M K Ramadoss
Theosophical Society in America at a Critical Juncture ---
In recent days, Theosophy News posted several messages on Internet Forums trying to alert theosophists about the critical juncture faced by the American Section. Explanation is needed why Theosophy News feels the urgency. Discussed below is the background info. It is hoped that the reader will see the facts and come to their own conclusions.
The American Section has the largest membership second to India. During the last four decades, it is losing membership non stop. Today it is less than 50% of what it was four decades ago.
While every spiritually oriented group which has come to USA from the East has continuously grown, only Theosophical Society in America has been losing membership. So far no one has identified the root cause.
Killing of George Floyd, woke up USA to the injustice endured by Afro Americans. It led to self examination of all segments to see what can be done to redress the injustice faced by Afro Americans and other minorities.
Certain event took place in the American Section which led the writer, a theosophist for over sixty years, to inquire the reasons why membership continues to drop in spite of heavy infusion of money from Kern Foundation ($1 million annually) and other sources. This led to the discovery of the root cause of the continued drop in membership which has baffled many theosophists and its leaders.
The root cause is very simple and stares in your face. Theosophy in America did not reach the minorities especially Afro Americans. United States is a melting pot of immigrants. Early immigrants were from Europe and they later brought slaves from Africa. Today’s immigrants are from every country in the world. In a few years, the descendants of immigrants from non-European Countries will become the majority.
Anyone visiting a theosophical conference or meeting in USA will see for themselves total lack of minorities especially blacks. The writer, who has lived long in Texas has seen just ONE black member in the last four decades. Even he was a student from Africa.
The Great Guru who was behind the launch of modern theosophy movement made it clear that theosophy is not for elites alone and has to reach alpha and omega of Humanity. Theosophical Society in America has failed to reach Afro Americans.
Great places of pilgrimage attract large crowds due to the presence of Initiates. Analogically the spiritual backing of the Initiates is essential for any movement to succeed. Failure of American Section to take theosophy to the minorities seems to have resulted in the loss of spiritual support of Initiates. Continued depletion of members is a clear evidence of this.
If the situation is not turned around quickly and American members get active in projects to take theosophy to the growing minorities, the theosophical movement in USA cannot flourish. Public is now sensitized to the issue of treatment of minorities. So when it sees a group which is de facto practicing exclusivity, natural forces would shut it down.
Early Days of Theosophy in USA
HPB and Olcott, a White woman and a White man, launched theosophy movement in 1875, whose foundation is Brotherhood. Inspiration came from two Eastern Gurus. They sacrificed everything they had – prime of life and all the money to spread theosophy to the world and they succeeded.
United States was a young growing country and the Eastern Seers foresaw its great future. Today, rest of the world looks to USA for all social and political leadership.
As a growing civilization, it was seen as the seat of future Religion of the world. The Great Adept stated “the Theosophical Society was chosen as the cornerstone, the foundation of the future religion of humanity. To achieve the proposed object, a greater, wiser, and especially a more benevolent intermingling of the high and low, of the alpha and the omega of society, was determined upon. The white race must be the first to stretch out the hand of fellowship to the dark nations, to call the poor despised “nigger” brothers.”
In the first half century, many unselfish white men and women helped the growth of theosophical society in the United States. However, no effort was made to take theosophy to the emancipated slaves and other minorities. So the membership and leadership became exclusively white immigrants and their descendants. This continued and no theosophical leader recognized the critical need to take theosophy for the blacks and other minorities.
Failure of the Esoteric Section –
Esoteric Section is called the Heart of Theosophical Society. Theosophical leaders look to inspiration from it and its Head. Every International President and National Leader is a member. In Theosophical Society one cannot move up the leadership ladder unless one is a member.
Since 1980s Radha Burnier was its Head, in addition to holding the position of International President. She lived in Adyar and infrequently visited USA. So she did not have first hand knowledge of criticality of the failure of spreading theosophy to the minorities especially the blacks.
Her successor lives in Australia and visits USA infrequently. She too does not have first hand knowledge of critical need to take theosophy to the minorities in USA. One has to live a long time in the USA to understand the critical role minorities are playing and how theosophy can immensely benefit them. So the Esoteric Section also missed this critical fact.
American Section outsources the training of future leaders to Krotona where Esoteric Section has its American headquarters. Obviously the trainers have no clue to the critical need to take theosophy to the minorities especially Afro Americans.
Failure of leadership identify right priorities
American Section has had several excellent leaders. All of them are able, scholarly and dedicated theosophists. However, they did not pay attention to growth of branches. Growth of American Section depends on the growth of membership in branches. While it is the responsibility of the branches to develop programs, elected leaders have a responsibility to act as coaches to help branches to grow with right priorities.
In addition, money from the branches seems to have been siphoned off by National Center to support its activities. An example was discovered in the Cleveland, Ohio branch. Cleveland has a significant Afro American population. Yet the branch, which is 70 yrs old has almost no Afro American member. It is also an affluent branch and most of its income is sent to National Center and very small amount spent in local activities. No one has asked the simple question why the branch has not grown and has no diversity. Similar situation may be pervasive in other branches.
Even after the Black Lives Matter – issue came to the focus of American Public, to-date theosophical leaders in USA are silent on lack of black members. Neither have they recognized the critical failure nor have they publicly announced the steps being taken to take theosophy to the minorities. Continued status quo would only kill Theosophical Society in America. Government can step in and decide American Section is operating as an exclusive club and cancel its tax exempt status.
Missed opportunity to take theosophy to minorities
Three decades ago, theosophists in USA had an opportunity to bring theosophy to the minorities. Bing Escudero, a well known theosophist from Philippines emigrated to USA. He worked full time for the American Section and widely toured theosophical branches and lectured. He formerly led the Philippines Section and had a lot of organizing experience. When he ran for the elected office of the National President in USA, he was defeated. Many theosophists believe he lost because he was not a native born theosophist with right national lineage. Had he succeeded, branches would have expanded and theosophy would have spread around the country and reached minorities and we would not be in today’s critical predicament.
Duty of theosophists in America
All the leaders in USA are now salaried employees like preachers in churches. Every successful great social movement was led by unselfish volunteers. HPB and Olcott did not negotiate salaries when they accepted the task of spreading theosophy to the world. So we have low expectation of quick action from salaried leaders.
Today, everyone of us have access to very powerful communication tools of communication for free through Internet Social Forums. You can disseminate your ideas to the world at very little cost. Even if you do not have a computer, you can always go to the local library and get on Internet and speak up.
Too long, members have been silent on issues critical to the well being of theosophy. Today, American Section is in a critical juncture. Unless theosophists wake up and get active, Theosophical Society in America may get shut down due to natural causes. So whatever you can do, better hurry up. All good acts have the blessings of the Higher Powers looking for unselfish volunteers to spread Universal Brotherhood.
Let us all TRY anything we think would help.