Tim Wyatt – England
The author at work
In just a few short months the Theosophical Society will reach its 150th anniversary, surely a coveted milestone for any organization and especially one beset by frequent challenges. Might it present an opportunity?
When the initial brotherhood was formed in New York on that autumn evening in 1875 even the most far-out prophecies of its wise founders couldn’t have remotely predicted our weird and unfathomable world of a century and a half in the future – the world we live in now where the human spirit itself seems to be under attack and in mortal danger.
As a then modern and ultra-radical interpretation of the Ageless Wisdom, philosophia perennis or Gupta Vidya, the society re-introduced previously hidden or forgotten key concepts and cosmic laws into Western consciousness. Without overt evangelism or propaganda some of these ideas have gradually and osmotically penetrated the mass mind. In particular – notions of the inter-connectedness and interdependence of life, new conceptions of consciousness, an explosive resurgence of belief in re-birth of some kind – and most importantly the existence of that law of laws – karma, the unerring principle of cause and effect. Many have a grasp of these ideas.
Although many have never heard of Theosophy or indeed any of its colourful founders, its key concepts float freely about these days. Might it be true to say that Theosophy, despite all the problems among its various vehicles, did its job without even knowing it? Did some mysterious process of inter-dimensional assistance play a part? Were other factors at work? Well, something happened!
Nevertheless, it sometimes strikes me that the Theosophical Society (of which I’m a keen and hyper-active member) has been far more interested in its past than in its present – let alone in its future. The future rarely seems to appear on the agenda. It should.
Elements within the TS have always been rightly fascinated by the society’s thorny, twisted and often tortuous activities – especially when dealing with itself. Friends of the archives pore eagerly over those early instructions, interactions and conflicts. Theosophists minutely study the correspondence, communications and observations of their forebears. They assiduously hunt for hidden clues in its early scriptures. There is nothing wrong with studying history – except for one crucial aspect. If you do it exclusively, it creates the impression that you’re dealing with an organization wholly obsessed with its past and whose perception is strictly through a rear-view mirror.
Certainly, every organization, individual and country needs to reflect on its past. It’s what made each and every one of them. Forget your past and there is no future. But it also needs to look forward, too.
It’s something of a mystery as to precisely why the future of Theosophy and the theosophical movement in all its dissected parts hardly ever comes up for much discussion. Occasionally there are brain-storming sessions. People draw up a few strategy documents and vague action plans which are then consigned to filing cabinets and are never acted on. Nothing ever actually gets done. Everybody says they’re too busy to take on this or that. A few years later the same thing happens again as part of some half-hearted regular ritual. Again nothing happens. In the meantime a few isolated individuals plug away with their own initiatives from their own isolated encampments.
One perpetual and hitherto unanswered question stalking TS leaders down the decades has been: how can we attract more young people into theosophy/our lodge/the society?
One common explanation for this is the widely held assumption that even spiritually inclined people don’t tend to start asking those big existential questions until they reach the cross-roads of middle age. Before that there are too many other diversions, distractions and drains on their time such as work/career, families, finances, recreation, sport, sex and shopping. There is apparently no room for those more profound inquiries during these formative years.
I don’t find this rationale at all persuasive or satisfying. I know many people – and probably you do, too – who were asking where they came from, what was the purpose of life and where they were going since childhood. Jobs may have got in the way but the questions never vanished. Some young people today are asking those very same questions. It’s up to us to speak to them in a language and via a means they understand.
However, there is hope and there is interest from younger adults as evidenced by the recent reactivation of the World Federation of Young Theosophists. Hopefully this revivified group, that held a successful meeting at the ITC in Naarden, the Netherlands, last June, can find the appropriate means, methods and indeed language to communicate timeless ideas to their contemporaries. It doesn’t always take large numbers of people to make big things happen.
Much to my chagrin (as analogue man stranded in a digital age), I have to admit the harsh truth that the future is online. But I hope not exclusively. There’s no real substitute for physical get-togethers. A key issue here is that in this digitally dissected world of ours where many people’s memory- and attention-span is less than that of a fish – getting through even simple messages is demanding. Explaining timeless truths even in stripped-down language is never going to be a cake-walk in a world drowning in both information and disinformation. This means that a far more sophisticated understanding and use of the new communications landscape is vital.
Adhering to traditional principles and trying to shanghai the under-40s into dusty lecture halls isn’t a realistic option. Even as a septuagenarian I realise this.
The glaring irony here is that we have exciting ideas and persuasive explanations for some of the mysteries of life and ourselves which the world needs more than ever right now. But we don’t always find these easy to communicate in a modern way. To adopt a military analogy it’s as if we’re trying to fight a modern war with bi-planes, muskets and Tudor warships rather than employing contemporary weaponry.
The other thing which it pains me to mention is that perhaps because of our over-developed fascination with the past, we don’t always seem to have a coherent vision of where Theosophy or the wider movement should be going. With no clear vision we can only stumble ahead myopically.
But some do have that vision. And I suspect it’s a powerful one. There’s increasing activity on many fronts not just disparate faint rumblings. I firmly believe that theosophy is being re-energised at many different points across the planet and this may disperse that lingering exhaustion which often leaves us clinging to the decaying remnants of the past.
Of course, we have traditionalists in our movement who see things in a particular and perhaps limited way. We should be careful not to label all new insights with so-called ‘pseudo-theosophy’.
As a body which believes in evolution, it’s deeply and comically ironic that we ourselves often seem to be in denial of progress, regeneration and renewal within our own ranks. It’s quite applicable elsewhere, just not within our own portals. We seem to resent innovation while preaching it as a necessity for our species. Something of a disconnect, I suggest.
To me the important thing is to see Theosophy as a practical living tool and not merely as a dry and dusty theory or the cult worship of prominent deceased individuals.
Oddly, the prolonged Covid debacle actually helped to shatter some of the more fossilised attitudes and bring some theosophists kicking and screaming into the world of Zoom. (Other communications platforms are also available). Maybe despotic governments did us a back-handed favour by forcing some of us to innovate their own communications methods in ways they may not have contemplated had Big Brother not locked us down for months.
Like everyone else, my own tiny outpost of the theosophical empire, based in Leeds in England, was exiled into cyber-space. But like extremophiles surviving in the deepest ocean depths we’ve actually thrived. The lodge now not only has people from all over the United Kingdom but from other countries and even continents. For many months now our meetings haven’t been local but international. This has never happened before. Other lodges around the world have done similar things and new vibrant networks continue to be formed.
In this writer’s opinion, the chief antidote to most of our woes is to employ that most magnificent but under-employed human attribute – imagination. A close cousin and ally of our wisdom-intuition or buddhic principle, imagination is our most powerful and precious (and yet often neglected) faculty. So let’s free it and use it to find ways of connecting with a wider world, improving our messaging and finding a new direction. After all, if we don’t know where we are going, we’ll wind up going nowhere.
And this is getting quite urgent right now because the future’s getting closer all the time.