Printed in the Winter 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim, "The Mission of the Theosophical Society" Quest 107:1, pg 3-5
At our most recent General Council meeting, a mission statement for the Theosophical Society (TS) was finalized. In the 143-year history of the TS, although many statements have been made related to the mission and purpose of the TS, there has never been a formal mission statement.
In The Key to Theosophy, in a short section titled “The Abstract and the Concrete,” HPB addresses the subject of the relationship between Theosophy and the Theosophical Society. One of the things she says is that “Theosophy is divine nature, visible and invisible, and its Society human nature trying to ascend to its divine parent.”
In that same section, she also says that “Theosophy is the shoreless ocean of universal truth, love, and wisdom, reflecting its radiance on the earth, while the Theosophical Society is only a visible bubble on that reflection.” She tries to help us understand the relationship between Theosophy, which is divine, and our work within this organization, which has a form. She closes by saying that the TS “was formed to assist in showing to men that such a thing as Theosophy exists, and to help them to ascend towards it by studying and assimilating its eternal verities.”
In a sense, the idea of a Society whose purpose is to show the existence of an ever-undefined Theosophy is a statement of mission. However, for someone not yet fully grounded in a studied awareness of Theosophy, it is an unsatisfying statement.
For a little more than a year, the General Council of the TS, with input from other members, has been engaged in the process of trying to refine a concise and comprehensible statement of the mission of the TS. Much like a sutra in the scriptures of the world, the attempt has been made to make the expression of mission so brief, compact, and easy to remember that it can be quickly communicated, but so conceptually rich that dwelling on it reveals ever-deepening layers of meaning.
The Mission Statement which has been adopted for the Theosophical Society is a total of twenty-four words: “To serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual self-transformation, and the unity of all life.” In the remainder of this article, we will try to unpack this one sentence. Much like a sutra, every one of those twenty-four words adds something meaningful.
To serve is the primary function of the TS. Service is often interpreted in different ways, but for our purposes it involves a conscious participation, a conscious, compassionate activity that connects us with others in ways which relieve suffering. Of course, our service is often unconscious. For example, the simple act of breathing gives plants the carbon dioxide they require to live. Plants breathe out the oxygen that humans and other life forms require. So it could be said that just breathing is service. However, part of the role of the Theosophical work is to become fully conscious, fully aware, so that our service is not just random activity, but charged with awareness and compassion.
In what direction is that service focused? The mission is “to serve humanity.” The normal conception of humanity is as the seven billion individual human beings which populate the Earth. The collectivity of all these human beings is what we tend to call “humanity.” From the perspective of the Ageless Wisdom, there is the idea of the divine human. What we think of as humanity is not merely an amalgamation of seven billion different people; it is a single entity in much the same way that we as individuals are composed of many tiny lives, but think of ourselves as a unit. When we think of our bodies or “I” myself as a human being, if we are a little more precise about it, what we call “I” is a combination of the activity of trillions of human cells, more trillions of bacteria living on and within the body, and the unseen participation of every range of consciousness from the lowest mineral to the highest spiritual beings. The cooperative activity of all of these units and streams results in what we call “I.”
So there is this humanity that we serve in our limited ways. Conscious service begins with a recognition of our unity with this greater Whole, and with a deepening understanding of the ways we participate within it. Humanity in another sense is an as-yet-unrealized ideal. In our behaviors and present level of development, we are not yet fully human. On numerous occasions HPB compared so-called “human” behavior with that of animals. To the degree that the focus of our consciousness lies in the realm of desire, selfishness, separation, humans become “the most consciously and intelligently bestial of all animals” (HPB).
Genuine, or realized humanity, is what we strive toward. The realized human, it is said in the Stanzas of Dzyan, has within themselves the “mind to embrace the universe,” a holistic, all-embracing mind. This is still a distant goal for us. When we speak of service to humanity, it is twofold. We give service to the collective whole by serving the individuals and groups which form its body; and we are servants of the divine ideal planted within us in our efforts to root ourselves in its all-embracing consciousness.
How do we serve humanity? There are many organizations in the world that focus on service to humanity: the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and so on. What is particular to the service that the TS envisions? In the Mission Statement it says, “to serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization.” Let us examine what might be meant by “cultivating.” It is a very particular term that normally relates to gardeners, or people who focus on growing or caring for plants. It is directly linked to the natural world and to the processes of life and consciousness.
Just planting a seed in the ground does not make someone a gardener. A person who takes on the role of caring for plants must engage in an intensive study of the cycles of Nature and the potentials of the seeds. They have to be aware of the needs and requirements for the growth of these living things, and be prepared to provide for these needs at the proper moments. All of this is involved in the process of cultivation.
The TS exists to bring about a flowering of a deeply hidden human potential—a Divine Seed. What is the seed that is planted within humanity that the TS exists to nurture? The next portion of the Mission Statement gives an indication.
We are here “to serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization.” “Ever-deepening” speaks to not only the direction but the nature of this process.
The fact that this cultivation we engage in is without limits means that it is continually deepening. Often in spiritual dialogues we talk about “depths” and “heights.” In a way, “depth” and “height” are synonymous terms for a certain expansion of consciousness. As a word, “ever-deepening” is perhaps more appropriate, because the idea of depth tends to draw our awareness inward, whereas height seems to move awareness up and out. The intention of the language is to turn our vision inward.
We make a mistake in our appreciation of the meaning of “understanding” if we confuse it with “knowledge.” The two are different in nature and quality. Knowledge can exist in the complete absence of genuine understanding. It is very common for people of profound knowledge to have no sense of its relationship with all other things, which is the basis of understanding. This condition of mind is so evident that we should not require any additional proof beyond our daily observation. All we need to do is to look at recent history, at any major scientific invention or discovery that has come into the world—whether it is electricity, atomic energy, or biological substances. To the understanding mind each revelation of Nature’s powers deepens one’s recognition of relationship with the world around us, with others, and with invisible realms.
A sense of connection is a necessary component of the understanding mind. But, to take the example of electricity, driven by the mind that is focused only on knowledge, one of its early uses was in capital punishment—electrocution of prisoners. Rather than to behead, hang, or shoot someone, the knowledge-bound human genius, which made creative use of electricity possible, used it to kill other human beings. The discovery of atomic energy had the same result, but worse. Instead of killing single individuals, its very first use was in war and the massive annihilation of human life. Knowledge can be used in ways that deny connection and relationship with all life. Understanding, on the other hand, is the perception of relationship; it is an expression of the intuition, of buddhi. It is a recognition of unity.
We are here to “serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization.” Realization means a full awareness, whether it is of an aspect of the Divine Wisdom or, in the case of a realized person, the total awareness of an undivided state of being. In a sense, realization is the necessary outcome of a deepening understanding.
The Mission Statement specifies an understanding and realization of three things. First, the Ageless Wisdom, sometimes referred to as Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Wisdom. Within Theosophical circles we sometimes find “Ageless Wisdom” and “Ancient Wisdom” being used synonymously. Although the two terms are closely related, they express different ideas.
“Ancient Wisdom” refers to a specific expression of the Ageless Wisdom tradition, something that has already come into existence, that has a history. The Greek and Egyptian Mystery schools, with their specific deities and ritual, and Vedic practice in India are some examples of Ancient Wisdom—specific expressions of the Ageless Wisdom, appropriate for a certain time, place, and people. “Ageless,” by definition, applies to the past, present, and whatever traditions develop in the future. It is the “rootless root” from which all else springs. At the commencement of our current cycle of growing global interconnection, the most recent expression of the Ageless Wisdom was introduced with the founding of the TS in 1875. At some point in a distant future, Theosophy, as we have come to know it, will also fall into the category of an Ancient Wisdom: completely true, eternal in its nature, but very specific and time-bound in terms of its form of expression. This is the ever-renewing nature of Theosophy—the Ageless Wisdom.
The Theosophical work we do as individuals we describe as “spiritual self-transformation.” It is rooted in the idea that the self, the norm of separative, personality-based living, can be transformed, acted upon by the indwelling spirit in ways that make it transparent to what Annie Besant described as the “Hidden Light shining in every creature.”
What is involved in transformation? Probably the process is simpler than the way we generally approach it. It is not a matter of adding more ideas or knowledge. The purpose of the knowledge that we accumulate is to assist in stripping away the many obstacles that we have created within ourselves to the natural and ever-present flow of spirit.
The final words of the Mission Statement of the TS are “the unity of all life”: “an ever-deepening understanding and realization of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual self-transformation, and the unity of all life.” The Mission Statement ends where the work of the Theosophical Society begins. The First Object of the TS is brotherhood, which could also be expressed as unity. There is no spirituality in the absence of the realization of unity or oneness. Unity is the basis of all understanding, spirituality, and even physical well-being. Even at the level of our personality, there is no strength where unity is absent. When we look at a small child in its first efforts to walk, the child fails time after time. The reason for the failure is that the newborn body has yet to become united with its various parts. The muscles of the arms and legs are not fully under the control of the person. In human relations the absence of unity expresses itself as fragmentation, weakness, and illness.
The basis of everything that we call Theosophical comes back to the unity of all life. Life is omnipresent and is necessarily intelligent, intelligence expressed in movement. All is in motion—not randomly, but in a patterned manner. Life’s underlying intelligence impresses itself on matter. Whether it is gravity, electromagnetism, or karma and reincarnation, we can speak about the Laws of Nature or the Laws of the Universe, because there is an intelligent patterning to life that we can perceive.
This brief article has been an attempt to highlight a few of the thoughts and insights that arise in dwelling on the Mission Statement. In order for it to come to life for us, we must each make our own exploration, in thought and in quiet reflection, allowing its depths to unfold for us. Like anything that is truly Theosophical in nature, the depths that are possible for us to uncover are without limit.
So, once again, the Mission of the Theosophical Society is:+++++++++++++++++++++
To serve humanity by cultivating an ever-deepening understanding and realization of the Ageless Wisdom, spiritual self-transformation, and the unity of all life.