The Theosophical Society in America

History of This Event

History of This Event

The Relationship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and The Theosophical Society

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet is an internationally respected leader, author and speaker. He is a Nobel laureate and was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 2007, our country’s highest civilian award “in recognition of his many outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding.” The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles related to the search for Truth and the unity of the human family. The Theosophical Society has a long and warm relationship with His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, including the following.


The young Dalai Lama traveled to India in 1956 to celebrate the birth of Buddha. During his tour he visited the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Chennai (formerly Madras). On December 18th, he presented three Tibetan manuscripts to the Adyar Library and Research Centre. The Panchen Lama accompanied him. Later His Holiness wrote that the Theosophists’ openness to many faith traditions had changed his views toward religious pluralism

Mr. E. N. Lord, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama under the banyan tree on the visit to Adyar, December 18, 1956

Looking back to this trip in 1956, I realize that my visit to the Theosophical Society in Chennai (then Madras) left a powerful impression. There I was first directly exposed to people, and to a movement, that attempted to bring together the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions as well as science. I felt among the members a sense of tremendous openness to the world’s great religions and a genuine embracing of pluralism.

When I returned to Tibet in 1957, after more than three months in what was a most amazing country for a young Tibetan monk, I was a changed man. I could no longer live in the comfort of an exclusivist standpoint that takes Buddhism to be the only true religion.

When tragic political circumstances in 1959 forced me into exile in India to live as a refugee, I was paradoxically afforded the freedom to deepen my personal journey of understanding and engagement with the world’s faith traditions.

- Dalai Lama on the Theosophical Society in Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, 2010



The Panchen Lama and
the Dalai Lama in the Adyar Library

 During their stay in Madras, Their Holinesses the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama of Tibet, who are in India as guests of the Government for the celebration of Buddha Jayanti, came to visit Headquarters.

They were accompanied by a party of about sixty fellow countrymen. Arriving from Kal?kshetra, the distinguished guests were first taken to the Banyan Tree and from there to the Headquarters Hall, where officers of the Society received and garlanded them and members and residents witnessed and enthusiastically supported the welcoming.

The Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama were shown through the Adyar Library, with its unique collection of old manuscripts, and then visited the Buddhist Shrine and the sapling of the famous Bo Tree at Gaya, planted opposite the Shrine in 1950, and now a tall tree.

This is the first visit by the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to India, and it was a great privilege and honor for members at Adyar to participate in this function at Headquarters.

-A Report on the historical first visit by Emma Hunt in The Theosophist, January, 1957


1956_textThe latest additions to the Tibetan collection are three xylographs presented to the Adyar Library by the Dalai Lama on the occasion of his visit, with the Panchen Lama, to the Theosophical Society’s Headquarters on December 18th, 1956. These xylographs are in Tibetan, on fine hand-made Tibetan paper, approximately 21 inches wide and 3 ½ inches long, each containing between 1,000 and 1,500 pages.

The subject is biography – the biography of Pandit Atisha Dipankara’s life in Tibet, the biography of the Indian Pandit Thelo and his disciple Narope of Nalanda, and the Tibetan disciples Mila and Marpa. 

- Radha Burnier in The Theosophist, February 1957


Another visit to Adyar followed in December, 1959. That was the year that His Holiness escaped from Chinese authorities in Tibet, and took up residence in Dharamsala in the north of India. At Adyar he was greeted by about 300 guests, and honored with a high tea of western and Indian foods. Mr. Nilakanta Sri Ram, the international President of the Society, was his host. The following is a report written about the occasion at the time:

1959_teaOf recent functions held under the Banyan Tree, one that will be long remembered is the tea party given by the President of The Theosophical Society, Mr. N. Sri Ram, for His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, on December 20, 1959. Members of The Theosophical Society who had arrived early for the Convention as well as residents of the compound were invited so that there were more than two hundred guests present. At five o’clock the President welcomed the Dalai Lama by garlanding him at the trilithon which serves as a formal entrance to the Banyan Tree. His Holiness the Dalai Lama with his interpreter and immediate party, the President and other distinguished guests then moved slowly to the tea-table area, His Holiness stopping every few steps for an introduction, all of which was most helpful to the amateur photographers. After the tea itself, which on this occasion was a high one of both western and Indian food, the President formally welcomed and presented the Dalai Lama to the assembled guests. In company with the President, His Holiness then moved graciously from table to table greeting each guest individually. It was all a very happy and festive occasion, underlined by a spiritual quality which was no doubt deepened by the fact that this visit of the Dalai Lama was made in his private capacity and was therefore more direct and intimate than it might otherwise have been. 

- Caroline Tess in The Theosophist, June 1960; photo: Tea, 1959


1960: Click here to read: Tibet and the Dalai Lama, a public lecture by Rukmini Devi given at the 1960 Convention at Wheaton (PDF format).

The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye, one of the Dalai Lama’s earliest books, is an overview of the essence of Buddhist teachings. The first English translation was produced in 1966 by the Theosophical Publishing House under the imprint of Quest Books. A new paperback edition was printed in 1981 with the assistance of the Kern Foundation.


1966 & 1981 Editions of
The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye

joy_helenIn 1972, two representatives of the Theosophical Society in America (TSA) visited His Holiness in Dharamsala, India. President Joy Mills and Helen Zahara, of the Theosophical Publishing House (pictured together in photo on left), had an audience on December 15, and invited the Dalai Lama to visit TSA headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois. Click here to read A Visit with the Dalai Lama by Joy Mills, The American Theosophist, 1972 (PDF format). Photo on left: Joy Mills with Helen Zah

The following year, 1973, His Holiness toured Europe for six weeks and met with adherents of many religions, including Theosophists. In the Netherlands, he stayed at St. Michael’s Theosophical Center in Huizen, and participated in a panel discussion in Besant Hall. Click here to read an acount of the tour: The Dalai Lama of Tibet Visits the West by Joyce Murdoch in The Theosophist, January 1974 (PDF format).

1975_hhdlIn 1975, Theosophists from all over the world gathered at a convention in Adyar to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Theosophical Society. The Dalai Lama spoke in a public lecture on December 21 on the subject of “Compassion and Mental Development.” Click here for a copy of this lecture (PDF format). Photo on right: His Holiness in 1975.

During his American tour in 1981, the Dalai Lama stayed for two days at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America, located in Wheaton, Illinois. On July 21 he gave a talk to members on “Buddha Nature,” and that evening gave a public lecture at a nearby high school, called “Universal Compassion and Global Crisis.” Click here for details and photos of this important visit.

The Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi were the focus of an Indian national conference on global peace through universal responsibility in New Delhi on November 6-7, 2005. Dr. Radha Burnier, President of the international Theosophical Society, was among the distinguished speakers. Click here to read Online Press Release: Peace Conference in New Delhi will Address Issues of Global Peace and Universal Responsibility: New Delhi, 3rd November 2005

In May 2010, TSA President Betty Bland and Vice President Tim Boyd travelled to Cedar Falls, Iowa for an audience with the Dalai Lama. Their scheduled ten minutes with His Holiness stretched into thirty minutes, culminating with an agreement to plan an event in Chicago under TSA sponsorship. The following is an account of the visit by Betty Band:

2010_crowdWe packed our bags again for a trip to Iowa for a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Although Tim and I had been expecting this auspicious event, we were not given an indication of exactly when or where until just a week before, while we were still at Krotona. Tim and I, accompanied by our spouses, Lily and David, were also fortunate to travel with Rinchen Dharlo of the New York Tibet Fund office. Rinchen flew in and out of Chicago and joined the four of us in the van for the five-hour road trip to Cedar Falls, the home of University of Northern Iowa (UNI), venue of His Holiness’ visit. We were treated to excellent seats at the several events there and were able to meet the Tibetan students who were at UNI under special scholarship arrangement.

2010_mtgWe had been told that we would have only ten minutes with His Holiness but, through his gracious interest, our visit extended to thirty minutes. One of the first things he said was how well disposed he was to the Theosophical Society and how it had influenced his thinking as early as 1956, when he was invited to a Buddhist conference in India. As a serious young practicing monk, his contacts with Theosophists during that meeting opened his eyes to “the fact that Buddhism was not the only true religion.” Theosophy broadened his horizons at a critical time as he started along his path toward becoming a world leader in the area of interreligious communications and understanding. When approached concerning TSA’s possible sponsorship of an event in Chicago, he paused for only a moment before replying, “Yes, I will give you two days next year.” Needless to say, we were ecstatic! Tim and I are now anxiously awaiting information about the dates and will keep you informed, although I must warn you the “next year” seems to have meant the next year in planning, and that the event will most likely occur in 2012.

-Betty Bland in Quest, Fall 2010; photos: Audience at UNI Stadium (top) and (bottom) Betty Bland, Tim Boyd, Lily Boyd, and David Bland with His Holiness