Annie Besant's Inaugural Address
Oct 24, 2008 03:24 PM
Here is the address of Besant which may interest to some. It is highly
relevant today in the light of the declining membership around the world.
INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF ANNIE BESANT
June 26, 1907
By an overwhelming majority you have ratified the nomination of our
President-Founder, made by his Master's order, and have called upon me to
take up work as his successor in the high office of President of the
Theosophical Society. The Society, as a whole, has thus chosen to continue
in the path marked out from its inception, and trodden by its two outer
Founders; it has refused to reject the guiding Hand which gave it its first
President, and indicated its second; it therefore goes forward on its new
cycle of activity, with its elected President at its head, under the
benediction which rested upon it at its birth and is now repeated, as the
chosen vehicle for the direct influence of the Masters of WISDOM on the
world, as the standard-bearer of the mighty Theosophical Movement which is
sweeping through all religions, all literature, all art, all craft, through
all the activities of a humanity preparing itself to take a new step forward
The Society asserts itself as a nucleus of Universal Brotherhood, and its
specialty, as such a nucleus, is indicated by its name?Theosophical. It is
its function to proclaim and spread abroad Theosophy, the Divine Wisdom, the
Brahma Vidyâ, the Gnosis, the Light of all lights, that Man may know God,
may attain the knowledge which is Eternal Life, because he is himself of
that Nature which he seeks to know.
On this fact, this all-pervading identity of nature, this UNITY, is based
the Universal Brotherhood, and, to bring the outer proofs of it, it searches
through all religions and philosophies, and dives into the hidden secrets of
nature and of man.
Because of this fact, it welcomes to its membership men and women of all
religions, of all opinions, and, provided that they recognize the
Brotherhood as universal, it demands from them no belief in any fact,
however sure, in any teaching, however vital. With a splendid faith in the
victorious power of Truth, it disregards all the barriers which
superficially divide Humanity?sex, race, creed, colour, caste?and welcomes
those as brothers who deny even the very truths on which Brotherhood is
based, and who reject even the Revealers who make its realization possible
for Humanity. Its platform is as wide as thought, its all-embracing love is
as the sun which gives warmth and life to all, even to those who are blind
to its light.
The condition of the continuing life of the Society is its perfect
toleration of all differences, of all shades of opinion. None has the right
to exclude his brother for difference of thought, nor to claim for his own
thought a fuller liberty of expression than he claims for that of another.
Complete liberty of thought must be guarded by all of us?by me, as your
President, most of all?not granted as a privilege or a concession, but
recognized as the inherent right of the intellect, as its breath of life.
Tolerance, even with the intolerant, must be our rule. And this must be our
principle in life and action, not only in words, lest a fatal orthodoxy,
checking new initiative and new growth, should stealthily spread in the
Society. We must welcome differences of thought, and give free play to their
expression, so that our windows may be kept open to all new light. This is
not only sound principle, but it is also sound policy, for thus only can new
avenues to knowledge constantly open before us. We possess only portions of
the Truth, and no searcher must be hindered or frowned upon, lest the
Society should lose some fragment that he may have found. Better the
temporary life of a thousand falsehoods, than stifling of one truth at the
hour of its birth. I claim the help of every Theosophist in this guarding of
our liberty, for universal and constant vigilance is necessary lest it
should be infringed.
But let it not be supposed that this perfect freedom of opinion connotes
indifference to truth in any who hold definite convictions as to any facts,
or should prevent them from full expression of their own convictions, of
their beliefs, or of their knowledge. There is perfect freedom of
affirmation among us as well as of denial, and scepticism must not claim
greater rights of expression than knowledge. For the Society as a whole, by
its very name, affirms the existence of the Divine Wisdom, and the
affirmation would be futile if that Wisdom were beyond human attainment.
Moreover, the Society would be without a reason for its being if it did not,
as a whole, spread the Teachings which lead up to the attainment of that
Wisdom, while leaving to its members as individuals the fullest freedom to
give to any of those teachings any form which expresses their own thinking,
and even to deny any one of them. Each Truth can only be seen by a man as he
develops the power of vision corresponding to it; the Society, by refusing
to impose on its members any expressions of Truth, does not mean that a man
should remain blind, but declares that man's power of vision increases in
the open air of freedom better than in the hot-houses of unreasoned beliefs.
Hence the Society does not impose on its members even the truths by which it
lives, although the denial of those truths by it, as a Society, would be
The Theosophical Society thus offers to the thinkers of every religion and
of none a common platform, on which they may meet as Lovers of Truth, to
learn from and to teach each other; it stands as the herald of the coming
time when all religions shall see themselves as branches of One Religion,
the WISDOM of GOD. As its President, I say to all men of peace and goodwill:
"Come, and let us labour together for the establishment of the kingdom of
religious Truth, religious Peace, and religious Freedom upon earth?the true
Kingdom of Heaven."
So much for our principles. What of our practice?
We owe to the President-Founder a well-planned organization, combining
complete divisional liberty with the strength ensured by attachment to a
single centre. Some details may need amendment, but the work of organization
is practically complete. Our work is to use the organization he created, and
to guide it to the accomplishment of its purpose?the spread of Theosophical
ideas, and the growth of our knowledge.
For the first, our Lodges should not be content with a programme of
lectures, private and public, and with classes. The members should be known
as good workers in all branches of beneficent activity. The Lodge should be
the centre, not the circumference, of our work. To the Lodge for inspiration
and knowledge; to the world for service and teaching. The members should
take part in local clubs, societies, and debating associations, and should
both offer Theosophical lectures, and lectures in which Theosophical ideas
can be put forth on the questions of the day. They should, when members of
religious bodies, hold classes outside the Society for members of their
faith, in which the spiritual, instead of the literal meaning of Hindu,
Buddhist, Christian, and other doctrines should be explained, and the lives
of the great mystics of all religions should be taught. They should see that
children receive religious education, according to their respective faiths.
They should in every way hand on the light which they have received, and
replenish their own torch with oil at the Lodge meetings.
People belonging to kindred movements should be invited to the Lodge, and
visits should be paid to them in turn. Lodges with a numerous membership
should form groups for special work. For the second, the growth of our
knowledge, groups should be formed for study under each of our Objects.
Under the first, the intellectual and social movements of the day should be
studied, their tendencies traced out and their methods examined; the results
of these studies would help the outside workers in their choice of
activities. It would be useful also if, in every Lodge, a small group of
members were formed, harmonious in thought and feeling, who should meet once
a week for a quiet hour, for combined silent thought for a given purpose,
and for united meditation on some inspiring idea; the members of this group
might also agree on a time at which, daily, they should unite in a selected
thought-effort to aid the Lodge. Another group should study under the second
Object, and this group should supply lecturers on Theosophy to the outer
world, and no lecturer should be sent out by a Lodge who was not equipped
for his work by such study. A third group might take up the third Object of
the Society, and work practically at research, carrying on their work, if
possible, under the direction of a member who has already some experience on
these lines, and thus increasing our store of knowledge.
There are many other lines of useful work which should be taken up, series
of books to be planned, concerted activities in various lands. These are for
the future. But I trust to make the Presidency a centre of life-radiating
force, inspiring and uplifting the whole Society.
In order that it may be so, let me close with a final word to all who have
aided and to all who have worked against me in the election now over. We all
are lovers of the same Ideal, and eager servants of Theosophy. Let us all
then work in amity, along our different lines and in our different ways, for
our beloved Society. Let not those who have worked for me expect me to be
always right, nor those who have worked against me expect me to be always
wrong. Help me, I pray you all, in filling well the office to which I have
been elected, and share with me the burden of our common work. Where you
agree with me follow and work with me; where you disagree, criticize and
work against me, but without bitterness and rancour. Diversities of method,
diversities of thought, diversities of operation, will enrich, not weaken,
our Movement, if love inspire and charity judge. Only through you and with
you can the Presidency be useful to the Society. Help me so to fill it as to
hand it on, a richer legacy, to my successor. And so may the Masters guide
and prosper the work which they have given into my hands, and blessed.
The Supreme Duty *
*An address given at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893.
Only by service is fullness of life made possible; the whole of the universe
is yoked to the service of humankind. Every individual should be pledged to
the service of humanity, past, present, and future, humanity evolving up to
the divine personage, eternal, immortal, indestructible. That should be the
object of life, the goal of evolution.
I shall try to put in few words something of the elements of this service,
something of its meaning in daily life, as well as something of the heights
to which its daily practice may at length conduct the human soul.
Poor indeed is a religion which cannot teach the men and women of the world
the duty of daily life, and yield to them inspiration which shall aid them
in their upward climb to the light. Great philosophy molds the mind; great
science gives the light of knowledge to the world. But religion which
teaches us our duty, which inspires us with strength to accomplish it, is
greater. Greatest of all is that knowledge of the human soul which makes
daily service the path of progress and finds in the lowest work the steps
that lead to the highest achievement.
According to the Theosophical philosophy, there are in the universe and in
humans various planes of being, seven in all, but briefer classification
will serve for now.
Service on the Physical Plane
Let us take the physical plane and see what service may connote there.
First, service implies what the Buddha called right livelihood, that is,
right fashion of supporting ordinary life, an honest way of gaining the
means of ordinary existence. This does not mean a livelihood based on being
compelled to serve others, nor a livelihood which takes everything and gives
nothing back, nor one which stretches out its hands to grasp and closes its
fists when gift is asked instead of gain. Right livelihood implies honesty
of living, and honesty implies that you give as much as you take, that you
render back more than you receive, that you measure your work by your power
of service, not by your power of compulsion. Right livelihood implies that
the stronger your brain the greater your duty to help, the higher your
position the greater the imperative to bend that position to the service of
human need. Right livelihood is based on justice and is made beautiful by
But on the material plane more is asked than livelihood that injures none
and serves all. You also have a duty of right living that touches on the
plane of the body, by which I include the whole of the transitory part of
our nature. Right living means recognizing the influence you bring to bear
upon the world by the whole of your lower nature as well as by your higher.
It implies understanding the duty that your body bears to the bodies of all,
for you cannot separate your bodies from the bodies amidst which you live,
since constant interchange is going on between them. Tiny lives that build
up your body today help to build up another's tomorrow, and so the constant
interaction and interweaving of these physical molecules proceeds.
What use do you make of your body? Do you say, "It is mine. I can do with it
as I will"? But, nothing we have is our own, for all belongs to that greater
ourselves, the aggregate of humanity. The fragments have no rights that go
against the claim of service to the whole. So you are responsible for the
use that you make of your body. If, for example, when these tiny lives come
into your charge, you poison them with alcohol or render them coarse and
gross with overluxurious living, you send them out to other men and women
and children where they sow seeds of the vices they have learned from you.
They spread the gluttony, the intemperance, the impurity of living that you
have stamped on them while they remained as part of your own body. Every
human being who helps to spread poison in a community is responsible for
alcoholism and addiction that becomes focalized in those miserable creatures
who suffer from these. You are guilty of your brother's or sister's
degradation if you do not supply pure atoms of physical life to build up
others, who in very truth are one with yourself.
Here you see something of what service means on this lower plane. You could
set an example for another kind of service, so that others may learn from
your voluntary action. You could simplify your physical life, lessen
physical wants. You could think less of luxury and more of the higher life,
spend less time on the artificial wants of the body and more time on helping
others grow less encumbered with the anxieties of life.
You hardly dare to put a spiritual teaching to those on whom the iron yoke
of poverty presses and who find in physical suffering one of the miseries of
their lives. You should set the ideal of plain living and high thinking
instead of the ideal of senseless luxury and gross materialistic living. Can
you blame the poor for thinking so much of earthly pleasure and so
passionately desiring material ease? Can you blame them if discontent grows
when you set the ideal which they copy? You, by the material pleasure of
your lives, tell them that the aim and object of human life is but the joy
of the senses, the pleasure of the moment.
This, also, is your duty in service on the material plane. Lessening the
wants of the body, you may learn to feed the soul; making your outer life
more nobly simple, you may give your energies rather to that which is
permanent and which endures.
Service on the Mental Plane
Not only on the physical plane, the lowest, is service to be sought. On the
mental plane humanity can be served far more efficaciously than on the
physical plane. Do you think that you cannot do service on the mental plane,
that the mental plane is for great thinkers who publish some works that
revolutionize thought? Do you think work on the mental plane is for the
speaker who reaches thousands where you can reach but units? It is not so.
Great thinkers, whether writers or speakers, do not have such enormous
influence as you may imagine judging by outer appearances. True, their work
is great, but have you ever been struck by the source of the speakers'
power, the source of the strength with which they move a crowd? It does not
lie in themselves, not in their own power, but in the power they are able to
evoke from the men and women they address, from the human hearts they
awaken. It is the energy of the audience and not the speaker in the tide of
the speech. Orators are but the tongues that put into language the thoughts
in the hearts of the people who are not able to articulate them. The
thoughts are already there, and when some tongue puts them into speech, when
other inarticulate senses take the force of the spoken word, then people
think it is oratory. It is their own hearts that move them, and it is their
own voice?inarticulate in the people?which makes the power that rings from
land to land.
That is not all. Every one of you has thoughts that you pour out into the
world by your daily thinking. You are creating the possibilities of the
future and making or marring the potencies of today. Even as you think, the
thought burning in your brain becomes a living force for good or evil in the
mental atmosphere. The vitality and strength in it carry it on to its work
of this world of mind.
There is no one, however weak, however obscure, who does not have one of the
creature forces of the world in his or her soul. As we think, thoughts go
out to mold the thoughts and lives of others. As we think thoughts of love
and gentleness, the whole reservoir of love in the world is filled to
overflowing. As we contribute to this, so we contribute to forming public
opinion that molds humanity's ideas more than we dream. Everyone has a share
in this. Your thought power makes you creative gods in the world, and it is
thus that the future is built. It is thus that the race climbs upward to the
Constant service is to be sought not only in the physical and mental
spheres. No words or oratory can fitly describe the nature or sacredness of
the service of the spiritual sphere. That is work that is done in silence,
without sound of spoken word or clatter of human endeavor. That work lies
above us and around us. We must have learned the perfection of service in
the lower spheres before we dare aspire to climb to where the spiritual work
The Power of High Ideals
What is the effect of such philosophical thought applied in the world today?
Surely it is that we should think nobly, that our ideals should be lofty. In
daily life we should ever strike the highest keynote, and then strive to
attune our living to that keynote. Our will is lifted by the ideal. We
become that which we worship.
Let us see, then, that what we worship shall have in it the power to
transform us into the image of the perfect human being, into the perfect
gold of which humanity shall finally consist. If you would help in that
evolution and bear your share in that great labor, then let your ideal be
truth, truth in every thought and act of life. Think truly; otherwise you
will act falsely. Let nothing of duplicity, nothing of insincerity, nothing
of falsehood soil the inner sanctuary of your life, for if that is pure your
actions will be spotless, and the radiance of the eternal truth shall make
your lives strong and noble.
Not only be true, but also be pure, for out of purity comes the vision of
the Divine, and only the pure in heart, as said the Christ, shall see God.
In whatever phrase you put it, whatever words describe it, that is true.
Only the pure in heart shall have the beatific vision, for only those who
are pure can share in that which is itself absolute purity.
To these ideals of truth and purity we must add one that is lacking in
modern life: the ideal of reverence for what is noble, of adoration for what
is higher than oneself. Modern life is becoming petty because we are not
strong enough for reverence. It is becoming base, sordid and vulgar because
people fear that they will sink if they bow to that which is greater than
themselves. But worship of that which is higher than yourself raises you; it
does not degrade you. The feeling of reverence is a feeling that lifts you
up; it does not take you down. We have talked so much about rights that we
have forgotten that which is greater than our rights. It is the power of
seeing what is nobler than we have dreamed and bowing before it till it
permeates our life and makes us like itself. Only those who are weak are
afraid to obey; only those who are feeble are afraid of humility.
With the world as it is today, democracy in the external world is the best
way of carrying on outer life. But if it were possible that, as in ancient
Egypt and India, the very gods themselves wandered the earth as humans and
taught people the higher truth, trained them in the higher life, conveyed
the higher knowledge, would we claim that we were their equals? Would we be
degraded by sitting at their feet to learn?
If you could weave into modern life that feeling of reverence for that which
is purest, noblest, grandest?for wisdom, for strength, for purity?till the
passion of your reverence brings those qualities into your own life, then
your future as a nation would be secure. Your future as a people would be
glorious. You men and women of America, creators of the future, will you not
rise to the divine possibilities which every one of you has hidden in your
own heart? Why go only to the lower when the stars are above you? Why go
only to the dust when the sun sends down beams on which you may rise to its
Yours is the future, for you are making it today. As you build the temple of
your nation, as you hope that in the days to come it shall rise nobly among
the peoples of the earth and stand as pioneer of true life, of true
greatness, lay the foundations strong today. No building can stand whose
foundations are rotten, no nation can endure whose foundations are not
divine. You have the power; yours is the choice. As you exercise it the
America of centuries to come will bless you for the way you live or condemn
you for your failure; for you are the creators of the world, and as you will
so it shall be.
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Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application