Tim Boyd -- USA, India
International President of theTheosophical Society-Adyar, Tim Boyd
I would like to share a few thoughts with you on a subject that may seem a little odd, “The Land and Us”. When we look around the world the land that we all inhabit universally seems to have great importance. No matter where we are from, or from what point of history we tend to look at, the land is the source of some of the highest human expressions.
On the one hand, there is the heroic patriotism and inspired leadership — in service to the motherland, the Fatherland, the Holy Land, and the sacred land that has motivated people throughout history. One can see the heights of selfless activity. I was in Lhasa, Tibet, some years ago. It was a space regarded as sacred by the people living there, to the point that there was a ritualized treatment of the land. One would see people every morning doing the Kora (circumambulation) around the Jokhang Temple in the central square. For many the Kora included prostrations. You could tell the people who had been devoted to the practice for many years. The prostrations involved bowing down touching the forehead to the ground. The longtime practitioners would have a callus in the middle of their forehead from having touched the sacred ground so many times!
On the other hand we are all too familiar with the land evoking a different, dark and destructive tendency, particularly the Holy Land or the Fatherland. In our recent history those very words have repeatedly sent millions of people marching toward unnecessary death and violence.
Very recently, about two weeks after the attack on the people in Israel and the beginning of the siege of Gaza, my wife and I were in Egypt for a theosophical conference. It was not the first time I had been in Egypt. As a two-year-old my family was living in Egypt with my father, who had taken on the position of Cairo mission chief of CARE, an American relief organization. This was in the aftermath of the Palestine war or, as it is called within Israel, the War of Liberation. The upshot of that war was that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, many of them to Egypt, creating a housing and food crisis. My father was there to attend to the housing crisis. This was almost 70 years ago, and here we are in 2024, with history repeating itself. The question that we must ask ourselves is not just what have we learned, but what is the power of place that influences us in this very strong way.
Every high-school student in the United States is exposed to what is considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches in the English language, given by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, the fight between the South and the North, that ultimately centered on the issue of slavery. I do not remember the whole speech, but here is what I remember: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. It is ingrained in my memory. The speech was given to dedicate a cemetery, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. It was a commemoration of the death and ongoing dying in war of young people throughout that country. These feelings of not just patriotism and devotion, but simultaneously separation, isolation, racism, colonialism are our unquestioning response that the land brings out.
There is an expression that coming events cast their shadows before them. My experience lately has been that wherever I go there is a sense among people that something great is impending, that we are on the cusp of some as yet unrevealed challenging moment of change. The anticipated nature of this greatness will of course depend upon one’s perspective. To someone whose sense of reality is derived from a regular consumption of the daily news reports of war, violence, pandemic, climate change, cyber-attacks, and so on, this great something that is coming might be a cause for fear. There is another way that this can be viewed. Clearly there is an impending future that is challenging, but where some see fear, others see a need, an opportunity. There are always those who, knowingly or not, have prepared themselves to meet and address the needs of this moment in human history.
The TS was founded in 1875 in New York City, ten years after the end of the Civil War, which is to say, ten years after the legally supported enslavement and sale of other human beings was no longer permitted. The TS came into being with the vision of what this world can and should be, it was an organization that insisted on a universal brotherhood, regardless of caste, creed, race, gender, or color, the multitude of things that we have created as barriers to one another.
In one of the most important letters from the Mahatmas, the “Maha Chohan’s Letter”, some specific things are said about the reason for the TS’s formation and its potential value. The letter gave attention to an important division taking place in the human family, portrayed as if humanity was gravitating toward two separate poles of thought. One group was being influenced by what was described as “brutal materialism”, influenced by the worldview of science at that time, which was materially based and reductionist. The other was spoken of as “degrading superstition”. Between these two poles, the scientific and religious, humanity was being divided into camps. The letter asserted that the formation of the TS could provide a needed third way, free from the dogmatic assertions related to either one of those camps. The idea that a renewed connection with the Ageless Wisdom tradition and the TS were a need for humanity is what brought it into being.
The purpose of the TS as stated by H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) in The Key to Theosophy, one of the last books she wrote, was that its purpose is to make it known that such a thing as Theosophy exists. When I first encountered this statement it was curious to me, and raised more questions than it immediately answered. What is it in Theosophy that the knowing of its existence confers some power? What is it about Theosophy that has a potency such that even the knowledge of its existence can have a transformative effect on an individual and the world?
One of the things that many people are searching for in this Wisdom tradition, knowingly or not, is an answer to the essential question: Who or what am I? One of the ways this question is answered is that the human being is highest spirit and lowest matter linked by mind. The statement is simple enough, but the depth and potentials within us that it speaks to are profound. Spirit and matter linked by mind; gives the clear indication that mind is where we find our work.
Generally we focus on the lower uses of the mind. Thinking about the world around us and how we might be able to manipulate it to our advantage is normally one of the ways that we view it. Although it is an odd and not wholly accurate expression, one aspect of what we are here to do is to “spiritualize matter”. The mind as the messenger conveys the influence of the spiritual dimension into the material world; equally the mind has the capacity to stabilize ungrounded spiritual expression. The cultivation of the mind occurs in this moving to and from these poles of our own existence.
The human being is all of these: spirit, matter, mind. HPB described it as three schemes of evolution. Just as we talk about the material world and the land that we associate with it, we live in other lands as well. By virtue of our “humanness” we inhabit the land of spirit, of matter, and of mind.
The way HPB described it these three evolutionary schemes are inextricably interwoven and interblended at every point. This is not our normal view. We tend to think in terms of layers, with spirit at the top, matter at the bottom, and mind in between. Like color and taste in water, we are simultaneously physical, mental, and spiritual beings. Our forgetfulness of this truth limits our capacity to bring a spiritualizing influence into the world of matter. That is something of the power that a knowledge of the existence of the Ageless Wisdom can bring.
So what then might be the role of those who have found some value and even had some experience of it? It is quite true that the knowledge of this threefold nature of our being has a certain power that is attractive, it is magnetic in many ways. To the extent that we become close to it we find that it affects us. Often, I use the example of a cold bar of iron placed in front of a fire. It is influenced by its proximity to the heat. The longer it sits there, the more it takes on the qualities of fire.
Part of what we have been attempting here at Adyar, is a regeneration rooted in the mind, and spirit, but also in the land. This place is infused with the presence of great people. Wherever you walk, the ground breathes itself into you, but as only inbreathing is not possible, we are required to breath out this presence into the world we create.
There is the idea that everything that is now real was once imagined. Whatever it is, from the chair we sit on, to the clothes we wear, all of it is the product of imagination. This TS campus that we walk through is the result of imagination brought down to Earth. We have been in a process of reimagining this place that is our home. What does that mean? What are the effects of this imagination?
The Theosophical Society has the statement of its mission that is 24 words in length. I encourage everyone to acquaint themselves with it. Its first three words give the broad statement of our mission: “to serve humanity”. The question becomes: How? Our response has become: By any and every available means. For example, recently at Adyar there has been a renaissance taking place in art. We are reacquainting ourselves with the rich heritage that has been running through this place from its beginnings. It is not that we have suddenly found an interest in art; for years in our Museum we have had important works of art that are examples of various art movements influenced by this place and by Theosophy. That is making itself more and more clear.
Because we have been ill-equipped these artworks require restoration. This restoration project, like many of the things that we do, exceeds our internal capabilities, and so in a sense it necessarily draws in others. The supervisor of our restoration project, Elif Kamisli, is from Istanbul, Turkey. I first got to know her through email in 2014, when she was involved in curating a biennale (biannual) art exhibition in Istanbul and wanted the “Thought Forms” paintings which at that time we did not have, but found later. Out of that association she became more deeply acquainted with the impact and value of this place (Adyar). What began as others assisting in the work, has now become a TS member taking on the work.
Everything of any importance that the TS has accomplished in its almost 150- year history has been the result of a dream. Invariably our experience has been that you dream a world, and from all around the resources, required to bring that world down to Earth and to expand upon it, find their way to live inside of the dream. We dream a world, we populate that world with the characters of our dreaming, nothing is apparent on the ground as yet, but we dream the dream of HPB, the dream of the Masters. There is the potential for a world that is somehow grounded in a sense of brotherhood, a dream that has attracted some of the finest minds.
Now we are in a new phase of our dreaming: this place has this wonderful forest that is an ecological resource at a time when such things are deeply needed. We are not talking about a park, but there is a consciousness that exudes from an intimate proximity with the natural world. This is a direction in which we are moving.
After Joss Brooks’s talk last night, I was approached by a person deeply moved by Joss’s passion and ecological knowledge, who pleaded with me not to let this end as just another good talk with a beautiful vision. I had to interrupt to say that Joss Brooks was here because for months we have been dreaming our way into this different world, this different approach and without knowing him, or the breadth and scope of his work, this dream had taken shape and brought us together. This campus is going to be a jewel, a refuge for animal and wildlife, an educational tool for people who are living on a planet that is burning itself up day-by-day, an education about another way, and every bit of it relates to the sense of oneness, all of it supported by a deepening awareness of reach of the Wisdom.
Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography has a brilliant title, “My Experiments with Truth”. This TS Adyar campus is an experiment, it had not been tried, had not existed, and was predicted by some to wither and die on the vine. It is an experiment intended to exemplify the possibility of an awareness of oneness with the potency to affect every level of our environment. The immediate results are uncertain. Will we help in bringing the world back from the heedless misuse of the resources and people of the planet? In the short term the outcome is uncertain. Speaking personally, I would be more comfortable if I could feel that human behavior will curb itself and move away from the denial of our destructive impact on the planet. In the long term, there are some things that are certain. It is a certainty that no effort is wasted; it is not in keeping with the economy of Nature that any action is lost. It is a certainty that there are great beings — the Masters of the Wisdom — whose attention and influence aids and supports all efforts that align with their purposes. It is a certainty that each of us can be instrumental in bringing about the changes that will bring this dream down to Earth. These are the things over which we have some control. These are the things to which we need to dedicate our efforts.
Our process is to move beyond knowledge to awareness, to bring that awareness to consciously applied activities that uplift wherever we find ourselves. If in fact there is some degree of connection to the depths of power that Theosophy indicates, it should be revealed in everything we touch. That is our responsibility and the task ahead.
This article was also published in The Theosophist, VOL. 145 NO. 5 FEBRUARY 2024, and is based on a talk Tim Boyd gave during the 148th International Convention in Adyar on January 4, 2024. To watch this talk click HERE
The Theosophist is the official organ of the International President, founded by H. P. Blavatsky on 1 Oct. 1879.
To read the FEBRUARY 2024 issue click HERE