Viewpoint: Our Lineage

Printed in the Spring 2017  issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Boyd, Tim"Viewpoint: Our Lineage" Quest 105.2 (Spring 2017): pg. 10-11

By Tim Boyd, President

Tim BoydAt the time of this writing, we have just finished the 141st annual convention of the international Theosophical Society. Again this year it was held at the headquarters in Adyar. Year after year, this event is the largest purely Theosophical gathering in the world, with over 1000 people attending. Members from around the world and from every corner of India make their plans and adjust their schedules so that they can participate. The convention lasts for five days, and during the course of the event you meet people who have a long history with the TS. It is not uncommon to encounter members who have attended every convention for the past fifty, and in some cases sixty, years. Their memories of the past and observations about the present are priceless.

Today there are almost no members alive who remember any meaningful interaction with Annie Besant, who died in 1933, but there are members with fond memories of her successor, George Arundale, the third international president of the Society. More than one longtime member has recalled to me how patient and open he was with kids. During Arundale’s time there were quite a few children in and around Adyar. In meetings they would get up and behave as kids do. Often the meetings were held under the Great Banyan Tree. Arundale encouraged their play, even their climbing in the sacred tree, without ever losing the focus of his talk. These kids, now elderly members, can’t tell you much about the subjects of his talks, but they were moved by his warmth and his example to join the TS and delve into the teachings that he found so valuable.

Just this year, at the annual event of inducting new members, which traditionally follows the close of the convention, I had the experience of welcoming a young girl whom I had encountered as a little child the first time I came to Adyar. A broadening spectrum of current members has had interactions with each succeeding president, ranging from childhood memories to the memories of coworkers, advisors, and friends. One gets a picture of a line of individuals stretching back to the founders, each with very different personalities and focus. Some of them were stern; some playful; some mystical; some energetic and outgoing; some reserved and quiet; some poetic—but each one was fired by the light of some profound and ongoing experience of the wisdom described in Theosophy. Although each worked to address the needs of their time, ultimately all of them were focused on a vision of the future.

As humans, we are future-oriented beings. Whether it is our as yet unexpressed genetic material or the “powers latent” within us, we are continually under the influence of an ever unrealized future condition. In Mabel Collins’s classic The Idyll of the White Lotus “three truths” are given. The first of them is “The soul of man is immortal and its future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit.” Try as we might to live in the moment, the focus of spiritual practice is on a state of being that is profoundly different from our normal present, a state that to our limited capacity seems separate from this moment, something arrived at through an unfoldment in time—a process of becoming.

The founders of the TS were keenly focused on the future. The Key to Theosophy says, “The Masters look at the future, not at the present, and every mistake is so much more accumulated wisdom for days to come.” The future weighed heavily on H.P. Blavatsky, who on occasion stated that the teachings she was sharing could not be understood, or clearly implemented, until the next century. In the Western world the language to express Theosophical concepts was still forming, and the science capable of reaching into the unseen world around us was also in its formative stages.

The wisdom teachings of Theosophy were reintroduced and the TS was begun in order to stem the tide of two currents in human thought, the “brutal materialism” of science and the “superstition” of dead-letter religion. Theosophy defined a future direction that was characterized by a radical unity described as “universal brotherhood.” Paradoxically, this union is both potential, a future possibility, and also quite actual and immediate. But our current capacity to consciously experience this broader dimension of our being is limited, and we look to the future for this greater, all-embracing consciousness to unfold. At the same time we are told about it, and occasionally experience it, in moments of overwhelming love and insight. The teachings and the practices that arise from Theosophy are said to be able to move individuals toward the experience of that brotherhood. The Great Ones see and occasionally share their visions of future events. To their eyes, both cataclysms and peaceful times are incidents in the cycle of unfoldment of that future whose “growth and splendor” is without limit. Towards the end of HPB’s life, she said, “If you could foresee what I foresee, you would begin heart and soul to spread the teaching of universal brotherhood. It is the only safeguard.”

In the lovely story The Idyll of the White Lotus, there is a moment that occurs just before the hero dies. After a mixed life of high spiritual experience and conscious misuse of spiritual wisdom, he finds himself circled by white-robed figures. “Some were old men, stately and strong; some were young and slender, with faces of fresh light.” They are priests, similar in dress to the ones who had knelt and worshipped him earlier in his life, but they do not kneel. Instead they look down on him with “eyes of pity and love.” During the hero’s experience, different members of this group come and speak with him, communicating profound truths, shining a light of understanding onto the winding path of his life’s journey, and preparing him for his future challenges and future role. It is a beautiful image of the spiritual lineage that supports every wisdom tradition.

Traditions around the world recognize the reality of lineage. Whether it takes the form of ancestor worship, silsila, the “chain” of initiation in Sufism, the “just men made perfect” of the Bible (Hebrews 12:23), or the hierarchy that culminates in the Masters of the Wisdom of Theosophy, everywhere there is a recognition that throughout time there has been a body of “knowers” supporting every advance in self-understanding and the betterment of human consciousness.

The spiritual life does not take place in isolation. Our every effort toward deeper awareness or greater self-understanding has been attempted by countless others throughout time. The combined successes and failures of our predecessors are a shared experience. The living record of this pilgrimage of the human family becomes distilled in that long line of seekers who stand behind us, but also with us, and within us. Although the founders of the TS in their wisdom never gave a precise definition of Theosophy, HPB once commented that “Theosophy is the accumulated wisdom of the ages, tested and verified by generations of seers.” At all times and for every generation, there are those who have gone ahead of us in this process of transformation—some to depths we cannot fathom. These are the great men and women who not only lead the way, but continually reach back to guide and help the human family, from which they are inseparable. The religions of the world and our own personal sense of need have cultivated in us the habit of calling out to these Great Ones for help in matters great and small. At every step, the advice given is that the ultimate responsibility is ours.

All you can do is to prepare the intellect: the impulse toward “soul-culture” must be furnished by the individual . . . fortunate they who can break through the vicious circle of modern influence and come up above the vapours! . . . We have one word for all aspirants: TRY” (Mahatma Letters, letter 35).

To conclude, let me share this year’s President’s Message to the 141st annual convention, whose theme was “Beyond Illusion: A Call to Unity.”

 As humans, we are complex beings. Every moment there are multiple inner and outer voices calling for our attention, and the powerful habits we have cultivated over time continually propel us from one sensation to another, one thought to the next, and from judgment to judgment. Duality and the oscillation between its poles is the predominant feature of our reality. Whether we name it maya, samsara, or illusion, it has become our conditioned response for seeing the world. Great teachers have come among us to exemplify another possibility. Our own occasional experiences of unselfishness and a transcendent peace confirm for us the truth of their perennial teachings. There is another way to see and experience the world, another vision that exceeds our habitual view. Seeing the habits of our minds breaks our bondage to them. “To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood” is our invitation to see anew. It is a call to unity.

May we see what we see. May we hear what we hear. May we be open to the presence of that endless line of Great Ones who continually knock at the door of our hearts.

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