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Inaugural Address

Feb 03, 2009 03:30 PM
by Pedro Oliveira

Inaugural Address by Radha Burnier, President of The Theosophical 
Society, delivered at the Headquarters Hall, Adyar, on 3rd August 
1980.(Published in The Theosophist, August 1980)

It was with a remembrance of the august beginnings and lofty aims of 
the Theosophical Society and of the inspiration provided by the lives 
of the great Founders and leaders of the Society such as Annie Besant 
that I assumed office as the seventh President of the Society on 17th 
July.  These great persons brought to the Society that special 
dynamism which springs out of absolute disinterestedness in the 
service of humanity, and they created a channel for the great Powers 
which guide the world, by subserving their lives to the cause of 
Truth.  In following in their footsteps, I undertake a great 
responsibility of which I am sensible, and which I shall endeavour to 
fulfil with all my strength and all the powers at my disposal, with 
the aid, affection and support of my fellow members throughout the 

In a world torn by conflicts, at a time when insecurity and fear are 
mounting to an unprecedented peak on this globe, the objectives of 
the Theosophical Society remain not only unchanged, but have a 
sharpened relevance.

The Theosophical Society was not meant merely to preach brotherhood 
to the world.  The statement of its first Object makes it clear that 
the Society is intended to be an actual nucleus of brotherhood.  This 
implies that those who compose its membership must be clearly aware 
that there is a shared destiny for all.  The feeling of a common good 
must override personal interests and subordinate the desire for 
individual advantage.  The human mind by its very nature branches out 
in innumerable directions when motivated by self-interest.  The 
discord created by the divergent forms of self-interest pulling in 
different directions is the antithesis of the harmonious living and 
the deeper awareness of the unity of existence implied in the 
term "brotherhood".

A world whose agony has been prolonged through centuries because the 
mind of man has always been shattered and pulled by disparate 
interests cannot be served, much less saved, by any group of persons 
who embody in themselves the same traits which make the world a sorry 
spectacle.  Only to the extent that the members of the Society 
sincerely and deeply share a feeling of altruism and in the measure 
that they have an unselfish devotion to that Wisdom which is the 
source of right action, will there be an unbreakable nucleus of 
brotherhood in the body of the Society, with the energy to draw many 
more into a non-divisive, shared way of living, which will be a 
blessing to the world.  Words which are not lived, but merely thought 
and said invariably lack substantiality.  Their impact, if any, is 
weak and temporary.  Therefore one of those Elders who inspired the 
Society said:  "If you would be a Theosophist you must not do as 
those around you do who call on a God of Truth and Love and serve the 
dark powers of Might, Greed and Luck."  The message of the 
Theosophical Society can never be spread by appealing to motives of 
self-interest and gain.  Every truly unselfish endeavour for the 
upliftment of the world draws to itself a power beyond itself from 
the Forces of Goodness which are ever ready to flow through channels 
which are unsullied.  But such Forces can "give but little assistance 
to a Body not thoroughly united in purpose and feeling, and which 
breaks its fundamental rule universal brotherly love, without 
distinction of race, creed or colour".

If the creation of a nucleus of brotherhood is not to be an empty 
show, a superficial fraternization with little reality, those who are 
dedicated to it must be "thoroughly united in purpose and feeling", 
as Mme. Blavatsky says in the above-quoted sentence.  That unity of 
purpose and feeling must be of an unselfish character, intent on 
finding a way to solve the human problem, and not merely to obtain 
individual benefit.  In the eyes of the wise, "The highest 
aspirations for the welfare of humanity become tainted with 
selfishness if, in the mind of the philanthropist, there lurks the 
shadow of desire for self-benefit or a tendency to do injustice, even 
when they exist unconsciously."  On the other hand, if a body such as 
the Theosophical Society can offer "the grand example of practical 
altruism, of the noble lives of those who master the great knowledge 
but to help others", the world may be inspired to follow that 
example.  The impact of the Society should not be that of one more 
creed, organization, institution, like many others.  It is intended 
to shed the sweet influence and power of a spiritually inspired 
Sangha or Brotherhood.

Perhaps there are not many, even among the members of the Society, 
who realize the magnitude and importance of the work to be undertaken 
by volunteers in the Theosophical Society.  It would be easy for the 
Society to drift into byways which may have their attractions, and 
even their usefulness, but which do not lead to the enlightenment of 
human beings.  The urgency of discovering the right direction for 
human progress can be blunted by pursuits which have plausible 
religious, occult or philanthropic overtones.

The central focus of the Society's work lies in the meaning of the 
word "Theosophy" which refers to what Madame Blavatsky called Wisdom-
Religion.  Theosophists have to explore the meaning of both the 
words "Wisdom" and "Religion" in order to grasp the nature of the 
work before the Society.

At the end of the last century, when our Society was founded, the 
scientific materialism of the day provoked a reaction which took the 
form of interest in spiritualistic phenomena, communication with the 
dead and other forms of escape from a world-view in which man became 
a cog in the evolutionary machine.  Theosophy repudiated spiritualism 
with its phenomena as well as materialism.  It was stated that "It is 
not physical phenomena, but universal ideas we study.  To comprehend 
the former, we must first understand the latter".  The true subjects 
of study for the Theosophist were proclaimed to be: Man's true 
position in the universe; his origin and ultimate destiny; the 
relation of the mortal to the immortal, of the temporary to the 
eternal, of the finite to the infinite; and universal Law, unchanging 
and unchangeable.

These profound questions still continue to be those which are central 
to the work of the Society.  It is not concerned with phenomena and 
occult arts, interesting though many phenomena pertaining to the 
invisible world may be to the parapsychologist or even to the 
layman.  They are trivial in the perspective of the knowledge needed 
to regenerate human life.  It is not spiritualism, but spirituality 
which the world needs, not occult arts, but occultism, otherwise 
called gupta-vidyã (the secret doctrine) and ãtma-vidyã, true Wisdom.

"True Occultism or Theosophy is the `Great Renunciation of the self', 
unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action."  All the 
manifestations of the separative self, whether they are intensive and 
obvious, subtle or dormant, cloud the understanding and 
intelligence.  At their worst, they completely distort the view, 
making the individual see his environment in terms of his own 
ambition, pride or envy.  At their mildest, they still bar the gates 
of perception into the hidden meaning, splendour and beauty which is 
the heart of existence, concealed in the very being of all, both in 
the animate and the inanimate.  Only when the taint of selfhood is 
completely washed away does Wisdom bloom in all its perfection, and 
that which was secret before becomes as the light of day.

The search for such "self"-destroying Wisdom is not a selfish 
occupation.  It is of the highest importance, for the truths and 
mysteries it reveals are "at once profound and practical".  The 
abolition of self which opens up the understanding and clarifies the 
perception has an immense practical bearing on the interests of 
mankind, for the very source of suffering is put to an end.  The 
great Teachers of the world have therefore sought to kindle the spark 
of Wisdom in man and have set little store on modifying the effects 
of unwisdom, unlike ordinary people who are always combating results 
without tracing them to the cause and source.

The conditioning of the mind which compels it to divide, 
compartmentalize and categorize, has created the belief that a 
person's actions are unrelated to what he is and to the kind of 
reality which he sees.  The philosophy of the East has, on the 
contrary, pointed out that the quality of a person's actions, their 
rightness or wrong, depend on what he is able to see.  Illusory 
perceptions, distorted vision, the superimposition of value on what 
is in fact of unreal worth, are productive of actions and pursuits 
which are unsound and creative of tension and pain, for they are out 
of accord with the innate truth and harmony of existence.  Distorted 
vision and blindness to the real nature of things is, on the other 
hand, unavoidable when freedom from self-concern does not exist.  A 
state of fear makes every shadow appear to hide a lurking danger or 
makes one imagine that shadows abound where none in fact exist.  
Every state of the mind imprisoned in thought of self, whether it is 
one of fear or hope, jealousy or despair, colours, vitiates and 
reduces the power of perception.

Thus the truth or unreality, the loveliness or banality of what an 
individual sees depends on what he is within himself, and out of what 
he sees, the false or the profound, the superficial or the essential, 
arise his actions.  The virtue of actions can therefore be separated 
neither from the search and discovery of Truth and Wisdom, nor the 
exigency of living a righteous and clean life which enhances clarity 
of mind and perception.  Those brought up in the permissiveness of 
the present age are apt to lose sight of the importance of a way of 
life conducive to clarity.  There has been the age-old emphasis of 
the religions on a life of virtue, which in its passive form is non-
egocentrism and in its positive aspect, a deep respect for life in 
all its manifestations.  This has a logical basis which no seeker for 
knowledge nor would-be benefactor of humanity can afford to ignore.  
For the members of the Theosophical Society it is of profound 
importance to recognize that being, seeing and action are one.  Truly 
helpful action cannot be performed when there is indifference to the 
discovery of Wisdom or negligence in regard to the manner of one's 
daily living, the purity or otherwise of the thoughts, feelings and 
motivations displayed in relationship.  When there is purity within, 
there is rightness of perception and increasing depth of 
understanding which endow all actions with benefactory power.  The 
mode of daily living of members of the Theosophical Society is of 
utmost importance, for it lays the foundation for all other work.  
Without attention given by members to self-awareness, which enables 
one to dissolve the self, the I-centre which blinds the vision and 
pollutes the world's atmosphere, an organized body merely perpetuates 
problems or may add to the many ills which already exist.

To be engaged in the task of self-understanding and self-purification 
in the midst of daily avocations, being watchful of the quality of 
one's relationship, is the beginning of a religious life.  The 
word "Theosophy", as mentioned earlier, signifies religion in the 
true sense as much as Wisdom.

The Theosophical Society is neither a church nor a sect.  It has no 
belief to offer, no opinions or authority to impose.  In the 
beautiful words of Dr. Annie Besant, it is meant to be composed of 
students, whose "bond of union is not the profession of a common 
belief, but a common search and aspiration for Truth.  They hold that 
Truth should be sought by study, by reflection, by purity of life, by 
devotion to high ideals, and they regard Truth as a prize to be 
striven for, not as a dogma to be imposed by authority".  The 
encouragement to enquire and realize truth for oneself in an 
atmosphere of freedom is not a licence for branches or groups of the 
Society to import or promote particular cults, beliefs or 
personalities.  The attitude of affording to every individual the 
opportunity to unfold his intelligence in an atmosphere of freedom is 
not to be equated with providing a platform or home in the Society 
for one or all of the welter of creeds and panaceas hawked by quasi-
religious movements and self-styled gurus.  There is danger of 
missing that which is vital and fundamental in what is supposed to be 
a spirit of tolerance.  Tolerance of superstition, of orthodoxies and 
conventionalities, or thoughtless obedience and dependence on those 
who are seated on spiritual pedestals are not consonant with the 
Theosophical view and the Society's work.

One of those who inspired the founding of the Society, wrote soon 
after it came into existence:  "We have a duty set before us; that of 
sweeping away as much as possible the dross left to us by our pious 

Madame Blavatsky pointed out that truth is not realized by disputing 
over that other people have said or written, or in arguing in favour 
of one's own ideas or any accepted systems of philosophy.  The 
devotee of truth must endeavour as much as possible to free his mind 
from all ideas which he may have derived by heredity, from education, 
from surroundings, or from other teachers.  A scientist engaged in 
research has to shed all his prejudices, preconceptions and personal 
desires in order to obtain a knowledge of facts as they are.  A 
biased mind fixed in its own mould and confined to a personally 
pleasing thought-system can no more come into contact with noumenal 
truths than it can with facts of the phenomenal world.

If the earth were no populated by a vast number of people who are 
absorbed in their private interests and totally oblivious of wider 
horizons, it might be quite a different place.  As it is, for each 
individual his own advancement, his family, his village and nation, 
his community and religion, his opinions, theories, and so forth loom 
overwhelmingly large in the mind, chasing away the rest of life, as 
if for all practical purposes it does not exist.

The religious quality dawns on the mind when the stifling atmosphere 
of personal pre-occupations is broken through.  For the truly 
religious man "the world is his family" and there is no divergence 
between the world problem and the individual problem.  The existence 
of suffering in multifarious forms is one of the fundamental problems 
to which the intelligent mind has to apply itself.  Suffering is the 
lot of all human beings without exception.  Birth, death, disease, 
decay, separation, etc. are all sorrow.  When confronted by this 
universal phenomenon, it is generally reduced to a personal matter, 
and each one wants to know why he should be involved in sorrow, and 
how he can escape it.  A religious approach to it demands that the 
personal element should be left behind and the mind seriously applied 
to finding out the answer to this and a universally human problem.
The non-personal understanding of vital matters pertaining to the 
human situation also requires that what is at the root, the 
fundamental issue, should be tackled.  No thoughtful person can be 
indifferent to the present arms race with its unthinkable dreadful 
consequences, and all who strengthen the public conscience against 
such devilry are to be lauded.  Yet, it is not enough to give thought 
to such moral issues at the outer level.  The root of the problem 
lies in the aggressive competitiveness, love of gain and power of the 
human mind.  It is woven at the root with other fundamental 
questions.  In its depth, the student is brought to contemplate the 
relation "of the mortal to the immortal, of the temporary to the 
eternal, of the finite to the infinite".

Religion, from the Theosophical point of view, commences with the 
denuding of the mind of its favoured thoughts and conditioning and 
allowing it to come into contact with what is of universal and 
fundamental significance.  The impact of the Society on world 
conditions would be outstanding if its worldwide membership were 
composed of true altruists, a body exemplifying brotherhood, men and 
women seeking Wisdom and leading the life necessary to widen the 
horizons of the mind and obtain insight into truth.  It is those who 
are drawn towards such objectives who are worthy candidates for 

As time passes, generations change.  Every generation faces the basic 
problems of man in terms of a changing environment.  No teaching, no 
philosophy can be of adequate aid to any generation if it is 
converted into a mere idiom or tradition.  But the Wisdom of a truly 
religious mind can speak the tongue of any generation and communicate 
its own quality of significance.

"May Those who are the embodiments of Love Immortal bless with Their 
protection now as heretofore the Society founded to do Their Will, 
bestow upon us the guidance of Their immeasurable Wisdom, and inspire 
in each and all of us throughout the world the urge to never-failing 
beneficent action."

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