The Society

ALAS and after- Unity and Diversity in the Theosophical Movement

Pablo Sender – USA

The Society Alas and after PS 2

The author

The subject of unity and diversity is central in the Theosophical tradition. The general view is that all the diverse forms we see around us are but different expressions of an underlying Unity. However, this does not mean that diversity is a mistake or a mirage--all the manifested forms are necessary and unique expressions of the Oneness, which provide the divine sparks a variety of experiences essential for the full realization of their potential. Diversity becomes a problem only when the different expressions fail to work in a harmonious way, within the greater context of the underlying unity.

The Theosophical Movement, based as it is on principles of non-dogmatism, freedom of thought, and encouragement of independent investigation, was bound to diversify in a variety of ways of approaching Theosophy, but it is up to each individual Theosophist to decide how he or she relates to these diverse expressions.

The history of our Movement has many things to be proud of and, of course, there have also been mistakes and situations that do not reflect our high ideals. This is only natural, since the Movement has been composed of human beings--many of them quite extraordinary--who are nevertheless in a process of spiritual growth, learning to respond to the extremely deceiving situations presented to us by maya and karma.

We should all be grateful for what past generations did, and look kindly at what we may regard as mistakes. It is helpful to keep in mind that, when looking back, we have advantages--both of an exoteric and esoteric nature--that our predecessors didn't have, and which today we enjoy thanks to their pioneering work and efforts.

Since we are operating with these advantages, it seems fair to propose that our responsibility as a Movement is to try to do better in those areas where our predecessors may not have been successful. Passing on to the next generations old mistakes, prejudices, and misunderstandings would amount to relinquishing our contribution to the collective evolution of the Theosophical Movement of which we have the privilege of being a part.

Looking at the history of our Movement, there seems to be today more unity among its parts than at some other periods in the past. However, this aspect can undoubtedly be improved. In the following lines, I'll share some thoughts about what can help us strengthen this sense of union, mainly as a way to stimulate readers to examine the situation and get their own insights.

The first thought that comes when considering this is that we should be careful not to let the tree hide the forest, as the saying goes. Many Theosophists are devotedly working for the section of the Theosophical Movement they are part of, and it is natural that they become mainly concerned with their organization. But it is useful to make an effort to maintain a wider perspective, reminding ourselves that our main goal is that of spreading Theosophy in the world, and only secondarily to strengthen our own organization--not because the organizations are important in themselves, but because they can be more or less effective instruments for our main goal--that of spreading Theosophy.

Having proposed this first argument, we can naturally ask whether we all mean more or less the same thing when we say "Theosophy." Some may think that there are big differences in what the various sections of the Movement consider as Theosophy, but is this really so? Is it possible that we perceive differences to be bigger simply because we are looking at them with a metaphorical magnifying glass? Let me give an example. 

Many Catholics will say that they are very different from Protestants, and vice versa. And even within these branches of Christianity, there are all kinds of differences drawn between the various denominations. However, for those who do not follow the religion of Jesus, there is a clear commonality between these two major branches. When compared with the wider world of religions, it is clear that the doctrines of Catholicism are far closer to Protestantism than those of Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

Similarly, some teachings from the various Theosophical traditions may differ in several aspects when looked at very closely, but for outsiders they all represent a particular way of considering the cosmos and human beings that is distinctly "Theosophical."

We live in a world that knows very little to nothing of Theosophy. If we can focus on the general goal of assisting "in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists," as HPB wrote in The Key to Theosophy, then we will start feeling that the degree of success of any section of the Movement in doing this, is also our own success, regardless of whether this sometimes happens through the teachings of Blavatsky, and other times through those of Besant, or de Purucker, or Crosbie, and so on. Evidently, if the world begins to be more aware of the existence of Theosophy and starts appreciating it, all our local groups will benefit from it.

This, of course, implies a challenge to the idea that there is a "true doctrine," or "true Theosophical teachings." A careful and open-minded exploration of the foundational writings of Blavatsky and the Mahatmas affords enough evidence that the real occult knowledge can never be contained in any book by any author. As Mahatma KH wrote:

The recognition of the higher phases of man’s being on this planet is not to be attained by mere acquirement of knowledge. Volumes of the most perfectly constructed information cannot reveal to man life in the higher regions. One has to get a knowledge of spiritual facts by personal experience and from actual observation. (The Mahatma Letters #65 or 11 in the Chronological or Barker editions).

The real occult knowledge is acquired on the inner planes during Initiation, and whatever "occult" teachings that can be shared by means of physical-plane words and concepts are only preparatory. So, does it really change much whether we read in Theosophical books that there are twelve globes in a Planetary Chain instead of seven, or whether Mars and Mercury are part of our Chain? In my view, these differences do not matter in the least. We can embrace whatever makes more sense to us at the moment and, if we follow the way of life proposed by Theosophical teachings, we will eventually come to Initiation where all these details can be easily corrected.

Having rooted our actions in the primary goal (making the world aware of Theosophy), we can look at the secondary goal, which is our wanting the organization that we are part of to be strong, healthy, and successful in its mission of spreading Theosophy. This does not need to be a cause of friction or division. Our challenge here, as Theosophists, it to rise above the natural tendency to look at our work from the perspective of competition in which the world we are part of operates.

If we think about this from the deeper perspective given to us by Theosophical teachings, we realize that we do not need to compare our work with that of others, or judge our organization in connection to others, or measure "success" based on external appearances. We know that a body needs all the various types of organs, tissues and glands that it has. Some of them, are spread all over the body (like the nerves), while others are very small and localized (like the pineal gland). Which organ is more important? Is it the wide-spread skin or the smaller cerebellum? Clearly, the question itself is wrong. Similarly, the Theosophical Movement needs all its different expressions--some of them larger (on the external plane), others more localized. As we know, the work we need to do involves more aspects than mere growth in numbers or activities.

In this, it is helpful to keep in mind that, on this plane of limitations, for every possible approach there is a trade-off. For example, if we want to form a group that works with the teachings very deeply, that group will tend to be quite focused and committed but also smaller. If we want to appeal to more people, the approach will need to be more embracing but, necessarily, it will be less focused. Similarly, there will be advantages and disadvantages in whether our section of the Movement works following a leader or using an election system; if it gives more room to philosophical and intellectual pursuits, or to religious and devotional activities; and so on. It seems to me that the strength of the Theosophical Movement as a whole will depend on its variety of approaches, because this will make it more pervasive and able to respond to the differences in tendencies, capacities and dispositions that exist in humanity.

Now, each of us may be more attracted to one approach or the other. There is nothing wrong in this. As cells of the different organs in a body, our individual contribution is in trying to help the organ that we are part of to fulfill its own functions as perfectly as possible, without trying to make all other organs do what ours is doing.

If we can operate from this perspective, we can offer our contribution without falling in the all-too-human tendency of comparing ourselves with others, feeling threatened by those who do things differently, declaring that our ways are the only way, etc. And because we know about the unexplained laws that are at work in all of this, we can trust that if we do our own part well, we don't have to worry about anything else.

From this perspective, it is easier to have a genuine sense of cooperation, being generous and sharing with others what we have found out that works well. Because of our knowledge of the occult laws, we know that openness, generosity, cooperation, etc., will always result in growth and vitality.

It would also be possible to come together and share how the teachings developed within our different traditions. We could, for example, have meetings where we explore what HPB said about a given subject, but also where each section of the Movement shares the insights on that subject coming from their own leaders. All parts of our Movement have had brilliant and sincere people, and they all have interesting perspectives to consider, even if we may still relate more to one author or the other.

In any case, there is much that could be discussed in connection with this subject. It would be great if all those sincerely attracted to this ideal of cooperation, but perhaps still feeling the presence of some inner obstacles, could come together and examine all this, trusting that in so doing we can gain the necessary insights to manifest our high ideals.



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