What do Theosophists Do?

Barbra Hebert – USA

Theosophy BH 2 319:

Barbara in “full swing" at Olcott 

A new member recently asked “What do Theosophists do? She continued to discuss the lack of dogma and the freedom of thought aspects of the Theosophical Society as being confusing. For instance, she asked if Theosophy accepted extreme views from various religious traditions, such as condemning certain groups of people. It had never occurred to me that the lack of dogma or the encouragement of open-minded inquiry might lead to this type of confusion.

We are aware that all members of the Theosophical Society are in sympathy with the Three Objects of the Society. This agreement is the one thing to which all Theosophists adhere. The Theosophical Society does incorporate a body of teaching, of course, but members are encouraged to do their own exploration both within and outside of these teachings.

Regardless of the exploration, the Three Objects point us toward our ultimate goal: an altruistic way of life by serving others, primarily through the work of raising of humanity’s consciousness. Clearly, this goal does not allow for the condemnation of others; rather, it is just the opposite. The objects remind us that even though we are unique individuals and may have different perspectives, we are all a part of the Ultimate Reality and as Theosophists we work toward the spiritual transformation of all beings: a life of altruism!

This directive—spiritual altruism--is as pertinent for the 21st century as it was for the 19th century. It may be even more important today as we see divisiveness emanating from all areas of our globe. In fact, we may even perceive this divisiveness as the multi-headed Lernean Hydra. Based in Greek mythology, the Lernean Hydra is a gigantic water-snake monster whose destruction was one of the Twelve Labors of Hercules. As you may remember, if one head of the Hydra is cut off, then two grow back in its place, unless one is fortunate enough to cut off the one immortal head of the beast. Although the myth can be viewed as an analogy for various aspects of our physical life and our spiritual journey, here we are perceiving it through the lens of current geo-political situations in our world. Like this legendary monster, when one area of contention in the world has been resolved, it seems as if two more areas of hostility and divisiveness arise.

What do we, as Theosophists, stand for? What do we, as Theosophists, do? We do NOT stand for the acceptance of everything. We do not support divisiveness and hostility or the condemnation of others. Rather, we are guided by an in-depth understanding of the Three Objects.

We stand for unity, peace, understanding, compassion, and love. There is no room within the theosophical philosophy or within the Theosophical Society for division of any type. When we think of divisiveness, we may think of racism, genderism, classism, ageism, dislike for others because of their ethnicity, their beliefs, or their lifestyle. As spiritual seekers and members of the Theosophical Society, we do not divide. We work toward the conscious unification of all beings.

Ed Abdill writes:

The Theosophical Society was meant to be an organization of people from every culture who have some sense of the underlying unity of all. It was meant to be an organization of people who work together to help others realize their underlying unity with humanity as a whole. Far as we may be from it, that is our ultimate goal....From an awareness of underlying unity comes an altruistic way of life that is compassionate, wise, and practical. That is the sacred mission of the Theosophical Society, made clear by KH when he wrote: “The chief object of the T. S. is not so much to gratify individual aspirations as to serve our fellow men” (Letter 2, Barker). 

Therefore, we may ask how we serve humanity during the current time of hostility and separativeness. Does this mean that we go out and feed the hungry? The answer to this question is: possibly; but we may serve in a way that is more far-reaching than this. Please note, I’m not discouraging us from working on social service projects or participating in social justice work. We need to do these types of things. As individuals, we can participate in any number of social service or social justice projects, work for specific political campaigns, etc. However, here we are talking about something that goes beyond these physical activities. We are talking about something that falls specifically into the purview of those who seek to walk the spiritual path.

We serve humanity through our own spiritual self-transformation. Through our own transformation, we are transforming all of humanity. Because we are all one, then when one part of the whole changes, then all other aspects of the whole must change. For example, think of a glass of water. If I put a drop of blue dye into the water, then the water might take on a slightly bluish tint...the water has changed. It may not even be noticeable with the first drop or even with the twentieth drop; however, if I continue putting blue drops into the water, eventually the water will turn a darker and darker blue. The water changes.

If one of us changes...spiritually self-transforms--then all of us change. It might not be noticeable at first, but eventually the whole of humanity will transform. This is our great task.

Of course, self-transformation sounds much easier than it really is. But we can do it, and we must do it. How do we begin?  It is a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute process. It requires constant self-observation and self-awareness. When we realize that we are not acting, thinking, feeling altruistically, we can begin to change. We won’t change without understanding what needs to change. So self-awareness is the beginning step. As we become self-aware, then we can decide what and how we want to change.

Our brain/mind (lower manas) must be a part of this process. We train and ultimately hone the brain/mind so that we can use it to facilitate our self-transformation. As Krishnamurti says in At the Feet of the Master, “You are not this mind, but it is yours to use…” (p. 15).

We train the brain/mind to observe itself: its thoughts, feelings, beliefs. Then we train the brain/mind to observe the actions that stem from these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. We observe in order to become aware of what is happening. Once we are aware, we begin to take steps to change. This process is much like the steps we take to change a habit. If I have a habit of eating too much chocolate and I become aware of this habit and want to change it, then I begin the process. At first, I may eat chocolate and only afterwards realize what I have done. This, however, is a change—I am aware, even though my behavior hasn’t changed! Eventually, when I reach for chocolate, my brain/mind will say “You don’t want to eat that” and hopefully I will stop myself before eating it. The desire for chocolate may never totally dissipate; however, the goal is to recognize and stop the thought before it takes full form. One day I may say “I…don’t need chocolate.” My thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have changed. I have used the brain/mind to help me.

While breaking the habit of eating chocolate may seem unimportant, it is an example of how we can change almost anything that slows our steps on the spiritual path. Be warned, however, this is a process and does not happen quickly.

For those who are willing to work on self-transformation but also want to help humanity in a more immediate manner, there are other things that we can do to help during difficult times. One way to help is through the use of our thoughts. Some experts believe that we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts each day. Other experts lower that number to approximately 50,000 thoughts per day. Regardless of which expert is accurate, this boils down to between 35 and 55 thoughts per minute!

Chances are that those 35 to 55 thoughts per minutes are not all focused on altruism. We do live in the physical world, so we need to think about basic things such as maintaining our lives (food, shelter, safety); performing tasks at work; caring for our families and friends, etc. However, as Theosophists, we also know the power of thought. Our thoughts are things, especially when we put intention behind them.

It makes me wonder how many times a day our thoughts add to the divisiveness and separation that plagues our world. How many times a day do we think of others as “them” as opposed to “us”? Each time we think of others as “out there,” we are adding to the thought forms of separativeness. We know that there is no “them” and “us.” There is only ONE. Therefore, awareness of the divisiveness inherent in our thoughts and language, then working to change our thoughts and language to radiate unity can be very powerful.

In conclusion, the Theosophical Society and the Theosophical philosophy focus on the unity of all, not separation and division. We are guided toward this focus through an in-depth study of the Three Objects, the one thing that all members have in common. Therefore, we do NOT stand for just anything nor do we DO just anything: we stand for and work to live an altruistic life of serving humanity without division or separation of any kind.


Abdill, Edward. “The Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.” Quest  96.5 (September-October 2008):177-179, 191.

Krishnamurti, J. (1911). At the Feet of the Master. Rajput Press.

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