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Theosophical Society, Pasadena

The Theosophical Society (Pasadena) is today one of the independent theosophical organizations which has branches in many countries around the world. Based in Pasadena, California, the organization was originally the Theosophical Society (TS) in America which declared complete autonomy from the Theosophical Society (Adyar) in 1895. Its objects are:

  1. To diffuse among men a knowledge of the laws inherent in the universe;
  2. To promulgate the knowledge of the essential unity of all that is, and to demonstrate that this unity is fundamental in nature;
  3. To form an active brotherhood among men;
  4. To study ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy;
  5. To investigate the powers innate in man.

Membership in the Society is dependent upon acceptance of its objectives, primarily those concerning universal brotherhood.

As the emissary of her teachers, Helena P. Blavatsky arrived in New York in 1873 to try to form a movement dedicated to the search for truth and the regeneration of the spiritual thought-life of humanity. During the years that followed, her life was spent almost equally in America, India, and Europe. She founded two theosophical magazines and wrote books that form the basis of the modern presentation of theosophy.

Immediately after Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine was published in 1888, she and William Judge laid the foundations for the Society’s formal esoteric work which was, as she declared, “organized on the ORIGINAL LINES devised by the real founders” (Lucifer 3.14 October 15, 1888, p. 176).

After Blavatsky moved to London in 1887, as a result of her distress and poor health following the Hodgson Report, she established in 1888 the Esoteric School of Theosophy, later known as the Esoteric Section or ES. On Blavatsky’s death in 1891, Judge and Annie Besant became joint heads of the Esoteric Section, while Henry S. Olcott continued as President of the Theosophical Society. A few years later, because of accusations made by Besant, Olcott, and others against Judge — then Vice-President of the Theosophical Society and General Secretary of the American Section — the American members at their annual convention in April 1895 declared complete autonomy. Calling themselves “The Theosophical Society in America (TSA),” the delegates elected Judge “President for life, with power to nominate his successor.” This portion of the original Theosophical Society is now called the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, while the other portion is the Theosophical Society, Adyar.

When informed of this, Olcott canceled the membership of all those who supported the declaration, and recalled the charters of all Branches affirming the act. Many years later, the TSA title was adopted by the American members affiliated with the Theosophical Society Adyar through educational institutions for children, a college, and a university. Education of all headquarters residents was directed toward a balanced development of physical, mental, and spiritual qualities, in which devotion to duty, music, drama, study, and recreation all had a part. Everything — from stage productions in the Greek Theater, work with prisoners, to the smallest task of the day — was done for the betterment of humanity. There was extensive work with the poor, against capital punishment and vivisection, and for world peace.

By the time Judge died in March 1896, human and organizational problems had developed which threatened to stifle the theosophical enterprise. Katherine Tingley, who became Leader after Judge’s death, sought to redress this imbalance by giving more overt expression to practical altruism. In 1898 she reorganized the Theosophical Society as the publishing arm of the Universal Brotherhood Organization whose objectives were essentially the same as those of the Theosophical Society, only more directly brotherhood-oriented. Soon the Pasadena Society became known as the “Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society” (UB & Theosophical Society).

In April 1896 plans were announced for a “School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity,” and the following February the foundation stone was laid at Point Loma (across the bay from San Diego, California) where the international headquarters was moved from New York City in 1900. The School of Antiquity manifested over the years.

Tingley, an exceptionally gifted speaker, lectured widely while supervising the schools she founded in the USA, Cuba, Sweden, England, and Germany. Having set in motion a center at Point Loma where the ideals of self-forgetfulness and service would be built into the daily life of adults and children, Tingley hoped the Society’s lodges would emulate those standards and ideals. However, human nature being what it is, continuing overemphasis on intellectual study and psychic practices, coupled with a growing desire for leading positions among members of the larger groups, had brought the Society to a dangerous pass. Hence, in 1903 she closed public activities in the lodges, with a few exceptions, whereupon the public work emanated from Point Loma.

During Tingley’s time the principal educational enterprise was that of the R€ja Yoga School. It was commenced in 1900 with five children and the number increased to more than 100 a year later; within ten years the school had 300 pupils, its maximum capacity. The pupils were ordered in groups of five or six children with a teacher appointed to each group who lived with his or her charges day and night. The most controversial feature of the R€ja Yoga School system was the virtual separation of the children from their parents except for a short visit allowed on Sundays. No corporal punishment was used and discipline was enforced by the withdrawal of privileges. (See also Education AND Theosophy.)

With Tingley’s death in 1929 a new era began under her successor, Gottfried de Purucker. The Society resumed its original name, “The Theosophical Society,” and its objectives took their current form. In his many lectures and books Purucker’s scholarship enabled him to give a more accessible presentation of the theosophic philosophy that Blavatsky had presented in The Secret Doctrine. Groups and lodges were again formed worldwide and encouraged to give impetus to study of the teachings. In 1930, a movement was launched to fraternize with theosophists of other organizations.

Shortly before his death in September 1942, Purucker moved the international headquarters, including the press, university, and library, to Covina, some 20 miles east of Los Angeles. After a three-year period of administration by the Society’s Cabinet, Colonel Arthur L. Conger was invited by the Cabinet to headquarters and was recognized as Leader in 1945. Under his guidance a strong publishing program was maintained and lodges and study groups continued to be promoted. In 1950-51 he moved the headquarters to more compact facilities in Altadena (adjacent to Pasadena) in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains; he also closed the Esoteric Section and several lodges. This started the transition to a more inward and practical expression of theosophy, to be continued after his death in 1951 by his successor, James A. Long.

During Long’s twenty-year administration he often visited the various national sections, held congresses and conventions abroad and at headquarters and, like Judge, urged every member to become a center of theosophic influence in his community. In 1951 he founded Sunrise, a magazine “for better understanding among all peoples,” as a bridge between the seeking public and the deeper teachings of theosophy. After a few years he invited all Fellows of the Society to become members-at-large attached directly to headquarters and, with the exception of a few centers, to cease public activities for the time being. As under Tingley’s leadership, he felt the need for the members to focus more directly on the inner, altruistic side of theosophy, encouraging them to express the philosophical teachings in their lives and in simple words.

Thus the history of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, reveals periodic shifts in emphasis because, after one approach has been pursued for some time, people become attached to the form in which the work has been carried forward and a change is needed.

While such periodic changes help keep the Society from becoming ossified, its philanthropic goal remains true to the central purpose for which it was founded: the spiritual emancipation of the human soul from the bondage of selfish materialism.

Grace F. Knoche, assumed office on Long’s death in 1971. She fostered an open-door approach to all seekers and emphasizes altruism as the chief line of theosophic endeavor. In 1972 she opened to the public the specialized collection of Theosophical University Library for study and research. Public discussions and study groups are conducted at Theosophical Library Centers, at headquarters, and in the various National Sections. A series of Theosophical Correspondence Courses are also offered at no charge beyond the price of the books to be studied and the cost of materials and postage.

Under Knoche’s direction, the Theosophical University Press, the publishing, printing, and sales facility of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, continued to keep theosophic source books in print as well as issuing new material. The theosophic classics of Blavatsky, Judge, and Purucker form the core of its list of publications. It also publishes the bimonthly magazine Sunrise: Theosophic Perspectives which explores in the light of ancient and modern theosophy a wide range of philosophic and scientific topics, humanity’s role in the cosmic design, significant books and trends, and the application of spiritual values to daily living. Annual Special Issues are dedicated to a single theme. Sunrise on audio cassettes is available free to the blind and physically handicapped.

The Theosophical Society (Pasadena) has National Sections in Australia, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria and South Africa. See also Point Loma Tradition, The.


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