I found this on the Wikipedia page for the Anthroposophical Society. It is revealing, due to membership numbers, just how poorly the TS's are handling things. Last I heard, the TS's are about 25,000 members. That is roughly half as many members as in the Anthroposophical Society.
from Wikipedia [Anthroposophical Society] :
"As of 2013, the [Anthroposophical] Society has approximately 52,000 members. Formal branches of the Society have been established in 50 countries, and smaller groups are active in 50 further countries. About 10,000 institutions base their work on anthroposophy, including schools, farms, medical practices, and communities for the handicapped."
How many institutions base their work on Theosophy?
Yes, that is a telling statistic.
I couldn't speak for the TS worldwide, but from the country i know, South Africa, the TS is hopelessly and completely lost and directionless. To be clear, i am giving my own opinion here.
Why this is, or how this came about, would be a long discussion.
here, are some of my thoughts:
Anthroposophy has a more limited, and therefore, clearer and achievable focus.
Given Anthroposophy's Christian focus, it enters Christian countries more seamlessly than Theosophy.
The TS is very very poorly managed at the local level. (my opinion.)
There very few actual Theosophists in any lodge - instead there are alice bailey fans. i.e. Theosophy, as classically understood no longer exists in some lodges. Lodges are filled with invited speakers who peddle their wares, but there are few actual Theosophists who could even engage them.
I think Theosophy had an ambition which exceeded Anthroposophy's. And the TS has simply failed and become irrelevant (that is allowed to be come irrelevant, I dont personally think it is irrelevant.)
The TS allows too much freedom of identity. As such, it has no identity, and i think people are looking for something to join, to take on a specific, defined identity. So, really, an interested seeker will find a lodge to be an empty space,and simply drift off. Not every lodge would be like this, I realise, but this is my experience.
The TS is also a little older than Anthroposophy.
so much could be said.
The situation reminds me of the Theosophical Society (London) in 1785. It started out as a study of the Theosophy from the experiences of Swedenborg. Then, it changed to a religious organization, especially since they had a Doctrine that was a one-horse pony show (Swedenborg). The [Swedenborg] Church has split into a few modernized factions. (The New Church etc.).
The TS has/will become an HPB-only society/religion. They have based everything on one person (The HPB Show and The Secret Doctrine). The HPB-side in the various Theosophies is small because it is HPB-only. To claim HPB as the sole source for true 'Modern' Theosophy is weird. When did the Victorian era become Modern? HPB's theosophy is based on the old secret teachings of ancient Theosophy past (with some Buddhism). That is not 'Modern'. There is more than one Theosophy within the world. If the TS's declare HPB-only Theosophy, they deserve to be a Religious Organization. They are already considered a religious cult in some lists, the Wikipedia Cults list e.g.
The Anthroposophical Society (German branch of TS) was only formed when they were told they had to worship/follow Krishnamurti as the new World Teacher. The Anthroposophical Society is basically as old as the TS German section. Also, The Anthroposophical Society has their own 'ES', organized as the School for Spiritual Science.
The main point is that the AS is similar to the TS in many ways. The difference appears to be in the attitude of the organization. After 2 years of membership, anyone can apply to join the School for Spiritual Science. There does not appear to be any requirements for diet, personal habits, oaths etc. In the AS; HPB could actually join the School for Spiritual Science. HPB would not be eligible for the TS's ES. I think the best source for this is their site School of Spiritual Sciences . It has very few requirements and a vast spectrum across various academic schools.
I am not trying to say the AS teachings are better. It is only that they are actually useful within the general population. AS seems to try to harmonize the Exoteric and Esoteric. Also Science is considered valid to study.(!) E.g. see the Sections within the School of Spiritual Sciences (see link above).
The above is partially my personal observations that may be relevant to some people. I expect there are local differences world-wide.
I'm sure I probably have some errors in this long post. Corrections are appreciated.
Peace - John
hi John, you say alot above.
but, sticking to the parts I am interested in right now (and hoping that I understood you properly), the following are statements you make which I cannot see as being valid:
1) The TS is HPB focused. Totally untrue in my experience. HPB is an outsider in her own house. You have certainly never been in a lodge in South Africa. HPB and the SD hasnt been a focus of a lodge in RSA for at least 25 years and probably longer. There hasnt been an SD study group in cape town in 20 years.
2) You seem to be saying the TS is/has become a 'religion' - with all its associated negative connotations. But, there is a palpable tension withing the TS between authoritarianism and democracy. I think this comes out in: From Spiritualism to Theosophy: "Uplifting" a Democratic Tradition :Stephen Prothero :Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation :Vol. 3, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp. 197-216. There has always been this tension internal to the TS. In 25 years of TS involvement, I have never been pressed into HPB writings, or anyone else's. I was left to my own devices, to make friends with whom I found interesting in a lodge. Would that I had been introduced to HPB in the very beginning. Her absence is palpable. Your comments/experience is totally at odds with mine.
3) You seem to be saying studying science is not a valid pursuit in the TS, but is in the AS. The first part of that statement is simply not true.
the two chief material failings of the TS, in my estimation, are: lack of focus, and lack of organisational structure. That there may be other karmic reasons is beyond my ken.
Thanks for the clarifications, I really appreciate that.
My experiences are based mostly from on-line interactions (now). Any criticism of HPB is often met with very strong posts (attacks). It is often a zealous belief in the infallibility of HPB and the Masters. It feels like talking to fundamentalists. I am glad your experiences have been different.
In the US, the ES actually appears to run everything. It is difficult to really say, since everything is rather cloaked in secrecy. The top officers are mostly ES members. Also, as I understand it, to form a study group now requires the study of HPB first. I am not sure that is a good approach.
As to rejection of Science - one example is that many theosophists actually believe in Sheldrake's list of 10 Scientific Dogmas. Sheldrake is just wrong. His view of science is really taken from the18th and early-mid 19th century physics, which was all deterministic. That view really changed in the late 19th century and early 20th century. That is mostly post-HPB science. Obviously other issues come up as well.
I mostly agree with your observation:
"the two chief material failings of the TS, in my estimation, are: lack of focus, and lack of organizational structure. That there may be other karmic reasons is beyond my ken."
We would probably disagree as to what the focus should be. The TSA (TS in America/Wheaton IL) is organized, but things are always hidden.
In any case, I think my tirade is nearly done. <g> I really appreciate the feedback and will take it to heart. Perhaps I will begin to post Science topics/insights again.
Peace - John
The membership is daily shrinking with closing of branches and study centers. This is the trend world-wide.
Lack of credible leadership is obvious. World witnessed last election of International President which is now litigated in courts in India. An international organization with a part-time visiting leaders cannot grow. It also looks like money has complicated the mission of Theosophical Society. When in early days, money was short, spreading theosophy was the focus. Now all sections around the world is flush with money and is not attracting right kind of leaders who are passionate and are willing to sacrifice for a cause.
Added to the above is the secret mass cancellation of dedicated life members is unprecedented. Current leaders were surprised when the victims went to the courts seeking justice. The issue is now in the courts and Theosophical Society is defending itself with an army of lawyers who are only too happy to litigate. The negative PR out of fighting in the courts is also having a long term effect. For example, the recent International Convention at Adyar was not covered by the local media even though the Governor of Tamil Nadu addressed it.
John is right. Operations are always hidden. So far it has succeeded and today the big factor that is in play is Internet which brings transparency. And the leaders are not using Twitter or Facebook to encourage and spread theosophy ideas. When Trump and Indian Prime Minister Modi are effectively using Twitter to keep in touch with their 30 million followers, theosophy leaders are missing in Twitter.
The future seems to be in the hands of you and me and we can be creative and use Twitter and Facebook to advance our ideas and encourage others. Soon we can expect a creative young man or woman to come up with a great idea how to present theosophy.
My 0.02. Any comments are welcome!
Warm greetings to all.
Interestingly, I suppose, I can agree almost 100% with what both John and Dewald have so well written on the subject of the Theosophical Society and its possible identification by some as a "religion" primarily based on the "preternatural dispensations" given to H.P.Blavatsky etc.
While I continue to execrate that particular moldy old indulgence of Fourth-Level differentiated consciousness (kama-manas "Desire-Mentalism"), I still can assert that perhaps IN ITS BROADER EPISTEMOLOGICAL GARB, Theosophy (note capital T) REALLY IS a religion--THE UNIVERSAL RELIGION.
Anyway, by coincidence I recently wrote a letter to Barbara Hebert on just this subject:
[ Ms. Barbara Hebert (email copy to Richard Smoley)
President, Theosophical Society in America
Wheaton IL 60187-0270
Seasonal greetings from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin! I sincerely hope you and all the staff in Wheaton are enjoying excellent health and have remarkable vitality as we cross the threshold into 2018.
I initially was going to write a brief Letter-to-the-Editor about this subject; however, I started to think that it might actually be a little more prudent not to give the subject any further general publicity. My passing concern is the item in News & Notes (Quest Winter Edition) called "The Word Theosophy: Capital or Lower-Case?":
"But when we talk about Theosophy in these pages, we are almost [my emphasis] always referring to the ideas promulgated by H.P. Blavatsky and her successors, and the organizations formed around them."
I am assuming that this was probably written by Editor Richard Smoley. (Incidentally, if there is a more long-serving, valuable asset within the Society than Richard, I am certainly unaware of whoever else it could possibly be.) In my view Richard is 100% right, not only about the common usage of capital letters, but also about how this particular language convention currently enjoys more-or-less unchallenged domination in most of our publications.
However, this is why it may also be 100% dangerous.
First, I am wondering about a possible threat to the Society's tax-exempt status. Does such a flat-out major association of the official organization with "ideas promulgated by H.P. Blavatsky" increase the likelihood, in these politi-gagging times, that some evangelical and/or generally budget-minded legislator may decide to start making the case that a mere "philosophy club"—and not an actual religion—does not deserve any tax benefit from the Government?
Second, and this is even more personally important to me, I am wondering whether or not the quoted passage (except for the little word almost) may be unintentionally overlooking the (perhaps even considerable) number of members who still indeed do regard Theosophy as a religion—or, with H.P.B., as at least the underlying "Matrix" of all religions."
Such individuals are probably those who would be inclined to accept a broader, epistemological definition of Theosophy, possibly something similar to this: Theosophy: "Intuitive knowledge or wisdom resulting from personal experience of one's own Transcendental ('Divine') Nature." [Also, Theosophist: "Someone at least willing to consider potential knowledge purporting to have been obtained in this special epistemological way."]
Here, it can easily be seen that this other meaning of Theosophy could also merit a capital T, not because it refers to any particular personalized deity, but rather because it points to the "same universal, life-creating Reality" like the God-Within, the One, Brahman, Atman, Purusa, Undifferentiated Consciousness, Self, etc. Anyway, capitalizing the word Theosophy would only be a minor offense of language-convention compared with H.P.B. who was usually not the least bit shy about putting upper-case on about every fifth word if she could find even the slightest excuse for cake-icing it with a little Mystery-Catapulting "Numinosity." . . .
Anyway, since my own ongoing writing project is a tripartite work predicated on a capitalized version of the neither-the-organization-nor-the-Blavatsky-Teachings word Theosophy (viz., 1."Upgrade Yourself in 7 Minutes or Less"; 2. "Upgrade Yourself in 70 Years or Less"; 3. "Upgrade Yourself in 700 Lifetimes or Less"), I would at least like to see the American Section continue to be a viable context for me . . . and perhaps even for some others with a not-quite-so-"secular" orientation. . . .
Thank you for continuing your excellent work; sincere best wishes,
If anyone reading this post wants to know how a TS lodge (Cape Town) dies, you can email me privately - firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the sake of TS family honour, I'd prefer not to air dirty laundry in public. There is hopefully an attempt at a turnaround. But this story should shock even the stupidest and most navel gazing of TS management.
of course, I can only tell my tale, others can tell theirs. I can accept there are other versions.
There are other orientations to modern science than simple acceptance. A tradition based on Kuhn, Feyeraband, and my favourite philosopher, Richard Rorty. The point, here, is that there is more than one mainstream, academic way, to respond to the scientific endeavour.
Sorry to hear about the experience.
Many are praying for a turn around and hopefully some thing will happen.
In pre-Internet days, what happened in one lodge is kept secret from rest of the members.
Today with Internet, transparency is there.
Let us hope the transparency helps to see better days.
The Dalai prevaricates. Which of his tantric commitments has he given up in the face of the scientific onslaught.?
I think you are unimpressed by Kuhn (paradigms), Rorty (the world is always under description, and has no preferred way of being described) etc. which is ok.
But, that is a choice.
From medicine to physics, one can find academic publications which challenge the 'science got it right' narrative. Philosophically, it is even easier, nietzsche, foucault, heidegger, and, can i say, Rorty again. I love that guy.
Theosophists interested in science, I think, will 'use' science when it is helpful. And ignore when it is not.Sometimes they will challenge it, and point to peripheral scientists, e.g. David Pratt. The theosophy/science interaction is a little more complicated than i think you imply, and in HPB's time, I would suggest, she was justified in her opinions. Today, more work needs to be done.
I think Rorty gives an acceptable argument that rational argument does not result in changes of mind. Rationality is not a question of 'content' of specific beliefs, but of overall coherence of a position.
Have you ever read Daston and Galison study of 'objectivity' in the sciences? Scientists are as prone to blindness as anyone else.
The point is not to dump science by to re-describe what it is doing. What it is not doing is describing the world as it really is in itself. Neither, of course is Theosophy, theosophy, or any other religion. That is the bargain struck.
I would like to see a space for theosophy, religion, etc in the world. Not as a favour, but as as warranted and justified position for normal rational people to take in the world.
don't tap out too soon. the result of tapping is death.
er, i thought my last sentence was ambigious.
i dont meant tapping out of the conversation with me, which would not likely result in death - more like relief i imagine.
i mean, giving into science too completely will result in the death of many world views.
I was referring to Sheldrake and how his 10 "Myths of Science" are fictional. They belong in the Flat Earth Society <g>.
Scientists usually do not blindly accept anything. They search to find where science fails so they can get the next Nobel Prize. Many also change their opinion(s) as needed. This includes Interpretation of QM or other theories. I will agree that some Scientists get stuck in a rut of what they think and believe.
I think people (esp. Theosophists) tend to dismiss Science too easily. However, the Dalai Lama pointed out that if Science disagrees with Doctrine, then you have to reexamine your scriptures. That seems to be a valid approach.
oh well. People do get to choose their opinions. That is healthy.