Radha Burnier – India
Rare photo of Radha (in the snow) in Christchurch, New Zealand June 1979
[Recognizing regeneration as the kernel of all Theosophical work, the International Theosophical Centre at Naarden, the Netherlands, jointly with the Federation of Theosophical Societies in Europe, organized two seminars in July 1990, with a number of office bearers, workers and members of the Society from different countries as participants. Proceedings of the seminar were published as a book under the title Human Regeneration: Lectures and Discussion (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij der Theosofische Vereniging in Nederland, 1990). This chapter (discussions) is here slightly revised.]
INDIVIDIAL AND GROUP WORK FOR REGENERATION
Can a lodge regenerate as a group?
RB: No group can become regenerated as a group because transformation has to take place within each individual, in its own way, at its own pace. But lodge activities can help individuals who come to it to realize the necessity for regeneration, clarify what it means, and what way of life should be adopted. These are questions which can be discussed by members in the lodge.
We do not really know the nature of the change that the word 'regeneration' signifies. We know with a part of our mind, but we do not really know what is freedom from selfishness, the quality of a completely unselfish mind. Work must be done to feel what it is, not merely think what it is. A lodge can help to create the atmosphere needed for this. Meeting together in the lodge could be a continual reminder to the members, preventing them from forgetting the goal. However, the actual change has to take place within the consciousness of every individual, it cannot happen in a group
AH: The question could be put thus: 'What can I, as an individual, do to help the lodge or the members of the lodge in this process? In every lodge there should be an atmosphere in which the participants know each other better. A friendly atmosphere must grow, not at a superficial level, but really listening to each other, creating the feeling of mutual trust. If we do not trust each other, it will be very difficult to go together deeper. For many of us that has been the experience here this week.
Once there is mutual trust, the atmosphere has been created for really enquiring together. Providing answers, or making declarations about truth is not a help. By posing simple ques tions, the other members of the lodge are given the chance to think things over. Let each one ask: why do I say such and such a thing, what do I mean by it, did I understand correctly that you mean this and not that? Perhaps in this way we can summarize in the lodge what was gone into here. If we want a lodge to work on regeneration, we should prepare the ground and create the right atmosphere. Then gradually the different aspects will be clear.
RB: Being friendly, coming to know each other, and trusting each other is important. Somebody said that when she first went to a lodge, nobody took notice of her. Such indifference is not the way to create a good atmosphere for this work.
AV: Attention should also be given to a new member in a study group. Sometimes, a study group can be overwhelming to a newcomer. It may be difficult to satisfy both the new members and 'old members'. Yet it is important to make the link.
Why do so many members of the Society belong to the senior age-group? Can we do more for the younger people?
HG: I started as a young theosophist, and in some places I am still treated as a young theosophist! Everybody must be getting old; I am now drawing an old age pension. Attracting young people has been a problem for the T.S. as long as I can remember. In my early days I had to take part in a seminar about young people, and I said then that we should stop worrying about young and old. We are supposed to be theosophists, practice brotherhood, bring all brothers together without distinction, and there should not be a distinction of age. A lot of young and slightly older people in their middle twenties, thirties, forties, are far too busy raising their family, earning their living, finding their way in the world etc. They have no time to think about spiritual things, unless they are naturally so inclined.
I myself came into the T.S. at the age of fourteen. I was at school, and I am sure that if I had not come in two years before I started taking exams, I would not have come in for another ten or fifteen years.
Once you start working for exams, you haven't any time for these things. But because I got hooked (I wasn't pushed by my parents) I can assure you I willingly came in. Having once come in, I stayed because it was my family. There is too much worrying about how we can attract young people.
Something else happened. When I was about thirty-five I was thrilled because I managed to get my next-door neighbor to join. She was only thirty-four, so I was no longer the youngest member of my group! By this time, I had moved around the country and I had been in various groups, but everywhere I had been the youngest member. In this particular group they were all white-haired ladies, no men. Then a couple became interested in the Society and they joined as a couple. So we had one man, and because he was happy to come with his wife, other men came the next week. Previously they had come in, seen all these women and did not come again. You have to have a certain something to attract.
I am probably contradicting myself because the next thing that happened was that a girl of twenty came along. Now we had had other young people come along but they had seen all these elderly people and gone away and not come back again. But this girl who was twenty was already a member of the Society. She came because she was already 'part of the family'. And she came and she stayed. Then we got another young person who joined. Within a very short time we had four people under the age of thirty.
We need young people to attract young people, but we should not worry too much. We have to make things lively and interesting. I remember my father telling me that in the lodge he joined, one person had been president for years and years. He was taken there by a colleague at work with a number of young people; he was in his early twenties. After a while the younger people in that lodge managed to persuade the person who was president to stand down and let one of the young people become president. The first thing they did was to make a new rule – that nobody must be president or secretary for more than two years. Old people think that they can do it ever so much better and that young people will not do it well enough, they will not be quite as efficient. But we have to allow for the inefficiency, because people are not going to learn unless they actually do the job and if somebody has done the job for too long, nobody will want to do it because they do not want to do it for so long. If your General Secretary always stays for seven years, even though there is an election every year, nobody who is wanting to do it only for two years will be persuaded to do the job.
MH: We have always believed that people live for three score years and ten. Young people nowadays are in a sense on the path of forthgoing until they are about thirty or thirty-five and then something happens. They begin to think inwardly, they get disillusioned with life in general, with going to parties etc., and then they start seeking. That explains why there are not so many younger people coming forward. When Jesus was on earth, he was thirty before anything really happened through his body. That may be the answer.
AR: In the T.S. I have been very happy be in contact with older people. I have learned more from old people than from young people. But we need young people, otherwise in thirty more years we shall have no members at all. I think there is a simple solution. If we organize lively, participative activities like study groups, we will have young people. If we organize passive activities like lectures, we will get old people.
JB: I have been a young theosophist and I still feel like one. I lived for many years in Seattle, U.S.A., and my nearest relative was 1400 miles away. The lodge was my family, My children became involved in it, not because of the lodge, but because of the camps we had. We had a beautiful camp on Orcas Island. All of us who had children went there, and our children became friends and became interested in theosophy. They worked together, they played together. They saw each other also outside of the camp activities. The same thing happened with the Round Table. Now many of those young people are active members of the Society, because they learned to work together and be friends together.
HS: I joined the T.S. at twenty-five and all the members seemed to be twice my age. The sections of the T.S. that have the largest number of young people are the ones that are most dominated by old people. I have wondered if there is a tendency for old people to hold on to the Society as it were, and to say to the young people 'You go off and have a camp -or sing songs or dance around the campfire. I came into touch with the World Federation of Young Theosophists, went to camps and sang around campfires, and I thought they were awful. I did not want to do those things at all. I wanted to pursue theosophy and the activities of the T.S. We may add to the first object without distinction of ... or age'. We should change our attitudes towards people of other age groups, fry to understand them better, refrain from treating them as different from ourselves. If we were less self-conscious about the age groups the problem would be solved.
BM: This is not a problem only in the T.S. In Scandinavia young people are turning away from idealistic societies, political and religious activities. They seem to be very busy with the outer life of distractions and temptations. But those who really join the Society are worthwhile people. We should fry to attract those people who are not young in soul though young in body.
RB: Sometimes people say, 'Young people want this, so it must be done'. If you say, 'which young people?' they point to somebody who is forty-five or fifty years old. They are middle aged, no longer young. We need old souls to contribute their wisdom. Young souls need something like the T.S. We need people of various age groups.
Young people may not be attracted to the T.S, while they are too sure of themselves. As one grows older one becomes less sure of oneself, less confident about one's own knowledge, and more ready to learn.
We should have more participatory activities as was suggested. When there is vitality in a lodge it is more attractive to people of all ages. There should be a friendship among the members which is alive. If there is a warm atmosphere, as in a family, when meetings are lively and young people are allowed to participate, people will be more interested. Young people like to be active and the T.S. would benefit by letting them do some practical work, like the Theosophical Order of Service, or doing something else useful, which gives scope for their energy.
When I was very young, and in the Round Table, our work was not only ceremonial. We did many things together, we collected and remade clothes for poor children; we made and sold chocolate fudge for the benefit of the poor. We thought we were doing something wonderful, but we also had fun. The amount of money we gave was minute, but the incentive to take part was great.
To be continued