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The Spirit of the ES Pledge and of Theosophy

Oct 14, 2009 11:11 AM
by robert_b_macd

Some time ago a discussion on the meaning of the ES pledge was undertaken, especially rule 2 which seemed to leave the disciple open for abuse by an unethical ES leader.  In Instruction No. III, HPB actually goes into this very matter and amends the rule so that the dead letter reflects more truly the spirit of the pledge.  This is in response to a disciple who quit the ES and turned around and attacked HPB.  She writes:

I have acted more than ever on this principle of trying to help everyone irrespective of what I personally may have to suffer for it. It is not, therefore, the utter incapacity for right discrimination in me, but something quite different that compelled me to lay aside all thought of possible consequences in this case of selection of fit members of the E.S. No; I sinned on a different plane. Neglecting to profit by my personal experience, I allowed myself in this instance to be more prompted by an easily understood delicacy and regard for Western feeling than by my duty. In one word, I was loath to apply to Western students the rigorous rules and discipline of the Eastern school; afraid of seeing any demand on my part of strict submission to the rules, misinterpreted into a desire of claiming papal and despotic authority.* Read your pledges and the Preliminary Memoranda, and study them; and then, finding the amount of authority you have yourselves conferred on me by signing the pledge??say honestly which of you, if any, can come and complain, not only that I have ever abused, but even used that authority over any probationer? In one case only??that of a friend who could hardly misinterpret my action??I have insisted that he should leave for a certain time America. And to emphasize this the more, no sooner have I heard from several of those members in whom I have the greatest confidence that the pledge, as now worded, was open to a dead-letter construction, than I have immediately altered it, of which I now notify you. The 2nd and 3rd clauses now stand??

* [And just because I have ever avoided to exercise my legitimate authority in the E.S., and sinned thereby, I am now punished at the hands of an earnest and sincere member of the E.S. who has just resigned, and is now denouncing in print, over his signature, those whom he is pleased to call my "personal worshippers" for "hero worship," and of calling out to the T.S. on my behalf, "Behold your god . . . bow and worship!!" This is supremely unjust, and I hope in no case whatever true. The protest originated in the sudden unwillingness of this member, whose fine and sensitive nature has been worked upon in that direction by our enemies, to submit to the rules worked out by the Council of the American E.S.??rules absolutely obligatory with the pledged members, and which have to be followed or I will have to give up the Esoteric instructions altogether. Now, I ask, if a member once signed his pledge without protest, why should he object to repeat it once more to his lodge, the members of which have to be pledged to each other for common and mutual security? Karmic work all round, I say. "Pledge fever'' is raging.]

E. S. INSTRUCTION NO. III                                                  589

(2) I pledge myself to support before the world, the Theosophical movement, and those of its leaders and members, in whom I place full confidence; and in particular to obey, without cavil or delay, the orders given through the Head of the Section in all that concerns my theosophical duties and esoteric work, so far as my pledge to my Higher Self and my conscience sanction.*

(3) I pledge myself never to listen, without protest, to any evil thing spoken falsely or yet unproven, against a brother Theosophist, and to abstain from condemning others.?

I have done this because I think it right to explain the true spirit of the pledge. But it is precisely that unwillingness in me to ever guide any one of you more than is strictly necessary that is now shown as having been productive of evil, and as that wherein my fault lies. As the same letter says, addressing me: 

"You have spoken to them before their ear was trained to listen, and begun showing things, before the eye of the learner was prepared to see. And just for this reason, hearing but indistinctly and seeing each in his own way, more than one [member of the E.S.] has turned round and tried to rend you [me] for your pains."

[And now I sincerely hope that you will??some of you, at least??learn a lesson from my weakness, and show your appreciation of this by not judging me too unkindly if I now change somewhat my policy. For I have to either do so, or to drop the Esoteric teachings altogether, for those at any rate, who will disagree with this arrangement. To avoid repeating the mistake, this is what I propose doing. Each Paper will be sent as it was hitherto, only it will appear as a Supplement to the Ethics and teachings which will impart the rules of Discipline and the laws of Discipleship, as in the case of all Probationers.] Those who accept the new arrangement will have to study the latter, or they cannot receive any more teachings from me. For, as saith the Book of Discipline in the Schools of Dzyan:

* As this qualification may possibly be abused, the decision shall rest with seven members of the E.S. as arbitrators, four of whom shall be chosen by the Probationer and three by the Head of the Section.
The above rule will be incorporated in the Preliminary Memorandum. 
? The second and third clauses of the original Pledge ran as follows:
"2. I pledge myself to support, before the world, the Theosophical movement, its leaders and its members, and in particular to obey, without cavil or delay, the orders of the Head of the Esoteric Section in all that concerns my relation with the Theosophical movement.
"3. I pledge myself never to listen, without protest, to any evil thing spoken of a brother Theosophist, and to abstain from condemning others."

590                                    BLAVATSKY: COLLECTED WRITINGS

"Speak not the mysteries to the common vulgar, nor to the casual friend, or new disciple. With prudent eye to the possible consequences, keep locked within your breast the teachings received, until you find a listener who will understand your words and sympathize with your aspirations."
This does not mean that you are at liberty to repeat what you have learned to anyone whom you believe to answer that description, but that you can exchange views with your co-disciples who are pledged as you are yourself.
I can do no better, I believe, than give at once some of the oral and written precepts from the same book above mentioned, and as pointed out by the Master.
"1. To the earnest Disciple his Teacher takes the place of Father and Mother. For, whereas they give him his body and its faculties, its life and casual form, the Teacher shows him how to develop the inner faculties to the acquisition of the Eternal Wisdom.
"2. To the Disciple each Fellow-Disciple becomes a Brother and Sister, a portion of himself.* For his interests and aspirations are theirs his progress helped or hindered by their intelligence, morality, and behavior through the intimacy brought about by their co-discipleship.
"3. A co-disciple cannot backslide or fall out of the line without affecting those who stand firm through the sympathetic tie between themselves and the psychical currents between them and their Teacher.
"4. Woe to the deserter, woe also to all who help to bring his soul to the point where desertion first presents itself before his mind's eye as the lesser of two evils. Gold in the crucible is he who stands the melting heat of trial, and lets only the dross be burnt out of his heart; accursed by Karmic action will find himself he, who throws dross into the melting-pot of discipleship for the debasement of his fellow-pupil. As the members to the body, so are the disciples to each other, and to the Head and Heart which teach and nourish them with the life stream of Truth.
"5. As the limbs defend the head and heart of the body they belong to, so have the disciples to defend the head and the heart of the body they belong to [in this case Theosophy] from injury."
Before I proceed, let me explain, for fear of being misunderstood again, that by "Teacher" I neither mean myself??as I am but the humble mouthpiece of the true Teacher??nor do I write the above in order to stimulate any one to defend or stand by my own personality, but verily to make it clear, once for all, that to defend the E.S. and Theosophy
* "So shalt thou be in full accord with all that lives, bear love to men as though they were thy brother-pupils, disciples of one Teacher, the sons of one sweet mother." (Vide Fragment III in The Voice of the Silence, p. 49.)

E. S. INSTRUCTION NO. III                                               591

(the heart and the soul of the T.S., its visible body) is the duty of every good Theosophist, of the E.S. especially. So is it his "bounden duty" to protect from attack and defend every fellow-brother, if he knows him to be innocent, and try and help him morally, if he thinks he is guilty. Nor is verse 5 intended to convey the idea that aggressiveness is the best course to take, for it is not: passive resistance and a firm refusal to listen to any slanderous reports about one another, in the case of a member as well as of a stranger or an ex-Fellow, is all that would be necessary in some cases to defeat entirely conspiracy and malevolence.

This whole letter written by HPB to the ES would be of benefit to any Theosophist to read.  In it she has a personal aside that claims that W.Q. Judge is "one of the three founders of the Theosophical Society, the only three who have remained as true as rock to the Cause."  There can be no doubt as to where HPB stood as far as Judge was concerned.  She iterates of Judge that "He is the Resuscitator of Theosophy in the United States, and is working to the best of his means and ability, and at a great sacrifice, for the spread of the movement".  I cannot conceive of anyone who would be so gauche as to claim that Theosophy in North America would be anything more than a ghost of what it is today if it were not for the efforts of William Q. Judge.  It was Judge who built the theosophical infrastructure in the Americas, and it is Judge who breathed the theosophical spirit into it.  That there are Theosophists today who doubt his integrity is a crime.  HPB claims as much, she writes further on:

"It is our bounden duty to support him, in every way, with our sympathy and influence, energetically, not in a half-hearted, timid way. Let our protest be on merely defensive lines, and not of an aggressive character. For, if the spirit of true Theosophy does not permit of aggressiveness being used, yet it does demand in some cases active defence, and it does impose on everyone of us the duty of taking an active interest in the welfare of a brother, especially of a persecuted brother, as Mr. Judge is now. Is it the part of a "Brother-Fellow" to remain indifferent and inactive when one who has done so much for the noble and sacred CAUSE is vilified for its sake, hence, for that of every Theosophist; when he is selected by the enemy as the mark of all the lying and damaging attacks of those who wish to destroy the Society in order to build on its ruins another, a bogus Body of the same name, and to enshrine therein an idol with feet of clay and a heart full of selfishness and evil, for the admiration and worship of credulous fools? Can we allow them to achieve this object when they seek to ensure success by ruining the character of this most unselfish champion of our T.S.? Put yourselves in the victim's place, and then act as you think your Brothers should act towards you under similar circumstances. Let us protest, I say, all of us; protest by word and deed. Let every one who can hold the pen expose every lie said about our friend and Brother, in every case we know it to be a lie."

A Society of theosophists is a society that stands up for one another, that refrains from attacking a brother or sister, that always looks to help morally the wrong-doer.  There is a fine line that must be walked, neither being to aggressive in defense of a brother or sister, nor remiss in jumping into the fray when a brother or sister is attacked.  It is all about the ethics.  If we get the ethics right, everything else will fall into place.

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