The Theosophical Society Point Loma: who are we, what is our misson and where are we now?
Spirit, soul and body
The TS Point Loma is a well-known organization, maybe not that large in numbers, but I hope we are convincing in what we do.
If you want to understand an organization, you need to split it up in a number of levels. Therefore, why wouldn’t we use the threefold division we use so often for every living being, after all, a society like ours is indeed a living entity. So firstly we have a spirit-part: that is the Source from which all Theosophical organizations sprouted. Secondly we have a soul-part, which represents the character of the organizations, i.e. the way in which the Theosophia is interpreted. And thirdly we have the body-part, the outer organizations, i.e. the means, the tools and the instruments. The spirit is identical in all Theosophical societies, but they are different in their respective souls and bodies.
First a few words about our common spiritual Source. Our origin is the Hierarchy of Compassion, known as the Lodge of Wisdom and Compassion, with its Messengers, its Masters and Chelas. One of these Chelas, H. P. Blavatsky, started in 1875 a new cycle by bringing out Theosophia named as “Theosophy” into the world. This is our common Source, base and shared starting point.
We come to the core question: what are we? This infers that we have to speak about our soul, our mental attitude and the specific characteristics we carry. We ought to realize that these specific characteristics have their roots in our past, and the way we look at that past. As we see it, our line of succession is as follows: HPB, William Quan Judge, Katherine Tingley, Gottfried de Purucker, Arthur Conger, William Hartley, Dick Kok and me (1); consequently I am the last one in that line. ‘Last’ meaning of course, that I am still alive. You’ll notice that we start with HPB, without mentioning other people that were involved in setting up the organization.
It was HPB who brought the message and represented the direct line with the Loge of Wisdom and Compassion, and that is clearly what it is all about. When she started her public work in 1875, she came to break the molds of mind, especially in the West. She brought an overwhelming quantity of Wisdom to us, through all her publications, all these ideas and at the time, remember, it is the end of the 19th century, she thoroughly innovated the outlook on science, philosophy and religion.
At first HPB’s message was received by a lot of people in a purely technical manner. They appreciated the explanations given and were eager to get a better understanding of the phenomena she was able to produce. It soon became clear that many didn’t grasp anything of the ethical and moral implications of those wondrous phenomena. HPB however quickly learned her lessons from this and before too long she started to focus more on compassion, on the ethical point of view.
Around 1888 one of the most decisive events in the Theosophical Society took place, not only did she publish her masterpiece the Secreted Doctrine but HPB started to structure the SOUL of the TS, in order to safeguard its future. In that year she started the Esoteric School (“ES”). That was a crucial moment in the history of the TS, because there was need for a core of members having the right mentality, working together as the fingers on one hand, and forming the backbone of the TS in bringing Theosophy to the public. Much more was expected from ES members than from the regular members. It was a small group, but there was the need for a very strong and determined circle of students who were willing to sacrifice their lives to bring out the teachings, and keep these teachings alive.
H.P.B. from then on was really working towards a different type of mentality: not only reading, not only studying, but next to that, students would need to be willing to do something for the TS, to be a living example of that ES mentality.
The main characteristic of the Theosophical Society-Point Loma is based on the impulse instigated by HPB: the start of the ES in 1888. It is that SOUL we try to keep alive and want to keep in our minds. This does not mean that we are aiming for an ES-structure in our society. No, we do not want any ES-structure, instead we want to work towards, and promote an ES-mentality, and that, in our opinion, is a totally different approach. Our main characteristic is compassion, as that was the principal thought behind the founding of the ES.
We should look at the ES Pledge in the light of compassion. HPB published the Pledge in her public magazine Lucifer, with the objective to show all its articles, telling what was going on around the founding of the ES. People were invited to apply so that they could become a member.
The conditions and the pledge to be taken for becoming a member of the ES where published in her magazine Lucifer Volume III, September 1888, pages 63-67, in an article “The Meaning of a Pledge”, and more information in Lucifer III, No. 14, October 1888, pages 145-48. The pledge of the ES is the basis for our organization. To study the Pledge and to see the consequence for our daily live must be the first steps before we can take the Pledge.
Now we shall consider the Pledge articles 4, 5, 6 and 1, as they contain guidelines for our way of Working.
Working in groups
Let us take a look at article 4: “I pledge myself to maintain a constant struggle against my lower nature, and to be charitable to the weaknesses of others.”
For the TS-Point Loma this means: working in groups, since that is the only way to become a proper instrument in the hands of the Masters. It means: co-operating as colleagues, training and supporting each other, never working as an isolated solitary individual; in group work [suggestion: by working in groups] we all have to overcome aspects of our lower nature. We are working in groups because we really like to share ideas with each other and to inspire each other. We have learnt that by doing this, our efforts to bring Theosophy to the world have a much greater effect.
We should keep in mind that the ES-structure in the TS Point Loma tradition was closed in 1947 by its leader at that time, Arthur Conger. Subsequently we do not have an ES-structure, but we do fully focus on the ES-mentality, a principle which we like to push forward.
Priority one: public work
Let us now turn to article 5: “I pledge myself to do all in my power, by study and otherwise, to fit myself to help and teach others.”
We need to ask ourselves: “What is the most important thing in our Society?” “What is our priority number one?” The answer is: public activities, propagating Theosophy. If we make a planning and if we have to choose between closed study meetings for members or public activities, then public activities come first: in terms of manpower, in terms of energy and in terms of really being actively involved in those activities.
Likewise, when we study, we never study for the sake of study. We always study together to prepare ourselves to teach Theosophy to others. That means that we must train ourselves first to become translators. By studying, we ourselves may understand the material, but the people out in the street, who never heard of Theosophy, need a type of “bridging” translation, to get a clear idea of the Theosophical teachings and what you are able do with them. I do not mean a moving away from the principles. No: the principal teachings are the core. What I mean is: helping people in applying them. We like to quote WQJ from his article “Friends or Enemies in the Future”: The fundamental doctrines of Theosophy are of no value unless they are applied to daily life.
An organization of co-workers
Now we come to article 6: “I pledge myself to give what support I can to the Theosophical movement in time, money and work.”
As to this aspect, I look at our organization as consisting of co-workers, and not of members.
Obviously this particular way of looking at our organization and its membership is relative; commitment clearly depends much on the possibilities of an individual and these are not the same for all. A consequence of this approach is that we don’t like to see members turning inactive. If by any chance a period of inactivity continues for some time, contact is made with the person involved, asking if we can be of any help by offering opportunities in removing and overcoming apparent obstacles. If indeed this person has lost interest, a reconsideration of membership is kindly requested.
The result is that in our organization we have a high percentage of active members, or better said, active co-workers, and that is, in our opinion, what it is actually all about. In the TS-Point Loma it is not the quantity that counts, but the quality.
Living the Theosophia
Now we turn to article 1 of the Pledge: “I pledge myself to endeavor to make Theosophy a living factor in my life.”
We always present Theosophy in such a way that it becomes applicable in daily life, never as some interesting theory. Please realize that if Theosophy has turned into a living power inside of us, when we truly live it, that this is the best way to promote it. Just imagine if we would only study, but that our daily lives are not a reflection of the teachings, what strength or depth will our words have, if we say to someone that he or she can solve his or her problems in life by doing this or that? Our words won’t have any impact at all, because we are not a living example of Theosophy, hence the most important thing is to be a living expression of the principles.
Most people know that here in the Netherlands, if you want to become a member, it will take you two years. Generally speaking, you’ll have to follow two courses, entitled “Thinking differently” and “Wisdom of Life.” After having done these courses, one is offered the opportunity to become a member.
This path towards membership has proven to work very well. People are aware of what type of organization they step into, and what kind of mindset exists in the organization. Those who enter do know about our public activities and all the work and effort we put into it. They sympathize with, and support our attitude; otherwise they would not have joined.
It is evident that we like to have active co-workers. If you look at the percentage of active members in organizations or societies in the Netherlands, most of the time the average figure is between 5% to 10% maximum. But in our case, this figure is much higher: more than 70% of our members active.
TS Point Loma and the social problems in the world
Another important issue. We believe that our work, spreading Theosophy, should have a direct social effect and we take that task seriously. We really like to – you may say – “inject” society with Theosophical ideas, so that these ideas start to live in each one’s own way of thinking.
From that point of view, the TS-Point Loma is not so much active in giving material support to society. We rather show people how to fish but we do not fish for them. This does plainly not imply that if we “as an organization” hand out certain instructions, members for themselves are not involved in all kinds of social activities. Of course they are. If you are living Theosophy then one of your first responsibilities is to ask yourself “What shall I do amidst all the social and other problems in this world?”
Every member should be a living expression of the Theosophical principles in daily life. He or she is expected to apply the teachings in any practical form, in any social organization. One sees quite often that members are either a member of Amnesty International or Animal Support or Animal Rights for example, or develop other but similar activities. But as a rule of thumb we are of the opinion that the TS-Point Loma, as a Theosophical vehicle, has to put its efforts and means into spreading Theosophy; this is the way we look at it.
The organization has a social aspect and encourages members to apply Theosophy in daily life and we have booked some good results by doing this. We have started and supported some Dutch organizations to get a broader view on organ donation and recently we had a fine joint-venture with an Islamic group, helping them to understand the concept of religion in a much broader and universal way. This cooperation resulted in some interesting meetings in which many ideas and thoughts were exchanged.
Each member a spiritual center
Another point is that we look at each member as a center. You’ll find this idea in one of the small and helpful publications of William Quan Judge. So it is surely not a new idea, but it is a very important idea, because if you want to be an inspirational source for all your fellowmen, you’ll have to know from your own experience what Theosophy means, and how it works out in your personal life. Next to this, anyone can be a spiritual center, because each one of us is able to open up his our self to the Higher Self, allowing this inspiring stimulus to flow into the society.
William Quan Judge, in this context, is a very good example. While he was working alone in the United States, he asked the Masters many times for support: “Help me, send me a chela.” He never got one and he received no answer at all. Because of this he grew a bit angry and said to himself: “OK, if I don’t get support, I’ll do it myself.” From that moment on, he received support.
This is exactly what we would need to realize. If we do not open up our self to the Self, written with upper-case letter, we don’t get support. First we need to open up, to become active on a higher level, and then we can expect support from, let us say, the higher spiritual influences that are.
That is a lesson that we all have to learn. Instead of sitting and waiting until help arrives, the initiative is entirely ours. The first step is to be made by us and it doesn’t matter how simple, primitive or clumsy it may appear, that is irrelevant. If you reach out to your fellow human being and you start to promote Theosophy and, most importantly, live it yourself – if you start something on that level – then support will come your way.
This is a key-principle because, as you know, we often hear in Theosophical circles that the public doesn’t demonstrate much interest and that we do not get new members, and so on. Do not sit and wait, no, you have to go out and search for the people. Make contact with them.
One of our lodges started off in a pub. There, while holding a glass of beer, we talked about Theosophy and the problems of daily life. That later developed into one of our best lodges, so do not look at the outer, material ambiance.
Succession of leadership
Hierarchy is one of the fundamental principles in Nature. Maybe not in name, but in practice we find it everywhere
Our succession of leadership is an important topic, because for as far as I know, we are almost the only Theosophical organization that honors the leadership-idea.
In relation to leadership, we sometimes are confronted with curious situations. Some people say: “Herman C. Vermeulen is ashamed to be the leader. That’s why he doesn’t talk so much about it.” How does this idea arise? I can assure you that these people never got in touch with me, they never wished to exchange their thoughts, through a phone-call, emails or letters, and that’s how they came to this erroneous conclusion. For those people, let me state it loudly and clearly, for now and times to come: I am very proud to be the leader of The Theosophical Society Point Loma, period.
How do I fulfill this responsibility? Well, let me explain. Being the leader certainly doesn’t mean that I am the boss, a dictator. No, at all times I try to be an inspiring source within the organization.
When Judge became President for life during the Boston Convention in 1895, leadership was first introduced in our organization and it was laid down in our Constitution. Later it was further implemented by Katherine Tingley, and this situation is up until now current and factual.
Look at what Katherine Tingley realized, put into practice. During the years of her leadership our organization flourished. In 1898 she moved the International Headquarters to Point Loma, California. Please realize that the Point Loma region at that time was not developed; only bush and nothing but bush, for as far as the eye could see. She started with a few well-motivated people to establish a center with buildings, offices, printing facilities and you name it. At the height of that period some 500 to 600 people were living there, forming one united organization. That is the reason why we still call ourselves the Point Loma Society, although our headquarters is now located at the Blavatskyhouse, The Hague, in the Netherlands.
As to leadership, you’d need to consider one thing: the succession of leadership is more than stepping into a historical line; the process is dual. Firstly to pass on our spiritual heritage, the fruits of the past. Secondly, to maintain the connection with the source we originate from. I do not mean the original books or publications, but our real source: the Lodge of Wisdom and Compassion.
That is an essential fact. One might think that from a historical point of view we are this or that, but that is not the main thing. The main thing is to realize that we have to be connected to that source. We have to focus on the spiritual succession and not on the historical facts. Historical facts may be useful, but they are not the principal starting points.
Responsibilities flowing from the spiritual succession
Being a leader in a spiritual succession is being like a fountain-source. Which responsibilities flow from that? Firstly, we should harvest the work already done by the TS-Point Loma. Secondly, an important task is to further explore the teachings. We cannot be just content and happy with having them, and “put them in a safe.” No, we should study the teachings, trying to understand them more profoundly, and we should share our deepening Theosophical insights with the outer world.
Thirdly, we, at the TS-Point Loma, believe that it is important to preserve the original line of Theosophical publications. If we would come to the conclusion that the original publications are no longer suited to function in our present time, and are not well-received any longer, then we’ll have the duty to write other ones: not by changing the original texts, but by writing new books and articles based on the original teachings. Then we are able to explain the teachings in such a way that they fit in with, for instance, modern discoveries or present-day problems, so that readers will understand them better. At the same time we can direct our readers to the sources, so that they can study these original texts by themselves.
How do we see leadership?
What is our view on the Theosophical line of leaders? We see each successor as a spiritual focal point, and such a spiritual focal point is the combination of a leader and his co-workers, like a beehive. If you have ever looked into a beehive, then you will know that the queen is not a queen in the sense of “commander”, i.e. sitting on a high throne and acting bossy. No, the queen is one of the special bees having a very heavy and complex task. She is continuously assisted by her co-workers to get all the eggs in the right place. Then the workers take care of their growth and development. The symbolic idea behind the beehive describes exactly what I intend to be, and what the other leaders in our line have been in the past.
It is quite normal that if there is something to do, it makes no difference to me at what level that is. I will be involved as well, instead of looking from a distance at what is going on. In any case, with my technical background - I worked for many years for the European Space Agency - it is hard for me to stay away from the action.
I always tell my co-workers, when we talk about modern technology: “Whatever it is you are doing is fine, but please do it so that I’ll understand it as well, meaning that when there is an urgent problem and you are at home or unreachable, I still have the opportunity to solve the risen issue.
My main point is: being the leader is not acting as the boss, but being a source of inspiration. One of my important tasks is helping my co-workers to overcome their limitations, stimulating them to bring out their best insights, so that they are making steps forward as dedicated, productive and active workers for compassion, in our service for the world. That is one of my most important duties.
I consider myself fortunate to be in the good company of Lao-tse. What he says about leadership comes straight from my heart:
“To lead people, walk beside them. … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.”
Tao The King 66
So, if all goes well, I prefer to be a background figure and you won’t see me in the limelight.
The objectives of our society
The Point Loma Society has the following objectives:
- To diffuse among men a knowledge of the laws inherent in the Universe.
- To promulgate the knowledge of the essential unity of all that is, and to demonstrate that this unity is fundamental in Nature.
- To form an active brotherhood among men.
- To study ancient and modern religion, science, and philosophy.
- To investigate the powers innate in man.
They differ somewhat from the original objectives, first drawn up in 1875. Already during Blavatsky’s life time, alterations were implemented. We have elaborated them somewhat, by expanding the three points to five. However, when you compare them, you will see that there are no basic differences.
The mission of the TS Point Loma
About our mission: I think Dr. de Purucker expressed that excellently:
“The main purpose was to give to mankind a religio-philosophical and scientific explanation of life issues, of life-questions, based on the natural fact of Universal Brotherhood, which would bring about a moral and spiritual revolution in the world.”
I wish to stress the following:
The explanation of life issues, life questions, is still greatly needed. The central key to that explanation is “the natural fact of Universal Brotherhood.” All that exists is interrelated. If you want to understand the great laws of the Universe, you would need to understand how these laws function, i.e. how the Cosmic Beings interact and, so to say, lay down a Dharma or Law for the lower levels of the Cosmos. We actually do exactly the same in relation to our body; through our mental faculties, we lay down the laws for the beings that form a part of our body.
As you probably know, the works of Dr. de Purucker are a great source for us, because they improve our understanding of The Secret Doctrine and the deeper meaning of the Theosophia. That’s why we are often called ‘Purucker-fans’, which is true indeed.
Our organization: a means, not a goal in itself
I come to my conclusion. The Theosophical Society Point Loma, our body, our outer organization, is just a means and not a goal. It ought to be adjusted continuously. When we realize that today’s world is changing quite fast, and if we want to stay in contact with all that is around us, we can only do so by adapting ourselves in the way we present the teachings.
If you go back to the period of our former leader Mr. Kok, we used to give our lectures wearing a tie. In 2015 though, when you deliver a talk in Rotterdam for example, wearing a blue suit and a tie, you might have no connection with the audience. The listeners would think: “Who is that person? Where does he come from?” “Why does he look like this?” The speaker would be labelled in no time. Nowadays, you go to a talk in your jeans and sweater or whatever casual clothes you choose.
The “body”, the “instrument” needs adjustments all the time in order to fulfill our mission. We are to bring Theosophy in a way that corresponds with our times, in a manner so that it will be easily adopted by those who knock. That involves a great challenge, because we must adapt our means without doing any concessions to the original principles.
That is a real task, which lies before us, that is what we always have to keep in mind.
I will finish by saying: you will know the tree by its fruits; it is up to you to judge and see for yourself.
Theosophical Society Point Loma, line of succession
H.P. Blavatsky 1874-1891 New York, etc.
W.Q. Judge 1891-1896 New York
Kath. Tingley 1896-1929 Point Loma
G. de Purucker 1929-1942 Point Loma, Covina
A.L. Conger 1945-1951 Covina
W. Hartley 1951-1955 Covina
D.J.P. Kok 1958-1985 Blavatskyhouse
H.C. Vermeulen 1985-…… Blavatskyhouse