John Algeo joined the Theosophical Society at the age of 16 and became President of the Florida Lodge (Miami) in his teen years. In the 1980s, he was president of the Atlanta, Georgia, Lodge and chairman of the board for the Stil-Light Theosophical Center in North Carolina. In the American Section, he served on the National Board of Directors (1984–7), as First Vice President (1987–93), and as National President (1993–2002), the last title being that now used in a number of countries for the office called General Secretary under the international rules. He has been international Vice President of the Theosophical Society since 2002, overseeing the rules of national bodies and dealing on behalf of the President with problematical matters in several countries.
Algeo is author of the Quest Book Reincarnation Explored (translated into Dutch, German, Portuguese, Spanish [forthcoming], and Swedish). He coauthored The Power of Thought (translated into Portuguese) and edited the first volume of the Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, a new edition of G. R. S. Mead’s Echoes from the Gnosis, and a forthcoming translation of Elena Pisareva’s memoir of early Theosophy in Russia (The Light of the Russian Soul). He has published monographs on Senzar and on Blavatsky, Freemasonry, and the Western Mystery Tradition, study courses on introductory Theosophy, The Key to Theosophy, and The Secret Doctrine, and pamphlets and leaflets on various Theosophical subjects. He has contributed more than 500 articles, reviews, notes and book chapters to international Theosophical publications. He lectures in Theosophical forums around the world.
About the Future of the Theosophical Society
The future of the Theosophical Society depends on five distinct but closely interconnected aspects: (1) tradition, (2) modernization, (3) communication, (4) consultation, and (5) global participation. A few words about each:
1. Tradition. It is imperative that we maintain the tradition of non-dogmatic Theosophical teaching and practice we have inherited. These are based on the writings and lives of the Masters of the Wisdom, H. P. Blavatsky, and H. S. Olcott. They have been restated in more contemporary terms by Annie Besant, J. Krishnamurti, and others. Every individual Theosophist is free in matters of belief and practice. For that reason, the Society does not tell its members what they should think or do, but leaves them free to act according to their consciences.
A sister organization, the Theosophical Order of Service, provides an opportunity for collective and coordinated action in practical ways for the betterment of humanity and all life in accordance with Theosophical ideals. It is currently active in about half the countries where the Society has a presence. Its growth and increased activities will help to show the world what living a Theosophical life really is.
Organizationally, the Theosophical Society has its headquarters at Adyar, Chennai, India. Adyar is the center and heart of the Society and will undoubtedly remain so for reasons that are esoteric, historical, symbolic, practical, and legal. There should be no question of moving the Society's headquarters anywhere else.
2. Modernization. The wisdom of Theosophy is timeless, but the ways in which we express and practice that wisdom must be continually adapted to changes in the world. Change, as the Buddha taught us, is in the nature of things, so we should take advantage of the most effective ways of teaching and practicing Theosophical ideals. The new generation is very comfortable with new technologies; to reach that generation most effectively, we need to use those technologies, such as e-mail, films, PowerPoint presentations, i-pods, and especially the World Wide Web (on which one can broadcast programs live, set up electronic courses, etc.). We will certainly continue to use the familiar techniques of lectures, panels, books, and magazines. But the future of the Society rests with the next generation, so reaching out to them in ways they understand is imperative.
3. Communication. The first object of the Theosophical Society is to form a nucleus of universal brotherhood. To do that, it is essential for us to communicate with one another. Our traditional methods of communication work best in local situations. But as H.P.B. wrote in 1888, "you must remember that, although there must be local Branches of the Theosophical Society, there can be no local Theosophists." We are all members of one international Society. So Adyar, the heart of the Society, needs to communicate directly and frequently with all Theosophical Fellows. It can do so by using modern methods of communication as well as the traditional ones.
4. Consultation. Communication, to be effective, needs to be mutual. We cannot just talk to people, we need to talk with them. We need to consult Theosophists around the world, to hear what they have to say. The rules of the Theosophical Society establish the General Council as its governing and policy-making body. However, the Society has organizations in 51 nations, of which only 26 are Sections, represented on the General Council. We need regular ways of consulting the other 25 national bodies. They do not have the same official position as Sections, but to integrate them more closely into the international organization and to benefit from their talents, we should consult them and listen to their voices. We can do so in various ways, for example, by keeping them informed of concerns and actions of the General Council and by establishing consultative bodies among them to recommend specific matters for the General Council's consideration.
5. Global Participation. We are an international, world-wide Society, but we can look for more effective ways of functioning as such. Every part of our planet affects every other part—a truly Theosophical recognition of the unity of all life. Thus we are a "global village." The Theosophical Society can function better globally in various ways. For example, the General Council normally meets only once a year at Adyar, and the number of those who are able to attend is usually only a minority of those eligible. But consultative meetings of available Council members can be held in conjunction with international federation meetings in order to give more Council members an opportunity to interact. Their discussions would be reported to the Council meeting at the annual Convention in Adyar.
We live in an era of global participation. That has always been a Theosophical ideal. Thus, many Presidents and other officers have spent much time outside Adyar, traveling around the world working for the Society. Adyar functioned effectively then, even though transportation was slow and communication was difficult and uncertain. Today a revolution in communication has produced almost instantaneous communication. Adyar must remain the administrative focus and the spiritual center of the Society, preferably with a skilled resident supervisor to oversee its upkeep and to interface effectively with civil authorities. But the international rules do not require residence at Adyar for administrators. Moreover, modern communication makes it possible for able and dedicated people around the world to serve in key administrative posts, without having to relocate from their homes. If the Society is to thrive in the future and to continue fulfilling the Mahachohan's vision of what it should be, the pool of active workers it can draw on must be enlarged. This is one way to do that. We must not let nineteenth-century assumptions limit our progress toward twenty-first-century global participation.
The effective future of the Theosophical Society depends on our preserving its ancient tradition, while modernizing our communication and consulting widely around the globe. That is a future worth realizing. Link: http://www.ts-adyar.org/
Adyar: Its Function and Ideals
Adyar is the site of the international headquarters of the Society. Rule 26 states: "Headquarters of the Society are established at Adyar, Madras, and are outside the jurisdiction of the Indian Section."
By history and symbolism, Adyar is more than the administrative headquarters. It is the spiritual center and heart of the Society.
The primary function of the body's heart is to pump blood throughout the body as its central and most vital organ; other bodily functions are performed by other organs. By analogy, the heart and headquarters of the Society need not, and indeed should not, be seen as performing all the functions of the Society. Efficient cooperation is needed, rather than exclusive centralization.
Rule 1 states in part: "not fewer than seven members of this [General] Council shall be resident in India." But there has never been a rule requiring residency at Adyar by any particular officer of the Society, including the President, as such a rule would severely limit the potential officers available to work for the Society. Past Presidents, such as Henry Olcott and Annie Besant, spent long periods of time away from Adyar, so were not in residence much of the time. For example, in 1884, not even counting local travel within India, Olcott spent all but seven or eight weeks away from Adyar and out of the country. Similarly, in 1887, he spent about two-thirds of the year traveling away from Adyar. In 1889, he spent all but about one month outside India. Similarly, he spent most of 1891 in foreign travel. That pattern was repeated in a number of other years. A full count of Olcott's travels might well show that he spent more time away from Adyar than at the headquarters. And yet Adyar performed its allotted headquarters role whether or not Olcott was there, even though that was a time when international communication was slow. Most, if not all, of the international Presidents have similarly and appropriately been away from Adyar for long periods while traveling abroad and to other parts of India.
Today, with the practically instantaneous communication that the Internet makes possible, decentralization and dispersal of operations has become the norm for organizations. One of my academic publishers has its headquarters in one city, but I work with an editor in a different city, and my book will be brought out by a production staff in yet other cities and a printer in another country. I have worked with a publisher in England, compositors in India, and printers in Hong Kong. We are a global society, with functions distributed all over the planet, wherever they can be best performed. That is both contemporary reality and a realization of the Theosophical view that the world is one interconnected whole. The notion that everything has to be clumped together in one location is both un-Theosophical and a pre-nineteenth-century misconception.
Olcott's view of the purpose of Adyar was very clear. He regarded it as neither an ashram for a select few nor merely a bureaucratic office. He believed it should be a center for vitalizing and vivifying the Society:
Neither of us Founders ever made or tried to make Adyar a school of mystical study or yogic development: it was not in accord with the temperament of either of us two; Adyar was made and always will be a throbbing center of vital force to circulate throughout all the ramifications of the Theosophical movement, keeping it in strong healthy action; thus doing for the physical body of the Society what the nerve-fluid engendered in the brain and spinal cord does for the whole body of a man when pumped through the nerves to the extremities by the pulsations of the principle of life. The true ashram and yogic center of this and all other world-moving activities is where the White Lodge has its stations for developing and distributing throughout our globe and its inhabitants the currents of evolutionary Divine Force. And then we must not forget that a spiritual center is not of necessity at Benares or Jerusalem, at Lhasa or Medina, at Rome or Hardwar or any other locality which men consider the holiest: at all these places one sees too often exhibited the vilest phase of human nature, enough to putrefy the atmosphere and poison the soil, spiritually speaking. The Holy of Holies is in the heart of the perfect man, and such an one as that carries with him wherever he goes the benign influence which one would hope to find at these various sanctuaries of the different religions. (ODL 6:107-8)
Madame Blavatsky was even stronger in her statements about Adyar and the Society and Theosophy. It was she who determined that the Masters wanted the headquarters to be at Adyar, so no one can say that she was not fully sympathetic with the importance of the place. But she also had a forthright sense of priorities. In 1889, she wrote an article in Lucifer entitled "A Puzzle from Adyar" (Collected Writings 11:378-84), which included the following:
It is pure nonsense to say that "H.P.B. . . . is loyal to the Theosophical Society and to Adyar" (!?). H.P.B. is loyal to death to the Theosophical Cause, and those great Teachers whose philosophy can alone bind the whole Humanity into one Brotherhood. Together with Col. Olcott, she is the chief Founder and Builder of the Society which was and is meant to represent that Cause . . . . Therefore the degree of her sympathies with the "Theosophical Society and Adyar" depends upon the degree of the loyalty of that Society to the Cause. Let it break away from the original lines and show disloyalty in its policy to the Cause and the original programme of the Society, and H.P.B.[,] calling the T.S. disloyal, will shake it off like dust from her feet.
And what does "loyalty to Adyar" mean, in the name of all wonders? What is Adyar, apart from that Cause . . . ? Why not loyal to the compound or the bathroom of Adyar? Adyar is the present Headquarters of the Society, because these "Headquarters are wherever the President is," as stated in the rules [now changed, see paragraph 1 above]. To be logical, the Fellows of the T.S. had to be loyal to Japan while Col. Olcott was there, and to London during his presence here. (CW 11:380-1)
The point of this striking statement is that H.P.B. had her priorities straight. Theosophy, the Theosophical Society, and Adyar are all important. All were—in one way or another—authorized and sponsored by the Masters. But they are not all of equal importance. Most important is Theosophy and the Theosophical cause of human brotherhood. Next in importance is the Theosophical Society, which exists solely to advance the cause of Theosophy. Third in importance is Adyar, which exists, as the Colonel said in Old Diary Leaves, to "be a throbbing center of vital force to circulate throughout all the ramifications of the Theosophical movement, keeping it in strong healthy action." If the Theosophical Society should ever cease to advance the Theosophical cause of brotherhood, it must, in the words of the Mahachohan, perish. And if Adyar should ever cease to be a beacon of Theosophical light to the world, energizing all branches of the Society, it would be no better than "a place of refuge or a convenience, with amenities to be enjoyed by a privileged few, who in one way or another have acquired a vested interest" (N. Sri Ram, "Who Shall Reside at Adyar?" 1972).
The Theosophical Society
on the banks of the Adyar River
For the texts of some Theosophical articles, see
White Lotus Day and Its Meaning
From Within Outwards: The Way of the Universe
Olcott and Blavatsky: Theosophical Twins: An Essay in Archetypes
Citizen of the World: Colonel Olcott and Human Perfection and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott
Annie Besant as Instructor and Educator
Theosophy Is . . .
The Objects and Their Relevance to the Theosophical Life
The Blossom and the Serpent: The Yellow-Brick Road and the Field of Poppies: The Society's Third Object
Senzar: The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 1
Senzar: The Mystery of the Mystery Language, Part 2
A Theosophical Labyrinth
Cain and Abel: A Theosophical Midrash
Art, Kandinsky, and Self-transformation
The Wizard of Oz: Archetypes and Metaphysics
Harry Potter and the Ancient Wisdom
Harry Potter's Quest in the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter's Four Fathers: The Quest for the Father in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Dugpa: Looking Forward to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
For an on-line video, see The Ancient Mysteries and Modern Masonry
For a list of available Theosophical books, study courses, DVDs, and audio CDs, see Quest Books