Theosophy and the Society in the Public Eye

The Theosophical Roots of Spiritual Education

Kathleen Hall – Canada

In many countries, educational reforms are taking place to consider the changing needs of 21st century learners. The old factory model of education that was mainly concerned with churning out obedient workers no longer suits the needs of today’s world. As educators seek to embrace new ways of learning, many are considering a greater focus on educating the heart as well as the mind. In his ground-breaking video, “Changing Paradigms of Education” Sir Ken Robinson discusses the need for education that is both affective and cognitive. Robinson states that the outdated factory model most schools are still based on directly points to the need for a complete reform in education, one that addresses both the heart and the mind in learning. Humanity is at the forefront of a spiritual epoch. An education that includes the development of spiritual enlightenment also seems necessary in these times.

The emergence of this new spiritual epoch may have begun as far back as the late 19th century, and educational reforms that encompassed spiritual development were evident in the formation of new schools, many of which embodied Theosophical principles. These principles were defined by Madame Blavatsky, in her ideal of what children should be taught:

Children should above all be taught self-reliance, love for all men, altruism, mutual charity, and more than anything else, to think and reason for themselves. We would reduce the purely mechanical work of the memory to an absolute minimum and devote the time to the development and training of the inner senses, faculties and latent capacities. Deal with each child as a unit and educate it so as to produce the most harmonious and equal unfoldment of its powers, in order that its special aptitudes should find their full natural development. Aim at creating free men and women, free intellectually, free morally, unprejudiced in all respects, and above all things, unselfish.”

H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy [p. 251/52]

Some educators who reflected Blavatsky’s ideal for education in their work included Annie Besant, Beatrice Eisnor, Rudolph Steiner, J. Krishnamurti, Katherine Tingley and Nicholas and Helena Roerich. In addition, more commonly known educators such as Maria Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and to some extent Pestalozzi were also influenced by Theosophical concepts in designing education programs to encompass spiritual development.

Providing a learning environment that integrates mind, body and spirit encourages heightened awareness and helps to develop our inner or spiritual potential. Learning through the arts allows us the possibility of connecting to our higher selves through creative activity that engages both our hearts and our minds. At the beginning of the 20th century, some schools were developed on these principles. One of the most well-known was founded by Rudolf Steiner in the creation of the Waldorf Schools. Other lesser known educators also placed significant importance on the arts for spiritual development in their school’s curriculum. These included Katherine Tingley and the Raja Yoga School of Point Loma, California, and Nicholas and Helena Roerich’s The Master School of Creative Arts in New York.

Public Eye The 2 Theosophical Roots
First Goetheanum

Rudolf Steiner developed the Waldorf schools in 1919 for children of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory workers. He believed that education should be holistic, include spiritual development, and align with children's developmental stages: Stage 1, willing and doing (ages 0-7), children learn through student-centered physical explorations, creative play, and imitation of adult actions; Stage 2, feeling (ages 7-14), children learn through explorations of the imagination with direct artistic challenges and tactile experiences; and Stage 3, thinking and judging (ages 14-21), young adults learn through self-reflection, self-regulation, and open-ended, abstract problems (Norlund, 2013). To meet the needs of the developing child, and to help them on the path to their true calling, Waldorf education emphasizes the importance of the arts in education. Creativity, as a means to access potentiality, has spiritual connotations in Waldorf schools. Waldorf educators view self as raw material where spiritual, artistic activity strengthens and develops one's core being and will, one's spiritual individuality (Howard, 1998, 2004 in Norlund 2013).

Public Eye The 3 Theosophical Roots
Raja-Yoga Academy, International Theosophical Headquarters, Point Loma

Katherine Tingley of the San Diego, Point Loma School also believed that education should be a means for children to develop spiritually. The Raja Yoga School was a “School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity.”

The School of Antiquity shall be an Institution where the true “Raja-Yoga”, the laws of universal nature and equity governing the physical, mental, moral and spiritual education will be taught on the broadest lines. Through this teaching the material and intellectual life of the age will be spiritualized and raised to its true dignity.” (Fussell, 1998)

The Raja Yoga School considered many factors in the holistic education of the child, including use of the arts to advance spiritual learning. While all the fine arts as well as crafts were taught, Katherine Tingley emphasized the importance of music and drama because she felt that if they were rightly studied they were, “factors in the development of soul qualities, in character building, and in the gaining of self-control” (Fussell). “Has not a Wise One among the ancients taught us that out of the heart come all the issues of life?” . . . It is the heart that music and the symbolic drama reach. That is the secret of the power of these arts to regenerate” (Parsons, 1998).

Public Eye The 4 Theosophical Roots
Formerly Master Institute of United Arts and Riverside Museum, originally Nicholas Roerich Museum in NY

The establishment of the Master Institute of Creative Arts in New York was the cornerstone of

Nicholas Roerich’s dream for education (Drayer, 2005). Based on the principles of Agni Yoga, teachings that Nicholas and Helena Roerich formed (these were influenced by the spiritual teachings of Theosophy), Roerich believed that developing creative power was essential for opening the hearts of young children to what is beautiful and true and stated:

Art will unify all humanity. Art is one – indivisible. Art has its many branches, yet all are one. Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis, Art is for all. Everyone will enjoy true art. The Gates of the ‘Sacred Source’ must be wide open for everybody, and the light of art will influence numerous hearts with a new love. At first this feeling will be unconscious, but after all it will purify human consciousness. How many young hearts are searching for something real and beautiful! So, give it to them. Bring art to the people – where it belongs.” (Drayer, p.54)

Nicholas and Helena Roerich believed that unity is achieved when all the arts fit together and felt the arts were the bridge of Beauty from the bank of darkness to the side of light (Drayer). Through the use of the arts, The Master Institute of Creative Arts embraced the teachings of Agni Yoga, the goal of which “ to show us the way of inner transformation and evolution into the higher states of spirituality”... “Agni Yoga is a teaching of spiritual philosophy, of a synthesis that embraces science, ethics, art and culture” (Riaikkenen, Roza and Margarita, in Senior, p.28). The establishment of The Master Institute of Creative Arts was a dream for Nicholas Roerich and it embodied all his theories on education. He wanted to establish a school that would prepare children for the coming of a new spiritual epoch and believed, “... that if a new era were to be achieved, it would be accomplished by the children whose ‘young hearts search for something beautiful and true’” (Drayer, p. 54).

It is through the arts that our creative source, our spirit, can be known. If we are to provide children with an education that will provide them with true spiritual learning, then we must encourage the use of the arts through which they may access the sounds and colors of their hearts – their higher selves.

Evolving artistic awareness can bestow receptivity to Beauty, which leads us to the higher worlds and adds fuel to our spiritual Fire… In the Teachings of Living Ethics, or Agni Yoga, it is written, ‘the pledge of happiness for humanity lies in beauty. Hence, We assert Art to be the highest stimulus for the regeneration of the spirit.’ Art remains essentially spiritual. It can awaken our longing for Beauty, for the Highest. The greatest significance of Art is its ability to bring the human consciousness closer to the comprehension of Beauty’. (Jordan, in Senior, p. 26)

Information obtained from:

Blavatsky, 1889. The Key to Theosophy. London: the Theosophical Publishing Company.

Drayer, Ruth A. 2005. Nicholas and Helena Roerich: The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists and Peacemakers.Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books.

Fussell, J. H., 1998. The School of Antiquity: Its Meaning, Purpose, and Scope

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

Norlund, C. (2013). Waldorf Education: Breathing Creativity. Art Education, 66(2), 13-19.

Parsons, Bernard 1998. The Raja-Yoga Schools of Point Loma

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

[This article originally appeared in a bulletin of Education for Enlightenment, a project of TRIUNE OF LIGHT.]

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