The Society

Alas and after - In Search of the Dynamics of Unity

Jonathan Colbert – USA

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Jonatan Colbert during the 142nd International; Convention in Adyar - January 2018


The chiefs want a Brotherhood of Man

                                                             Mahatma, K.H.


Instead of our three Objects being, as often erroneously supposed, separate, distinct, disconnected, they are in truth intimately and vitally related to each other.

                                                                 Bertram Keightley


During the years of conversing with Jim Colbert (my father) and his consort Sally Colbert as they envisioned the unfoldings of the ITC (International Theosophy Conferences), and during my years of serving on the Board of the ITC, I came to understand that all the distinct theosophical traditions have a unique genius to offer the world. A few years ago, I submitted an essay to Theosophy Forward called, “Concentric Circles: Why I Support the ITC.” In it, I made the case that all the theosophical traditions have the same center, that of universal brotherhood. I wrote then and I still believe that integrity, purity, and generosity are the hallmarks of each of the existing mainstreams, each in their own way.

The opening speech my father gave at the Naarden ITC 2014 Conference articulated the raison d’etre of ITC and the importance of opening doors between organizations. (Watch the speech HERE) In his extemporaneous comments, he was really talking about opening the doors of the heart. Theosophists of all stripes can and must, he said, become spiritually united, while allowing each organization to remain loyal to what it holds and advocates. He offered examples of meaningful intercommunication he thought should be engaged in, including simply talking to each other, but in so doing, listening more than we talk. He spoke about the importance of working for the future and the unstoppable power of unity in this regard. Poignantly, he suggested that H.P.B., like a mother, provided a primary impulse of the heart that will last for centuries.

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Father and son, swapping chairs; the Colbert's home, Julian-California

As many will testify who have endeavored to labor for humanity within a matrix of devotion and cooperation, the uplifting heart-dynamics of caring, patience, and creative expression are released in wondrous ways. Yet, even though, as we say, the various theosophical offshoots are as “branches of one tree,” finding unity through doctrines per se, cannot work. It would be like a husband and wife who had become estranged and were trying to get back together, either for the sake of their family, or because at some level they still had a deep feeling for one another—or both: think of how tedious and detrimental it would be if one or both couldn’t stop going on about doctrines? Outsiders would say that somebody here is too wrapped up in their head! Wouldn’t it be common sense to council that they need to focus on and rediscover the fact of their unity? In the context of the larger theosophical community, the healing balm, then, rather than a return to doctrine, will be none other than a return to the realization of the 1st Object of the Theosophical Movement as a spiritual fact in great Nature.

Without self-awareness and vigilant mindfulness of the spiritual fact of unity, efforts towards reunification and cooperation cannot help but risk degradation into the more entropic and conservative factional motivations of self-preservation and consolidation. If theosophists, then, are to continue the noble objective of opening doors, clarification as to motives, means and methods will become increasingly crucial. A powerful lens for the individual and institutional self-examination that is needed, was given as early as 1890, in an address by Bertram Keightley in New York City to the Aryan T.S. entitled, “The Objects of the Theosophical Society.” His thesis is that critical to the theory and practice of the 1st Object, Universal Brotherhood, is fully grasping the relevance of—and within that context— the artful practice of the 2nd and 3rd Objects:

“…instead of our three Objects being, as often erroneously supposed, separate, distinct, disconnected, they are in truth intimately and vitally related to each other: the Second and Third Objects of the Society indicating the only lines upon which we may reasonably hope to achieve the ultimate realization of our grand ideal, the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.”

                                                                                                                                                                                   The Theosophist, September 1890

Keightley makes a thought-provoking, indeed, challenging distinction between Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. He further proceeds to identify the catastrophic cost of a lack of clarity in this regard. Not only does Keightley specify that the “teachings and doctrines of Theosophy” are “in no sense those of the Society,” and that, “Theosophy is not the creed of the Theosophical Society,” he states that this misunderstanding has, “to a great extent obscured [the Society’s] first and primary purpose”, i.e., “the simple, noble ideal of universal brotherhood.”

The subtle and sublime anarchy of Universal Brotherhood, “excludes by its very nature, every form of dogma or orthodoxy from the hearts of those who truly follow its noble teaching.” The Founders of the Theosophical Society saw Universal Brotherhood as a Spiritual fact to be realized, rather than as something to be created or imposed. It is this pivotal insight on the part of the Founders, Keightley contends, that determined the choice of the Society’s 2nd and 3rd Objects.

Contrary to the unhappy view that, by stealth, tiptoes in amongst doctrinaire Theosophists— that the pursuit of the 2nd Object is a way of proving that Theosophy is superior to other religions, sciences, and philosophies—Keightley asserts that the study and process that the 2nd Object represents is that of removing sectarian differences and showing the fundamental identity of all creeds.

Here, one could add with the Dalai Lama, that the study of the sciences demonstrates the profound interdependence of all life, and, with Plato, that the study of philosophy as the contemplation of transcendental archetypes fosters universalization and synthesis. All of these are instantiations of the Spiritual fact of Brotherhood, cultivating “growth of brotherly feeling throughout all sections of the human race.”

 “Universal Brotherhood,” then, says Keightley, “is not only the foundation-stone of the Theosophical Society, but literally the essence of its Second and Third Objects — the life-giving spirit in them all.” In considering the 2nd Object, we find countless examples of mystics who have had beatific visions of unity and solidarity. In this way the 3rd Object becomes accessible as a part of the collective record of human experience. Importantly, in Keightley’s discussion of the 3rd Object, he deemphasizes “psychic” as astral-physiological development, while favoring it as the “spiritual development of the individual.”

This shift of emphasis towards the development of noetic, spiritual, and moral faculties is reinforced both in the “The Maha Chohan’s Letter” and in H.P. Blavatsky’s landmark article, “Psychic and Noetic Action.” Thus, in elucidating the path of noetic awakening, spiritual growth, and moral regeneration, he makes of the 3rd Object the indispensable means to fully discern the all-pervading universality of the 1st Object. In speaking of the all-importance of Universal Brotherhood, he concludes his address thus:

“Without such a goal to strive for, such a lofty purpose to animate us, our liberality of thought would soon become aimless licence, our efforts to study the Wisdom Religion would soon end in the formation of a new sect, the life would die out from among us, and the Theosophical Society would either crumble into dust or remain a frozen and lifeless corpse, encased in the ice of Dogmatism.”

The steep path of Universal Brotherhood, rather than that of the acquisition of doctrines, is the more difficult of the two paths. As Keightley points out, “Few are those strong enough to live in a state of continual growth, of ceaseless mental expansion and change.” Yet, Keightley pioneers an attainable route for us when he points to the 2nd and 3rd Objects as the “only lines” by which the ideal of universal brotherhood can be achieved.

 As one brought up in the loosely knit association of students known as the United Lodge of Theosophists (ULT), a large portion of whose raison d’etre “is the dissemination of the fundamental principles of the Philosophy of Theosophy,” the idea that there is something more important than doctrinal principles is a bit of a difficult pill to swallow! Yet Keightley’s emphasis on the spiritual fact of Brotherhood is considered when the ULT Declaration goes on to say that the other half of the work of the ULT is “the exemplification in practice of those principles through a truer realization of the SELF; a profounder conviction of Universal Brotherhood.”

Admittedly, the ULT Declaration says that “the unassailable basis for union among Theosophists… is ‘similarity of aim, purpose and teaching.’” but this is in the context of explaining why an organizational apparatus replete with constitution and bi-laws can be totally unnecessary. One point that is indeed found in the ULT Declaration that I would say that all Theosophists could and should go by is in its statement of who is in fact a Theosophist. This goes to whether a Theosophist is one who studies the body of doctrines as taught by H.P.B. and her Teachers—or, is one who embodies the First Object of the Theosophical Society. It can be judged for oneself what the position of the ULT is on this matter:

“It regards as Theosophists all who are engaged in the true service of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, condition or organization.”

All this suggests to me that ongoing attempts at opening doors of the heart between students of various organizational affiliations might do well, with Bertram Keightley, to focus on the 2nd and 3rd Objects as important means of realizing the prized ideal of universal brotherhood. It is noteworthy that in her Preface to The Secret Doctrine, H.P.B., writes,

“Even the two volumes now issued do not complete the scheme, and these do not treat exhaustively of the subjects dealt with in them. A large quantity of material has already been prepared, dealing with the history of occultism as contained in the lives of the great Adepts of the Aryan Race, and showing the bearing of occult philosophy upon the conduct of life, as it is and as it ought to be.”

Sound like the 2nd and the 3rd Objects? Different people have different things to say about whether H.P.B.’s prepared material along these lines saw the light of day, either in her own lifetime or posthumously, but what I wish to draw attention to here is her indication of the need for such a study. We find suggested in the writings of the Tibetan reformer, Tsong Ka Pa, a similar curriculum, and in this case, including all three Objects:

“To go beyond the attitude of seeking the bliss of peace for oneself, one should cultivate over a long time love, compassion and the altruistic mind of enlightenment… Next, one should learn of the deeds of the Bodhisattva and nurture a wish to train in them. When one can bear the burden of the deeds of the Conqueror Sons, one should take the Bodhisattva vows and practice their precepts.” (as cited in The Jewel in the Lotus, Concord Grove Press, Santa Barbara, CA)

What if Theosophists of various stripes, in exploring the dynamics of unity inherent in the 2nd and 3rd Objects, determined to share research and expression via presentations and round-table discussions?

In the spirit of the 2nd Object, the great heroes of humanity such as Buddha, Shankaracharya, Pythagoras, Plato, Iamblichus, Plotinus, Hypatia, Boehme, Bruno, Pico Della Mirandola, Marcilio Ficino, Emerson, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King could be considered, to name but a very few. As the study proceeds from one hero to another, our “mental grooves” would of necessity have to be abandoned to give full attention to each new subject at hand.

In the spirit of the 3rd Object, what if such themes as Continuity of Consciousness, Gestation and Growth, Noetic Self-determination, Self-emancipation, or Meditation and Self-study, to name but a very, very few, could be considered? All of these represent spiritual capabilities within each human being, waiting to unfold. If, we can remember with Cervantes, that “the road is always better than the inn,” there will be a unifying richness of potential in the investigation of these remarkable faculties latent within humanity, wherein a nucleus of universal brotherhood could be established, enjoyed, and celebrated.


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My heart has become capable of every form;

It is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,

And a temple for idols and a pilgrim's Ka'ba

And the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qu'ran.

I follow the religion of Love; whatever way

Love's camels take, that is my religion and my faith.

Ibn Al-'Arabi