(Last Updated on : 01/03/2012)
The Theosophical Society was inspired by the philosophy and mysticism inherent in Hinduism and came into being through the efforts of the celebrated Russian born occultist, H.P. Blavatsky and her American colleagues, B.S. Olcott, W.Q. Judge and thirteen others who established the society in New York on 17 November 1875. Their motivation was the "wisdom of the East" and their desire for the "spiritual regeneration of man". They declared themselves to be the disciples of an Indian mahatma, a 'jivanmukta' (liberated soul) dwelling in the Himalayas. He was himself a member of 'samsara' (the ocean of births and deaths) but who remained "in incarnation to help the world on its upward path" and they turned to India for inspiration and strength.
In 1882 they chose a site on the banks of the Adyar, Madras for its permanent headquarters which is visited by numerous people every year and is a holy shrine for all religions. The main hall has bass reliefs representing the founders of the world religions. It comprises of Christ knocking at a closed door; Buddha in meditation; Krishna, flute in hand, leaning on a cow; Zarathushtra; a verse from the Koran inscribed on the wall; symbolic representations of Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Confucianism and other faiths, such as, the beliefs of ancient Egypt and Mexico and Mithraism.
The origins of the Theosophical movement were therefore deep rooted in one pattern of socio-religious dispute within western civilization of India. The term 'Theo-sophy' or divine wisdom evolved and also became popular in the seventeenth century. As Theosophy developed into a movement in India, it exploited ideas and symbols from Egyptian, Hindu, and Buddhist religions as justification for its criticism of contemporary life in Europe and America. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott brought about this movement in 1875 after becoming acquainted through a shared interest in spiritualism. Alice Bailey, Annie Besant, Geoffrey Hodson, C.W. Leadbeater, Alfred Percy Sinnett, Rudolf Steiner and Abner Doubleday are the prominent personalities who worked with the Theosophical society.
The Theosophical Society was the organization formed to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The main objective of the Theosophical Society was the investigation, study and explanation of mediumistic phenomena. After a few years Olcott and Blavatsky traveled to India and established the International Headquarters at Adyar, Madras (Chennai). There, they also became interested in studying Eastern religions, and these were included in the Society's agenda. By 1889 when Blavatsky wrote Key to Theosophy, it mentioned the aims of the
Theosophical Society, which are as follows -
To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without discrimination of race, color, or creed.
The society promoted the study of Aryan and other Scriptures, of the World's religion and sciences, and to vindicate the importance of old Asiatic literature, namely, of the Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Zoroastrian philosophies.
To inspect the hidden mysteries of Nature under every aspect possible, and the supernatural and spiritual powers dormant in man especially.
As early as 1889 Blavatsky also claimed a group of Theosophical students that the real purpose of establishing the Society was to prepare humanity for the reception of the international teachings when he appeared again, in addition to the stated objectives. This declaration was again repeated again more publicly by Annie Besant in 1896, five years after Blavatsky's death.
After Helena Blavatsky's death in 1891, the Society's leaders apparently worked together peacefully, however this did not last long. Olcott and Annie Besant accused the judge of forging letters from the Mahatmas. Finally, the batch ended his association with Olcott and Besant in 1895 and took most of the Society's American Section with him. The original organization supervised by Olcott and Besant is still in India and is known as the Theosophical Society - Adyar. The section led by Judge is today known as the Theosophical Society, but often with the advisory statement, "international headquarters, Pasadena, California". A third society, the United Lodge of Theosophists or ULT, in 1909 got separated from the latter organization, and various small fragment groups began to evolve including the Palmers Green Theosophical Lodge under the leadership of Thomas Neumark-Jones that was influential among British New Liberal intellectuals. In 1902, Rudolph Steiner became General Secretary of the German/Austrian division of the Theosophical Society, he maintained a Western-oriented course, comparatively self-governing from the Adyar headquarter led by Besant and Olcott. After grave philosophical disagreements, primarily on the spiritual allegation of Christ and on the status of the young boy Krishnamurti, most of the German and Austrian members divided into other groups in 1913 and formed the Anthroposophical Society that remains very active and influential today and has branches in almost all western communities, including the US and Canada.
Theosophists have worked for the promotion of harmony, understanding and mutual respect among the religions. Much of theosophical lecturing and literature has concerned itself with the comparative study of religions, tracing their essential unity and reverentially analyzing, their teachings.
The society's Adyar library and research centre has books on ideology and the promotion of oriental learning. Started in 1886 by Olcott, it has some 17,500 palm leaf and paper manuscripts from many countries and more than a hundred and fifty thousand books on the religions, philosophies and cultures of the world, and on occultism and the spiritual life, in most of the major languages.
Theosophists all over the world regard India as the home of true religion and as the spiritual teacher of the world. The Indian section is numerically the largest national section of the society and has influenced large numbers who are not professed theosophists.
There are several organisations somewhat parallel to the Theosophical Society at Adyar which draw their inspiration and their teaching from Blavatsky. However, these have a separate and independent existence.
There are many branches of the Theosophical Society in the world they are as follows -
Theosophical Society at Pasadena, California
Theosophical Society, Unterlengenhardt, Germany
United Lodge of Theosophists, Los Angeles
Anthroposophical Society, Germany, was also a part of this society. But it broke away from the parent body Adyar and today it is still active in some countries.
There is a great deal of co-operation between these offshoots of the theosophical movement, which is given voice through the monthly journal, Theosophists Reunite. It is published in California.
Racial Beliefs in Theosophical Society
Blavatsky declared that humanity had come down from a series of "Root Races", and named the fifth root race (out of seven) the Aryan race. The Root Races were evolutionary stages, each new Root Race being more evolved than the previous one. She thought that the Aryans originally came from Atlantis, who was part of the fourth Root Race. The Aryan Root Race was only one more step in the evolutionary progress and a more spiritual Root Race; the sixth would eventually supersede it. Blavatsky believed that Semitic peoples were later Aryans who have disintegrated in spirituality and thus perfected in materiality.
Blavatsky did not encourage any feeling of superiority by any person or race and thus effectively spread the idea of the common origin and destiny of all humanity, and establishing the principle of universal brotherhood as the primary aim of the Theosophical Society. This society looked for one single goal to form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without any discrimination amongst race, colour, or creed. Thus, she declares that Theosophists actually respect the Bible as much as they do the sacred books of other races and religions. The theosophists find the declarations of all the holy book it the same eternal truths as in the Vedas, the Tripitakas, the Zend-Avesta and so on. Guido von List and his followers Lanz von Liebenfels, later started to follow some of Blavatsky's ideas, mixing her philosophy with patriotic and fascist ideas. These ideas and the system of thought became widely known as Ariosophy. Alike Theosophy, Ariosophy had based on rational expositions of ethnic development.