The objects of the Theosophical Society (TS) underwent several revisions since its founding. At a meeting of the newly formed society in New York, October 30, 1875, the following statement was made:
The title of the Theosophical Society explains the objects and desires of its founders: they “seek to obtain knowledge of the nature and attributes of the Supreme Power, and of the higher spirits by the aid of physical processes.” In other words they hope, by going deeper than modern science has hitherto done, into the esoteric philosophies of ancient times they may be enabled to obtain for themselves and other investigators, proof of the existence of an “Unseen Universe,” the nature of its inhabitants if such there be, and the laws which govern them and their relations with mankind. Whatever may be the private opinions of its members, the society has no dogma to enforce, no creed to disseminate. It is formed neither as a Spiritualistic schism, nor to serve as the foe or friend of any sectarian or philosophic body. Its only axiom is the omnipotence of truth, its only creed a profession of unqualified devotion to its discovery and propaganda. In considering the qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, sex, color, country nor creed. (J. Ransom, Short History of the TS)
The foregoing statement is quoted since it throws light on the intent of the founders and contains what might be described as a fairly detailed exposition of the purpose of the Society.
The first By-laws did state the objects very concisely as: “to collect and diffuse a knowledge of the laws which govern the universe” (Scrapbook, I, p. 71; Golden Book, p. 23).
In 1878 Henry S. Olcott composed a circular explaining the plan of the Theosophical Society in which he stated that the objects of the society were:
(1) a serious attempt on the part of each member to study and develop his “inner psychic self”; good and pure men will recognize each other as the equal effects (upon this planet) of one Uncreate, Universal, Infinite, and Everlasting Cause.
The words “the Brotherhood of Humanity” were used for the first time in Olcott’s circular and it will be noticed that there is no longer any reference to spiritualism and phenomena.
At a meeting of the General Council at Benares (now Varanasi), December 17, 1879, it was stated that the Society’s general plan was:
(a) To keep alive in man his spiritual intuitions. . .
(b) To oppose and counteract – after due investigation and proof of its irrational nature – bigotry in every form. . .
(c) To promote a feeling of Brotherhood among nations. . .
(d) To seek to obtain knowledge of all the laws of Nature and aid in diffusing it; and especially to encourage the study of those laws least understood by modern people and so termed the Occult Sciences.
(e) To gather for the Society’s library and put into written forms correct information on ancient philosophies etc.
(f) To promote in every practical way non-sectarian education. . .
(g) . . . chiefly, to encourage and assist individual Fellows in self-improvement, intellectual, moral and spiritual. (The Theosophist, June 1881, Supplement)
In 1881 at a meeting of the General Council a simplified version of the objects was agreed to:
- To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.
- To study Aryan literature, religion and science.
- To vindicate the importance of this enquiry and correct misrepresentation with which it has been clouded.
- To explore the hidden mysteries of Nature and the latent powers in man, on which the Founders believe that Oriental Philosophy is in a position to throw light. (The Theosophist, June 1881 Supplement)
In 1886 a revised version of the objects was agreed to and recorded in a General Report p. 78 as:
- To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed or color.
- To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions and sciences.
- A third object, pursued by a portion of the members of the Society, is to investigate unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers of man.
In 1888 a General Report p. 3 and 4 included another revision of the objects:
- To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
- To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions, philosophies and sciences.
- A third object, pursued by a portion of the Fellows of the Society, is to investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the psychic powers of man.
(The Fellows interested in this third object now form a distinct private division of the Society under the direction of the Corresponding Secretary.)
In 1894 the General Council agreed to an amendment of the second object:
- To promote the study of Aryan and other Eastern literatures, religions, philosophies and sciences, and to demonstrate the importance of that study.
In 1896 the form of the objects which has remained in place down to this time of writing was agreed to by the General Council:
- To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
- To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science.
- To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
These objects have, from time to time, been the subject of considerable discussion, but long familiarity has, in a manner of speaking, sanctified them. The most frequent criticism seems to have been about the vague nature of the objects which can be used to authorize almost any study or activity, which, in the eyes of some, trivializes the main work of the Society which is seen as the study and dissemination of the Ancient Wisdom. Another criticism has been the omission of any reference to theosophy although the Society is called The Theosophical Society. The supporters of the present form of the objects base their case on the need to avoid any suggestion of dogmatism or creed espousal by the Society, in which any member is free to accept or reject any teaching — even theosophy.