It is helpful to recognize that active participation in any movement of a spiritual nature has an effect of amplifying our patterns of behavior. Our personalities are subject to this "spiritual field" which will bring out all the aspects that are obstacles to the change necessary to accomplish our missions, and thus create conflicts of interest, even if we are not aware of it. This is one way to move forward: amplify to make the areas we need to work on obvious. In the case of leaders of movements of a spiritual or religious nature, the resulting blindness leads to behavioral drifts, most of the time unconscious, but which have a strong impact. Orthodox or Latin Christians and Protestants up until this day still fight over ownership of the message of Christianity, Shiites and Sunnis are torn apart over who is the true lineage of Islam. Even some Buddhists, followers of non-violence, participate in massacres of minorities. Of course, in the case of organized religions, the mixture between spiritual and temporal power accentuates the drifts.

However, we know that reality is One, and that we each perceive it under a different aspect, because of all the conditioning that accompanies us. These apparent schisms do challenge us because they have their specific and very important function: to push forward the process of evolution.

Any form of teaching is fossilized as soon as it is no longer alive. Simply repeating what was written over a hundred years ago, or even  a thousand years ago, has little or no impact on acquiring behavioral wisdom that can move the collective consciousness of humanity. Spiritual teachings - all spiritual teachings - are mere compasses left by seekers who have dedicated their lives to learning Reality, nothing more.

These teachings can only bear fruit when they are implemented, put into practice. And here too we touch upon a fundamental difficulty on the spiritual path: confinement in the fortress of the mind. We are so trained, formatted, to use our intellect to lead our lives that we have a real difficulty coming out of it to perceive and experience Reality. All the great mystics are unanimous in saying, on the basis of their own experience:

"Learn, then unlearn!" The most powerful of languages is silence (mind) which opens the heart and lets the divine flow.

Most of the "serious" spiritual paths, described by many Masters from all the traditions, and trodden by millions of followers, are steep up-hill paths which require the utmost vigilance not to fall in the abysses. We will inevitably stumble but we shall always restart after some rest. What is important is to keep our eyes on the Guiding Light in front of us, and keep our confidence in it.

To return to the adventure of ITC, one example among many others, we must consider what a group of humans organized and centered around a common goal actually is. Any organization, spiritual or not, is an assembly of souls, united by a set of core principles, and driven toward a common goal. Any member of an organization brings with him his whole background - and not only from this current life. This means, because we are not all perfect Arhats yet, that the personal ego still wants to play its game, and its game is just ... to exist, and justify every thought, every uttered word, every action, for its own sake, which means that all our thoughts, speeches and actions are tainted by it, consciously or, most of the time, unconsciously. When it comes to spiritual organizations, spiritual materialism lurks, and it multiplies the energy of the ego. This is why it is so difficult to keep the steering of the ship on the right direction.

Overall, my experience with ITC has been a great one: I could mingle, exchanging ideas and experiences, with people whom I probably never would have had the opportunity to meet, fellow seekers from all over the world, and from all major theosophical currents. I discovered organizations that offer different models of gaining spiritual knowledge. Some are very centered around their leader, others devoid of any form of organization and leader, and there are some still halfway between these two. And each one of the groups produces remarkable theosophical work, each in its own way. Therefore, the combination of all of these formations can only add additional value to the Theosophical movement. So how do you overcome the recurring difficulties that arise?

Clearly, the only plausible thing to do is to stop thinking and claiming that you are the guardian of the Truth, presenting True Theosophy. Theosophy is universal and does not belong to anyone. Theosophical education is available to everyone and it is up to everyone to draw from it at their source. Then, as in any human community, it can be useful to define - in common - what are the fundamental values around which the group gathers. Naarden's statement in 2014, without the small *, is a good example.

Together, in communion with each other, we must define the development the strategy of the initiative and the related plans and means of action, allowing ourselves  to revisit and critically look at them regularly, according to  progress made.

This may seem quite mechanical as a process, but experience proves that in order to bear fruit, the work of a group needs those notions of values, strategy, action plans, and above all a control loop to quickly discern the drifts or unforeseen obstacles that can hinder any progress. Beyond the mechanics of piloting, the fundamentals of behavior such as  honesty, openness, knowledge, all in a spirit of compassion and altruism, remain essential.

The spirit of the initiative led by Jim Colbert and others is still  alive and the seeds thus sown can only germinate one day to come, bringing their harvest of flowers of knowledge and thus continue to help humanity in its slow evolution towards the One Reality.

Quote from John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystic from the 16th century, who wrote in his Ascent of Mount Carmel :

The Society JM 213 d

To reach satisfaction in all, desire its possession in nothing.
To come to possession in all desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all desire the knowledge of nothing.
To come to the pleasure you have not you must go by the way in which you enjoy not.
To come to the knowledge you have not you must go by the way in which you know not.
To come to the possession you have not you must go by the way in which you possess not.
To come by the what you are not you must go by a way in which you are not.
When you turn toward something you cease to cast yourself upon the all.
For to go from all to the all you must deny yourself of all in all.
And when you come to the possession of the all you must possess it without wanting anything.
Because if you desire to have something in all your treasure in God is not purely your all. 

 

[1]Robert Crosbie – Universal Theosophy – The Theosophy Company, 2006

To read the article ALAS,  click HERE

In the coming period more authors will elaborate on the same subject.

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