Dora van Gelder Kunz – USA
[Note from the editor: this, historically interesting piece, was written way back in 1960, but in its core still valid.]
Theosophy is a magnificent philosophy. It explains the why and how of the universe around us, and also shows us a way of life. As members of the Society, we may realize this, but despite our convictions we have somehow lost the ability to reach others, even though many appear to be searching seriously for what we have to offer as a basic philosophy of life. This, I think, is proved by the fact that membership in the United States is not gaining. It is time therefore that we should take stock of ourselves, evaluate our procedures and try to discover the causes for our failure in reaching an even wider public.
One of the basic causes of the present situation is in large part our failure to communicate. The field of communications is a whole new science, concerned both with the technique and the content of the communication and the extent to which meaning is conveyed from one person to another through any of the media of communication. The causes for failure in communicating clearly or in understanding what is being communicated might have significance for our work in The Theo- sophical Society now and in the future. The exploration of these causes may provide some new techniques for conveying the theosophical philosophy in a fully meaningful manner.
In the last few years I have read many books including novels, books of travel, biographies, etc., in which Theosophists or Theosophy are mentioned, usually incidentally. In the majority of cases, the image of the Theosophist is that of a kindly soul talking vague generalities about things cosmic. Since there is this image in some people’s minds, it is our duty to find out what brought it into being, whether there is an element of truth in it, and how we may work to correct it.
The lodges, and thus the members, spend a great deal of money each year on work for the Society, yet many groups report that it is very difficult to attract new people or to make any progress in acquainting the public with what we have to offer. Many members are anxious to understand why the hard work and financial expenditure do not bear more fruit in attendance at meetings and a consequent gain in membership. This is fundamentally a question of communication, of presenting to the public the image we feel is the correct image of the magnificent philosophy the Society exists to promulgate.
We have many talented members in our Society, men and women of many different professions. I personally believe that if we could find out what are the talents of our membership and if we could draw on the knowledge of those members who are experts in various fields, it would be possible to arrive at an evaluation of our lodge work in terms of the effectiveness of the communications between member and member, and between the members and the public.
I have been a Theosophist all my life and have visited many lodges. I have attended many gatherings of members and non-members outside the lodges, where free discussions of theosophical concepts led to the development of a great deal of interest in our philosophy on the intelligent non-members. However, when as a result of this interest the non-members came to lodges, they were baffled and frustrated and often did not return. To me, this indicates that if we wish to attract intelligent people who have some standing in the community and who by their abilities can help in the work, we should try to make the atmosphere in our lodges conducive to this. One basic need is that members should display an attitude of searching for truth, rather than indicating they believe the Society to be the sole possessor and guardian of absolute wisdom. The prevalence of such an attitude might attract more people to participate in our meetings.
In the minds of many people Theosophy is a revelation which must be accepted with or without intellectual comprehension. This frequently constitutes another stumbling block for the inquiring student. A great many of us study' fragments of Theosophy without realizing that our study is fragmentary and our knowledge incomplete. Karma, reincarnation, life after death are more important fragments of our total philosophy, but they are not the whole. Theosophy is a philosophy and a metaphysics, which is related to every branch of thought. It has a relation to science in all its branches, to psychology, art, philosophy, religion, in addition to offering a definite view on the conduct of life. If this larger view of Theosophy is kept constantly in mind, our studies would offer a breadth of view that would encourage new insight in many specialized fields of knowledge. It would also mitigate some of the constant repetition in our lodges, based upon a static interpretation or comprehension of only partial aspects of an all-embracing philosophy. If we realize that Theosophy is the Ancient Wisdom and that its source material is related to the Vedanta, to Buddhism, to Chinese as well as to Western thought we can see that there is endless material to explore and to discuss.
The foregoing is all related to our continuing endeavor to present to the public an image of Theosophy which will place the theosophical movement in a better and truer light. Similar considerations should also apply to our lodge rooms, which should conform to the American image of wholesomeness by having them light, cheerful and truly pleasant. In a world which is changing so fast, it is necessary to re-evaluate our teaching methods in order to reach a wider public. All of this calls for a willingness on the part of the members and the national Society to find the means by which the membership can be re-educated. This emphasis on educating our members is necessary before it is possible to attract new members in large numbers.
Let me sum up my proposals We need to re-examine our use of the public media of communication, such as advertising, radio, newspaper stories, etc., and find our own experts to help us make proper use of these media.
Our lodge rooms should be as attractive as possible to members and public. We need to re-assess the use of our publicity leaflets, books and libraries.
The communication between member and member must be improved by an increased understanding of theosophical concepts. This calls for a true freedom of expression and an avoidance of rigidity. The most difficult task (the re-education of our members) involves the following, from my point of view:
The recognition that the source of materials of Theosophy did not begin with the books of H. P. Blavatsky, Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, but are also found in the great books of all religions, in the teachings of Pythagoras, Plato, Plotinus and others, and in other ancient sources.
The recognition of the new relationship between the Ancient Wisdom, through a study of the metaphysics of Buddhism, Vedanta, etc., and modem science. Clues have been given in The Secret Doctrine and our other literature far in advance of many modern discoveries. Today there is an ever increasing interest in archeology, anthropology and cosmology. The Secret Doctrine and the writings of Besant and Leadbeater are the sources of many insights which can give Theosophists the understanding of the orderly processes in the universe. An example of valuable work which is being done is that taking place in the Theosophical Research Centre in London, where a comparison has been made between the terminology of Theosophy and the modern book, The Meeting of East and West, by F. S. C. Northrop.
An attitude of continuing search in our lodge meetings. Our books abound in clues in many fields of thought and if the members could have the sense of participation in bringing out these many different aspects of knowledge, the result would be the experience of knowing.
Working for the Society, feeling that we are colleagues of the Masters in this noble work, makes life more meaningful for the individual and gives one a sense of purpose. But a willingness to change is also basic to continuing growth on all levels.
The American Theosophist, y1960, v48 i12 December p243