The T.O.S. as it is generally known to Theosophical Society (TS) members, was founded by Annie BESANT in February 1908, six months after her election as President, in response to the wish of a number of members desiring “to organise themselves for various lines of service, to actively promote the first object of the Society” (Supplement to The Theosophist, February 1908). The motto chosen was “A union of those who love in the service of all that suffers” and an early expression of its aims: (1) To minimize the sum of misery in the world; (2) To forget self in working for others; (3) To eliminate selfishness and substitute love as the rule of the world; (4) To live to the highest that is within us.
The Theosophical Society, with its emphasis on complete freedom of thought for every member, officially maintains neutrality in political and social issues. The Theosophical Order of Service, on the other hand, acts as a forum where members may air their views and take stands on affairs of public interest. It offers a framework in which people may engage in practical and humanitarian action in promoting the First Object of the Theosophical Society: the formation of a nucleus of universal brotherhood.
Although not as widely represented throughout the world as the TS, much work of social significance has been achieved over the years, particularly in the fields of animal welfare, anti-vivisection, theosophical education and parenting, ecology, healing, world peace, prison reform and opposition to capital punishment. The fund raising efforts of members have resulted in significant sums of money being donated to humanitarian causes all over the world.
Originally called “The Theosophical Society Order of Service,” a tentative constitution for the Order, drafted by Annie Besant, provided for the formation of leagues and local, provincial and national councils. An elected central council was to serve as the international governing body, having “as its chief officer the President of the TS or some one deputed by him” (Supplement to the Theosophist, February, 1908). The structure has gradually changed over the years. At present there are only two officers at international level: an International President, ex officio the International President of the TS and an International Secretary, appointed by the President. The President appoints all National Directors, in consultation with T.O.S., General Secretaries or National Presidents. Each Section of the T.O.S. is autonomous and organized to meet the needs of its own communities.
The organization’s vitality peaked in the 1920s and 1930s under the dynamic leadership of such individuals as Arthur Burgess and Max Wardell and has declined since that time, remaining relatively strong in a small number of countries including: Australia, France, Italy, India, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines and the USA.
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