Authority in Theosophy?
The Founders of the Theosophical Society established, from its very beginnings in 1875, that the Society did not have an official creed or ideology. They did emphasize the search for Truth and the innate principle of Universal Brotherhood/Sisterhood.
In the Preamble to the TS By-Laws (1875) we read:
Whatever may be the private opinions of its members, the Society has no dogmas to enforce, no creed to disseminate. It is formed neither as a Spiritualistic schism, nor to serve as the foe or friend of any sectarian or philosophic body. Its only axiom is the omnipotence of truth, its only creed a profession of unqualified devotion to its discovery and propagation. In considering the qualifications of applicants for membership, it knows neither race, sex, color, country nor creed.
However, despite the many warnings given by Madame Blavatsky, the Mahatmas, Annie Besant and several others, a quasi-sectarian approach to Theosophy took place after the death of the Founders. It has influenced a number of students of Theosophy in different parts of the world. There are those who cling to the writings of HPB as the only genuine Theosophy and look with disdain to other authors. Other students focus their priority on the books by C. W. Leadbeater and Annie Besant, while for other groups the writings of Geoffrey Hodson and Dr I. K. Taimni are seen as paramount.
The Society does not interfere with the private approach and preferences of its members, but its policy of Freedom of Thought is very clear:
No teacher, or writer, from H.P. Blavatsky onwards, has any authority to impose his or her teachings or opinions on members. Every member has an equal right to follow any school of thought, but has no right to force the choice on any other. Neither a candidate for any office nor any voter can be rendered ineligible to stand or to vote, because of any opinion held, or because of membership in any school of thought. Opinions or beliefs neither bestow privileges nor inflict penalties.
We include on this web page a number of relevant statements by leading Theosophists which suggest that in Theosophy no authority is placed on any particular author, the Founders included, but that its teachings invite exploration, enquiry and assimilation.
This policy is much older than the Theosophical Society. It is present in the teachings of all great spiritual Teachers, and is remarkably encapsulated in the final teaching of the Buddha to his disciples:
“Be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast to as a refuge to the truth. Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.
“And whosoever … shall be a lamp unto themselves, and a refuge unto themselves shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the truth as their lamp, and holding fast as their refuge to the truth, shall look not for refuge to anyone besides themselves – it is they, among my bhikkus, who shall reach the very topmost height! – but they must be anxious to learn.”
(Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Some Points in the History of Indian Buddhism by T. W. Rhys Davids, William and Norgate, London, 1881, pp. 182-183.)
Madame Blavatsky on authority in Theosophy
HPB’s Warning to the Theosophical Society
‘what lies behind the fence of words is even more important than what you read’: The Mahatma Letters
Madame Blavatsky: ‘Theosophy is not a Religion’
HPB on Self-Knowledge: ‘we are ceaselessly self-deceived’
Annie Besant: Opinion and Belief in the Theosophical Society
The Attitude of the Enquirer: C. W. Leadbeater
Is Theosophy an Ideology?
‘Why Theosophy is Left Undefined’: N. Sri Ram
‘emptiness is the relinquishing of all views’: Nagarjuna