TS - BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE
Aug 01, 2009 11:38 AM
TS - BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE
Since the start of last yearâs election, a lot of discussion has taken place
in theos-talk and continues today. With this background , it is time to look
at and see what are the real key issues around the TS where our attention
should be focused.
Before discussing the issues, we need to clearly keep in mind that full
autonomy is built into the structure of TS so that all parts can
efficiently function within the Three Objects and the motto - âThere is no
Religion Higher Than Truthâ.
Membership is the key to any movement. HPB & HSO moved to India from New
York to propagate theosophy around the world resulting in the growth of
branches and membership. If they were content with the small group of
members they had in New York, they would have stayed there. They did not.
They traveled to an unknown difficult environment, worked and traveled in
hard conditions and succeeded.
During highly contested recent election, attention was paid to membership
count, only because of the one-member one-vote democratic system. When you
look at the trend of membership around the world, the striking fact is that
only in the Indian Section the membership has been growing year after year.
This has made Indian Section, the largest. The gap between the membership in
India and next largest section, USA is a very significant 3:1. For a very
long time, Indian Section as the largest Section played a significant role
in all elections.
Membership outside India is either stagnant or going down. Even in two
countries outside India, it is significant that for over 50 years, no new
lodge was chartered. So all the countries outside India are having a very
significant and serious problem in recruitment and retention of members.
Even in the USA, since Dora Kunz was the president, the membership has gone
down significantly in spite of very well known people succeeding her.
The simple fact is that Indian Section is doing something right. In the rest
of the countries the strategy of operating TS is not working as shown by the
facts. There seems to be issues common to these sections and need to be
identified and then they can be addressed. Even then it is going to take
years to see results.
Today Internet has changed the way business is transacted. It enables quick
multi-mode interactive real-time communication, in addition to distribution
of information - written, audio, video and photos. If in the early days of
TS, with difficult transportation and communication, HPB & HSO can produce
results, surely today, with modern communication it should be possible to
show results; namely improved membership retention and recruitment.
INTERFACE WITH MEMBERS
Key to the success of TS, are its members. Not the rules and regulations.
Motivating them to correct action can produce far reaching results. TS
around the world, has traditionally operated from day one, on very tight
financial budget. Todayâs greatest and most powerful ally is Internet.
Internet making it feasible to have multi-way communication. While passive
one-way distribution of information does help, multi-way communication is
far more effective in motivating members. Internet communication cannot
supplant personal one-on-one communication. Anyone who has dealt with people
issues, know that complex, complicated and confrontational issues are
resolved only by in person communication. This is true with all
organizations as evidenced by the leaders making it a point to personally
visit the branches on a very regular basis not only to motivate the local
staff or members but also to learn first hand about local issues affecting
In the TS, the current use of Internet for multi-way communication with
members and prospects is very sad. We are missing a great opportunity and is
again reflected in the member count. One of the reasons for this is the aged
leadership which does not understand the potential and have not taken steps
to effectively use it. On the contrary, many are of the opinion that the
leaders are boycotting Internet. We do not see them participate in the free
Internet forums where discussions take place on theosophical questions and
organizational matters. The âorganizationalâ followers, except a handful,
taking a cue from the leaders also have been avoiding Internet. Since the
current younger generation is growing up in the Internet environment, if
this does not change quickly, TS will be missing a great opportunity and TS
membership will continue to go down and we should not be surprised if
Sections in the West disappear.
INTERFACE WITH PUBLIC
When you look at the early days of TS, we find that both HSO and HPB were
involved in other social issues of the day affecting the common man and
woman. HSO started the school for untouchables near Adyar. (This was even
reported in CNN world-wide recently.) HPB started a Sanskrit school. She
also spoke strongly about child marriage. HSO organized Buddhist Schools in
Ceylon and worked to reform Buddhism.
These indicate the importance they paid to address public needs and issues
in addition to spreading theosophy and working for the growth of the
organization. Annie Besant followed in their footsteps and was deeply
involved in many public issues. These steps helped the growth of TS and
spread of theosophy during their days.
These days, we do not hear much about this aspect of the work by
theosophists. Paying attention to this would help bring theosophy to the
attention of the pubic at the same contributing to the welfare of the common
man and woman.
INTERFACE WITH THE MEDIA
In HPBâs days, she frequently wrote to various publication and newsmedia and
these kept theosophical points of view alive in the publicâs attention. This
is another area where there is lack of activity in the recent days. Getting
active and engaged with publications and newsmedia, will bring attention to
theosophy and TS. Let us hope attention is paid to this important issue.
The electioneering that took place last year and the aftermath
unsubstantiated allegation of problems in the election in Indian Section,
and the lucky discovery of the ultra secret attempt to disenfranchise all
members and take over the appointment of President by a handful of members
of general council and the subsequent cleavage reflected by the votes in the
general council meeting has resulted in many members having a very low level
of trust in their leaders. Trust is built over a long period of time.
Leaders can lead only if they command a high level of trust of the members.
Rebuilding trust is possible by taking urgent transparent steps which makes
members feel their leaders are very serious and are not trying to grind any
personal axe. In the current situation, there is no time to waste and we
need to move quickly.
In democracy, transparency goes hand in hand. Transparency provides a
powerful check on misguided actions of leaders. There are times when the
leaders are deluded and take actions which they believe are in the best
interests of the organization while in reality they hurt the TS.
Transparency provides an opportunity for members to point the truth that the
emperor has no clothes, if and when the situation arises.
In the 1900 letter, the very last one received from the Theosophical Adepts,
there was a warning
-.- âMISLEADING SECRECY HAS GIVEN THE DEATH BLOW TO NUMEROUS ORGANIZATIONS.â
No one seems to have understood its long term implications to TS.
The root cause, in my opinion, for the problems TS faced since the beginning
of last yearâs election is lack of transparency. Lack of transparency makes
it easy for the leaders hide their actions from the membership and provide
opportunity to take actions which really harm the TS and the Theosophical
movement. It almost culminated in all the members disenfranchised, but for
the timely discovery of the move and world-wide shock and dismay that some
leaders would even dream of such audacious self serving attempt to seize
TS is not a secret society. So there is no need for secrecy in its
deliberations and decisions. Transparency cannot hurt TS. Transparency
actually will protect the autonomous democratic setup.
TS does not have a Pope. Autonomy of the sections is guaranteed by the
structure of TS. Sections and their leaders very vigilantly protect their
autonomy as they are expected to. Neither the President nor the General
Council can interfere with Sectionâs activities nor the Section leaders will
Due to the full autonomy of Sections, each Section can immediately implement
full transparency on its own. No Section has yet taken steps to implement
full transparency. One should question, why the leaders are still hanging on
to continued operation with secrecy? Of course section leaders do put out
crumbs of information in the belief that it is transparency. What is needed
is full transparency.
Members and prospective members reading about all the discussions caused by
the events starting with last yearâs election, would indeed be confused.
They see the conflict between what the leaders talk about and their actions.
So quickly implementing transparency cannot but help everyone.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
Much fuss has been made about the International rules and regulations. Due
to the structural autonomy at all levels of TS, the critical problem is that
of membership growth and retention. They can be tackled only at the Section
and lodge levels. No amount of tampering with the rules is going to have any
effect because of built-in autonomy of the Sections.
The membership problem is in the backyards of the leaders and they need to
wake up and pay urgent attention to it. It is going to take time to attack
the problem and see the results. Once it is addressed, the rules and
regulations do not matter at the level of dues paying members who are
concerned with the local activities. The rules issue is one that the leaders
are seized with and many members see it as a non existent issue when you
look at the key issue affecting the continued growth of membership
TIME TO BARK UP THE RIGHT TREE
With Internet allowing all of us to discuss and exchange views and
information without interference from the organizational leaders, members
are in a position to see the more important from less important issues that
are critical to get the TS out of the crisis hole it is in. It is time for
members to talk to their leaders of their concerns about the TS and demand
answers. It is only with the help of vigorous, dedicated, unselfish members
whose only interest is theosophy and TS, can theosophy spread in the world
and benefit future generations like the benefits we have received.
M K Ramadoss, San Antonio, Texas, USA
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