Jan Nicolaas Kind – Brazil
“For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
— John F. Kennedy
In 2008 members of the Theosophical Society Adyar democratically elected their International President. It turned out to be a highly controversial election. Until today the aftermath of that unfortunate epoch is still felt. It is not the intention now to open old wounds or to launch another series of useless bickering, on the contrary. But every self-respecting organization, so also the TS Adyar, should have the courage to look at certain events retrospectively and learn from them, so that any mistakes made may be avoided in the future.
Before long, at the latest in 2015, once more an International President will have to be chosen and it is quite possible that this time more than one candidate will be on the ballot. But having learned from the 2008 debacle, and looking forward to the future, even if there should be only one candidate, it is a good exercise to ponder on the subject of Theosophical leadership. What are the requirements and challenges for a modern leadership that will enable the largest Theosophical organization to find its rightful place in the world, serving humanity? Who could be suitable candidates? And how should members prepare themselves for that inevitable election looming on the horizon?
Theosophy Forward invites its readers to reflect on this subject and express their reflections, because the 2008 election proceedings were an example of how not to elect a leader. A repetition must be avoided. Constructive contributions are welcomed by the editor and will be carefully considered for publication in the magazine. Thoughts in general, names, wishes, questions, suggestions, or demands, would be appropriate as long the tone remains positive.
The magazine Vidya, http://www.theosophysb.org/site/publications.html , edited by associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, USA, published in its winter 2013 issue the following article. It deals aptly with the subject of leadership and is germane to all Theosophical traditions. Hopefully this fine piece is a first start leading to a worthy dialogue.
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Challenges to and changes in leadership are a very pronounced part of current news. Whether by secret conclaves, elaborate protocols, election upsets or violent coups, new leaders are presented to the world community in a dizzying and dramatic proof that we live in turbulent times when no leader can assume that his or her position is secure. Although ambition for power and wealth may motivate those who seek leadership positions, one cannot but sense that deeper currents of karmic justice are at work in magnifying the failures of contemporary leadership and stirring the enormous protests glimpsed on the nightly news. Not even the most venerated authority of religious institutions or popular monarchies are escaping the turmoil of dissent. As the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats observed, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” What is the problem? Why is respect for leaders and their power dissolving? Why are even the best and well-intentioned leaders failing to gain support and cooperation? Why won’t the center hold?
What are the qualities of effective leadership? Some ideas easily come to mind.
A leader is one who initiates actions and shows a way for others to follow. A leader can articulate and connect some sort of vision or sense of a purpose to practical needs in a particular situation. A leader has courage and a willingness to take risks. A leader perseveres and finds a way to overcome hindrances to a chosen path of action. A leader shows a compassion that inspires others to rise above the fears and divisions that inhibit cooperation and to do their best.
We can recognize and be inspired by historical leaders as well as those in more visible, contemporary affairs, but the question is: What is the difference in leadership referred to by the term, ‘Theosophical leadership?’” The answer in one fundamental way is found in the word “theos.” Among its many rich meanings theos could be understood as that which is divine in wisdom and illumination, that which expresses the sacred and the spiritual, that which gives forth the most rich and comprehensive truth. Although the word “theos” may be attached to a being or to an entity, according to Theosophical teaching it conveys a central, abstract idea about what exists. That is a reference to the divine spark-- that divine, sacred light that is at the core of everything that exists. It is the Christos in every atom. This divine spark or atman is the essential identity and higher self of every human soul. That spark is what enables us to perceive and to learn. The atman most directly activates and illuminates two very important principles in the human soul - the ability to discern what is true and right and good and the ability to reason at a level of understanding universal principles. When activated, those core capacities of the human soul called in Sanskrit the buddhi, and the manas, can in turn enlighten and guide the lower principles of the human being. Thus, we can integrate our highest powers with the more worldly of our principles, the lower quaternary of the physical body, the astral body and the forces that course through them.
Therefore, Theosophical leadership is leadership that is illuminated and guided by the theos within each human soul. That source brings a special kind of illumination and a special kind of understanding into the human consciousness and into communication and interaction with other human beings. One current ideal of Theosophical leadership is the Dalai Lama. We read about his discipline, his thorough commitment to a life of seeking sacred illumination, and we witness his tremendous energy, his sense of humor, his boundless compassion in the way he reaches out to each and all. Thus the Dalai Lama is a good example of leadership that is enlightened by the highest spiritual powers and energies available to a human soul. What is remarkable about him is that, having come as a refugee at a fairly young age, plunged into a foreign land, he had to develop a concept of spiritual leadership in a secular society. When one reads about the hordes of people who make their way to the city in which he resides, it sounds like a circus. Yet he is there preserving something very sacred. As an exemplar of Theosophical leadership, he is seeking to awaken the best in each and every human soul. That does seem to be a particularly important motive for leadership that is empowered by the theos.
A spiritual leader wants to awaken a human soul and inspire it to do better. A leader encourages a pilgrim to tread the path that leads towards realization of a better, truer self, and ultimately to become an exemplar of spiritual evolution. Thus, a Theosophical leader would want to liberate a human being from all the kinds of karmic limitations of conditioned existence and promote the spiritual freedom of each and all. This aim would be pursued by a combination of wisdom and adaptive understanding of the needs of particular individuals in particular situations at particular times. Leadership is truly an art.
Theosophical leadership is also to be understood as that kind of leadership that is in line with the wisdom, purpose and mission of Theosophical adepts and all the great teachers who come to teach, to arouse, to awaken and to promulgate the great message of Theosophia. This might seem like a kind of leadership that is simply beyond most of us. One might hope to glimpse and be inspired by such a leader who brings light and knowledge into the darkness of an iron age. Yet this is a rare experience. Cannot more immediate examples of Theosophical leadership be found and understood at the level of ordinary people in ordinary life seeking to do the right thing? How could an ordinary person of average competence become a leader somehow reflecting the ideals and the capacities of the highest exemplars of Theosophical leadership? Thinking about that question several qualities of leadership in action in everyday life and for more immediate purposes come to mind. We have all had the experience of being in some kind of group trying to do something, build a house, print a magazine, organize a youth group, or whatever. Is not a faith in human brotherhood and the ethics of cooperation required for the success of any such project? How can we lead while just being one worker among many?
One of the first requirements of Theosophical leadership in daily life is to approach each and all with kindness - a virtue that the Dalai Lama speaks of often - to approach every human being, every situation with a heart filled with kindness. That is easier if one recognizes the fundamental identity of every human soul with every other and assumes that spark of the divine is in everything that lives. A strong sense of human solidarity implicit in this fundamental source of shared identity could be an unspoken but effective basis of communication and activity. That mental attitude right away brings those who perhaps not by choice, but by necessity, would lead, into a rapprochement with others. A leader must listen and engage in discussion and recognize the perspectives and the statements of the needs of others. Listening leads to a sense of mutual purposes and opens a mind to fresh opportunities for creative action. Thus emerges a synthesis of ideas that unites and inspires a community.
H. P. Blavatsky explained that all she did was to bring together several Theosophical ideas descended from ancient sources. She simply provided the ribbon that tied them together. We think that is a good metaphor for Theosophical leadership. In other words, it is not a leadership of imposing a particular idea, a particular plan of action, a dominant will, but a leadership that is open to suggestions and ideas and then has a way of synthesizing those ideas into an expression of a principle and then into a plan of action with a sense of future as well as of present needs. This is what distinguishes a leader from a follower who is yet to become a leader because, Theosophically, every human being could become a leader in some situation, somehow, somewhere. A leader may have only a little more knowledge or insight into the objective needs that are part of the cycle of the time. These needs according to Theosophy would have to do, again, with the inspiration, the liberation, the evolution of the human soul. This is leadership that enables others to see the benefits of becoming more like the sage, more able to be detached from the elements of the personality, more able to engage in a commitment with less baggage and fewer karmic anxieties.
A Theosophical leader would be able to adapt the teaching to a particular situation, finding ways to express it and yet never compromise on what is essential to the teaching and essential to the goals that promote human evolution. A Theosophical leader would have a very definite sense of the sacred and thus, could bring into a situation opportunities for others to experience that very sense of the sacred. Ideally, Theosophical leadership will bring people together so that everyone can experience the brotherhood realized in a community of purpose that strengthens each and all as well as improves the likelihood that the goal of whatever task it is can be achieved.
Theosophical leadership would educate both in terms of the Teachings as well as in terms of the possibilities of effective practice. That is no easy purpose if you think of how many ways our lower natures pop up with opinions and negative reactions and various ways of increasing separation. Theosophical leadership would encourage everyone to engage in a kind of individual leadership by developing a discipline and ultimately a transformation in both consciousness and magnetic energy. That effort would then make them a better participant in a team or community, more willing to look for leadership in others than to demand a position of leadership.
This leadership would also recognize the need for ceaseless evaluation and correction. That is sometimes the tough thing to do because, when you are leading, there is a tendency to want to respond positively to everybody’s ideas because that is in one way, part of the process. On the other hand, leadership will fail if it does not have an element of an objective evaluation of whatever the task is. Leadership may include some sort of admonishment of somebody in a group or a situation who is disturbingly off track. In serious, hostile situations one would at first try to learn from one’s enemy or from any personality that has gone haywire in some way, and approach it with compassion. One would always draw the larger circle, holding out the possibility of transformation. Any particular person who is expressing negative emotions, perhaps caught in some bad karma, could, in the end, be made to feel that he or she has opportunity to do better. There is a major lesson to be learned from the story of the Buddha sitting outside the cave where a very dangerous evildoer was caught in his own pride of accomplishment, but was nonetheless attracted to the Buddha. The Buddha was displaying the calm of being in the still centre of the situation. Eventually that evildoer became one of his disciples, accepted responsibility for his evil actions and engaged in a full transformation.
The regeneration of human beings as well as the guidance of human beings is firmly the responsibility of the Theosophical leader. In the end he or she seeks to help people experience the highest potential in their very being and thus increase their loyalty and their dedication to the common enterprise helping them become Theosophical leaders in turn. Must not leaders in secular positions also learn and practice some higher principles of human growth, brotherhood and environmental care? While contemporary monarchies delink their authority from claims of divine rights and sacred authority, could they not recognize the sacred aspects of their responsibilities? Must not all who would be leaders recognize the heartfelt aspirations of humanity for peace and opportunity for true fulfillment within the great harmony of cosmic evolution?