Theosophy for us must be a way of life, including thinking and feeling, not mere lecturing and attendance at meetings.
—N. Sri Ram
Love, it is such a potent word. As Theosophists, we know that love is the basis of Theosophy. Without love, Theosophy could not exist. Without love, Theosophy is nothing. Love is the force that holds the universe together and keeps the cycle of everything going. Love gives us the power to know ourselves and others.
Love has many definitions in the dictionary, but despite the various ways to describe love, the commonality that all the definitions have are words like "attraction," "concern," "loyalty," "affection," "benevolence," "devotion." They are words of altruism: words that are used when we think about others we care for and words we use when we act on behalf of anotherâ€™s benefit. They are words that we use toward people we love. They are also watchwords for Theosophist. Theosophists&mdash:people who find themselves searching for the deeper meaning behind the actions of the universe and our humanity, who hold the welfare of others higher than their own, and whose every action is made with thoughtfulness and concern of how that action will affect others&mdash:are people who hold love as sacred because true love is Theosophy and such love is altruism.
In The Key to Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky is asked whether the Theosophical Society (TS) regards self-sacrifice a duty of members and she replies, "We do; and explain it by showing that altruism is an integral part of self-development." She warns that such self-sacrifice must be used with discrimination and that it does no good to be fanatic about oneâ€™s self-sacrifice: "A man has no right to starve himself to death that another man may have food, unless the life of that man is obviously more useful to the many than is his own life" (142).
In the same regard, Madame Blavatsky clarifies that there is never a time when self-sacrifice cannot be performed. In every moment of our lives, there is always an opportunity to do something for another and, in turn, aid our own self-development:
No man has a right to say that he can do nothing for others, on any pretext whatever. . . . A cup of cold water given in a time to a thirsty wayfarer is a nobler duty and more worth than a dozen of dinners given away, out of season, to men who can afford to pay for them. No man who has not got it in him will ever become a Theosophist; but may remain a member of our Society all the same. We have no rules by which we could force any man to become a practical Theosophist, if he does not desire to be one.
When asked why a person should enter the Society at all if they do not agree with the above statement, Madame Blavatsky replies, "That is best known to him who does so. For, here again, we have no right to prejudge a person, not even if the voice of a whole community should be against him" (144). This is an example of not only the altruistic attitude of H. P. Blavatsky (HPB), but also the courageous endurance with which she lived her life. Altruism is not only about action, but includes our outlook on life and the way we think about a particular situation. To be open-minded and not give in to the negativity of others, benefits humanity more than we may know. It is impossible to know the truth of any given situation as there are myriad factors and intentions involved. Theosophy practices truth and to practice truth, we need to keep an open-mind and a pure heart. It is through such practice that we can know love.
One year after Annie Besant took office in 1907, she formed the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS). With a motto that states "A union of those who love; for the service of all who suffer," Mrs. Besant created an arm of the Society that allowed Theosophists to put into action the principles by which they lived their lives. As many know, Mrs. Besant worked on behalf of several different social causes so it was not surprising that she felt Theosophy and the Theosophical Society were the perfect platform for a service organization. However, Madame Blavatsky wrote in The Key to Theosophy that, "the Theosophical ideas of charity mean personal exertion for others; personal mercy and kindness; personal interest in the welfare of those who suffer; personal sympathy, fore-thought and assistance in their troubles or needs. We believe in relieving the starvation of the soul, as much if not more than the emptiness of the stomach" (145).
It would seem that HPB felt that each individual member should perform such charity on an individual basis. If this is the case, then an organization like the Theosophical Order of Service could possibly be looked at as contradictory to what Madame Blavatsky proposed members of the Society should do. Perhaps an organization like the Theosophical Order of Service could make such actions institutionalized; often helping those one may never meet and providing charity without really knowing who or what one was helping. Yet, while it sounds contradictory, it could also be a warning to members of the Theosophical Society and the Theosophical Order of Service to be careful about how they go about relieving the suffering of others.
When the Theosophical Society was founded, there was not another organization like it. If we try to understand what the founders had in mind when they started the TS, on the surface it seems very easy:
To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color,
To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science,
To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
These objects are easy enough until one tries to put them into practice. As Theosophists, there are many situations we come upon in life that are in direct contrast to how we live our lives and what we believe promotes unity. Theosophy is about discovering the unity in all life. Not just the human life, but the life that vibrates all around us. It is about the realization that we are part of that life and that vibrancy. The Theosophical Society provides seekers with different resources to study and understand this unity, but it is up to the individual to take the first step into the world in order to put the concept into action and make it practical.
When Annie Besant founded the Theosophical Order of Service, the initial formation was a bit haphazard. Wanting to apply the objects of the Society to the world, members of the TS dove into one activity after another and one "league," as they were called at the time, after another was formed. There were leagues for the blind, the disabled, the orphaned, the imprisoned, the poor, the uneducated, and for animal welfare. The enthusiasm was wonderful and heartfelt, but as Madame Blavatsky warned, self-sacrifice must be discriminate. As quickly as the organization blossomed, it also began to wilt. There was an initial lack of structure and guidance. However, if the roots of a plant are hearty, the plant will survive and as did the TOS. With the help of different leaders and more support from the Theosophical Society, the Theosophical Order of Service became, and continues to be, a diverse, unique organization with many dynamic leaders.
What makes the Theosophical Order of Service different from other service organizations and keeps it from being institutionalized is Theosophy. Theosophy is a living wisdom that teaches that there is, "one absolute, incomprehensible, and . . . infinite essence as the root of all nature, and of all that is, visible and invisible" (Key, p. 2) and that this essence is part of everyone and everything around us. When we truly feel this and produce action from this way of being, the action cannot but help others because it comes from that oneness which is love in all its totality. There are no boundaries, there is no separation, there is no you and me. There is just one. The action is personal because there is no difference. It is this "personal interest" that Madame Blavatsky spoke about in The Key to Theosophy. The action that one does should be personal; it should be from the heart. It is this action that keeps Theosophy alive and a service organization like the TOS vibrant and constantly renewed. It is also this type of action that makes us practical Theosophists.