I was foolish enough not to take my laptop to the International Theosophical World Congress, so instead of posting this on my blog (of which I don't know the password), I'll post it here.
I thought Linda Oliveira's talk was, in the main, insightful. The title was - ominously - 'why do we belong to the Theosophical Society?'
She started out saying that the question was perhaps surprising, but added that it was a necessary question and a deep one.
Well - I agree, I guess. Though I also thought it ominous that a TS vice president would admit to asking the question. What it amounts to though is that Linda would like us all (those who are members anyhow) to look into our motives for joining originally, and at how those motives align with the three objects of the Theosophical Society. She went into the history of the Three Objects a bit - but since I'm afraid it wasn't all historically accurate, I won't repeat it here.
However, she noted that freedom of thought was implicit in the TS from the start (it later became explicit). This meant that brotherhood was difficult. Brotherhood is much easier among sheep (my words) than eagles after all. If there hadn't been that fundamental spirit of search for truth, overcoming dogmas and finding the underlying truth in all religion, the TS would not be what it is. Conversely: without brotherhood we'd be an intellectual society without heart. It's the combination of brotherhood - however humanly flawed at times - with free thought that makes the TS the unique place it is. It's also this combination that makes it, at least potentially, a place where human transformation takes place in rare individuals.
Mental freedom is a large responsibility. It means stepping onto a platform of not relying on anybody to tell you what to think - and from that comes the responsibility of making your own mistakes. Linda repeated several times HPB's 'Errare humanum est' (in her scrapbooks). This means: To err is human. We could all do with being reminded of that regularly.
Then she went into the inevitable theosophical theories behind all this. She said that the deeper brotherhood is one in which one recognizes the divinity in everybody. But in order to recognize it in others, you have to recognize it in yourself.
Theosophists had and have a common interest: the quest for truth.
Just like in theosophical literature we contrast self and Self - personality and Divine spark - brotherhood too has at least two levels: brotherhood, shallow and mere toleration of others, contrasted with Brotherhood. Brotherhood with a capital B stands for a more fundamental solidarity. Brotherhood is a verb: something to do. It's not static. It's a living force.
Brotherhood brings freedom of thought with it: after all, if we feel compassion for others, we'll recognize their right to their own opinions and perspectives. It is for this reason that dogmatic faith and fanaticism are tabu in the Society. If we hadn't had that freedom of thought, the TS would have less stature today. It also leads to a rich diversity within the TS (making it a very fascinating organisation).
Then Linda went on to talk about shila, a Buddhist paramita mentioned in the Voice of the Silence. H.P.Blavatsky calls it the key of harmony in word and action" (I hope I quoted that correctly).
In Buddhism the two principles of Karuna and Prajna are contrasted. Karuna is compassion, kindness: the root of Brotherhood. Prajna is wisdom. Wisdom without compassion isn't real wisdom. Compassion without wisdom is only emotion: one becomes a kindhearted fool. Real shila leads to harmony without residu.
For those with a panoramic mind and an open heart, change is possible.
The unspoken object of the TS is the awakening of consciousness in a small number of individuals. All this in the context of a tidal wave of selfishness in the world today. In general we are only partial theosophists. Did the TS help us at least become a bit more fully theosophists?
Personally I think that reeks of perfectionism, which I always distrust. Still, if the TS has helped a few people deepen their understanding of human nature and develop compassion, I guess a bit of perfectionism can't hurt.
Linda closed with HPB's words: to err is human. Let's remind ourselves of that when we judge those with more responsibility than we have...