The Theosophical Society in America

Inaugural Address November December 2001

Originally printed in the November - December  2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Burnier, Radha. "Inaugural Address November December 2001." Quest  89.6 (NOVEMBER - DECEMBER  2001): 202-204

Radha Burnier

On the Commencement of her Fourth Term of Office as President of theTheosophical Society, Adyar, July 15, 2001

Radha_BurnierIt is with a sense of humility and consciousness of the great responsibility cast on me as President of the Theosophical Society that I am accepting a fourth term of office. Starting with Col. Olcott, and followed by Annie Besant, we have had as Presidents and leaders men and women of exceptional endowments, who set the tone for the Society's work. Their example and discourse showed how the light of Theosophy illumines every field of human activity. Their thoughts and labors have inspired generations of people all over the world to devote themselves to world welfare rather than personal interest; all of them in their turn have activated others to live thoughtfully and unselfishly, and learn to tread the path to perfection, which is universal, without orthodoxies, dogmas, and meaningless rituals. It takes courage to break through old customs and out moded practices, and all outstanding Theosophists were courageous people, plowing new ground in the fields of religion, education, social relationships, and even politics. To all my distinguished predecessors I pay homage and sincerely hope that I shall prove worthy of them and of the trust reposed in me by the members who have now elected me.

Sometimes, standing on the beautiful beach at Adyar, we can see a great rush of water toward the shore, which is quickly and invisibly hauled back to the ocean by a strong undercurrent. At times there is a dramatic clash between the powerful forward swell and the unseen current carrying back the mass of water. The collision throws the waves high up,and then they fall with a crash. This seems symbolic of how the human mind repeatedly rushes toward the dry sands and rocks of sensory and material existence, not realizing that there is no escape from the mighty invisible energy that will pull it back into the vast ocean of reality. The collision between these cross currents periodically results in catastrophes that shake up the human mind and human society—but, alas only temporarily!

Such are the times when the challenges are most intense and the opportunities great. All of life is offering us opportunities all the time, but in small ways. And it takes a long while, even many incarnations, to be aware that even the small encounters with people,objects, or situations, both pleasant and seemingly unpleasant, are part of the benevolent scheme of Nature to awaken consciousness and to open our hearts to the truths of life.

We are witnessing today a blind rush for power, wealth, and enjoyment—irrespective of moral and ethical considerations. The violence, cruelty, corruption and selfishness are unprecedented because our age of technology makes a system of everything and manufactures increasingly efficient tools to be put to good or evil use.Nevertheless, by bringing into sharp focus the dire results of the struggle modern humanity carries on against Nature's laws and design, our era provides an exceptional opportunity for a deeper understanding of the human problem—the problem of egoism battling against the universe.

Krishnamurti often spoke of mediocrity as if it were a sin, or even a crime. Mediocrity, we may say, is insensitivity of mind, its failure to respond to the simple opportunities of daily life, which pave the way to spiritual awakening. Shut in a shell of self-concern, such a mind is callous and blunt to disasters and danger signals. The lesson of twentieth-century history is that the majority of people do terrible things—killing and even torturing, spying and betraying family and friends—because everybody else does it. The abominable cruelty systematically practiced on humans and animals is tolerated without a murmur by the majority of people because it is the norm of the age. Few rise up to affirm that what is wrong does not become right because a million people do it. Present-day culture, if at all it is culture, is stunting those faculties which put the human heart in touch with the source of life and health. As Light on the Path declares: "He that chooses evil, refuses to look within himself, shuts his ears to the melody of his heart." That melody is in every human heart, deeply hidden, perhaps silent, but it is there.

In the early days of the TS, members were advised by an Adept:

The Society, as a body, has a task before it which, unless performed with the utmost discretion, will cause the world of the indifferent and the selfish to rise up in arms against it. Theosophy has to fight intolerance, prejudice, ignorance, and selfishness, hidden under the mantle of hypocrisy. It has to throw all the light it can from the torch of Truth, with which its servants are entrusted. It must do this without fear or hesitation, dreading neither reproof nor condemnation.Theosophy, through its mouthpiece, the Society, has to tell the Truth in the very face of lie; to beard the tiger in its den, without thought or fear of evil consequences, and to set at defiance calumny and threats.

Many members of the Society have in fact stood up for causes which were scoffed at in their time—they braved calumny and sarcasm. But the work of the TS is not merely to try to rectify the ills and wrongs inhuman society, but also to encourage its members to go to the root of human problems, to find and understand their origin within themselves and learn to rise above the illusion-breeding, conditioned mind. Without such action it is not possible for humanity to become heir to the vast creative gifts and potential for wisdom inherent in consciousness.

One of the Objects of the Society is to investigate the hidden laws of Nature and the powers latent in man. What are these powers? Often the answer points to trivialities. But we have arrived at a stage in human history where it is not enough to undertake psychical research and arrive at some superficial findings about telepathy and other abilities that may be classified as the lower siddhis. We need to recognize the deeper meaning in the words of this Object, and study earnestly our hearts and those of our fellows, in order to avoid constantly deceiving ourselves into believing that unrealities are real. Slowly, as we plunge into the quiet depths in our own consciousness, there may be the beginning of reflection on the profound secrets of Nature, hidden in the material as well as subtle inner dimensions of both human beings andthe universe.

If the universe is a mystery, it is a still greater mystery that evolution has arrived at the human mind with its irrepressible aspiration to know the truth and also to love the truth. With loss of faith in organized religion, with all its superstitions and emphasis onauthority, people in general have come to trust only the truths of science, gathered by observation of the objective universe. The position has changed now with recognition that the observer has a direct impacton what is observed.

Life is not a cry, it is a song, say the wise ones. Behind the suffering and chaos, there is a plan and purpose, says Theosophy. Can weknow it as a fact? Only by finding the truth about ourselves, and breaking down the internal barriers to perception. The words "universal brotherhood" are generally taken to mean that we must behave in an unbiased, friendly, and kindly manner. But it is much more than that; atrue brotherhood is a living body or nucleus which is regenerative. The Universal Brotherhood of the Theosophical Society must not be a passive condition, but a dynamic, harmonizing power that embraces all in close kinship. That kinship is at a deep level; it is "the spiritual and psychic blending of man with Nature" which reveals the truth that lies hidden under the objects of sense and thereby promotes a spirit of unity and harmony. Regenerative universal brotherhood is the foundation for the emergence of a nonsectarian, nonauthoritarian religious feeling among the peoples of the world, counteracting the futile materialistic trend.

The statement was made in the Mahatma letters: "Modern science is our best ally. Yet it is generally that same science which is made the weapon to break our heads with." Since then, science has made great strides. A new picture is emerging as a modern generation of investigators and thinkers in the scientific field are putting forward views that tend to shatter the rigid materialism of the last two centuries. This change in scientific thinking helps to usher in a fresh sense of responsibility in humankind for the welfare of the earth and all its other inhabitants. Well-known writers like Professor Lewis Thomas are suggesting that the evolutionary process has been sustained,from the time of the earliest microbes, by a system of cooperation, communication, and interconnection in Nature and not by a bitterstruggle for survival, as people have believed for more than a century. Others say that it cannot be taken for granted that violence is dominant in Nature; altruism and mutual support are very much a part of Nature's order. Professor Charles Birch emphasizes the place of feelings of compassion and sympathy and the existence of purpose in Nature. The concept that there is an inscrutable, universal intelligence and power, which may be called God, is no longer totally unacceptable to scientists. A whole stream of fresh thinking flowing from the scientific community promises to alter the education that future generations will receive. Science may indeed become the ally of the Wisdom-Religion; true religious awareness may possibly return to the world through the back door of science! As Arthur Hugh Clough wrote:

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
      Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
      Comes silent, flooding in the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
     When daylight comes, comes in the light.
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
     But westward, look, the land is bright!

Theosophy is in essence both science and religion. It is a call to use our reason to understand life in its varied aspects, knowing fullwell the limitations of reason. For something more than reason is needed to grasp the essence of a flower, a song, a person, let alone the truth of the vast, living universe of which we are a small part. As Annie Besant said: "Truth must come to each individual as the result of study, reflection, purity of life, and devotion to high ideals." The art of living must be practiced and the science of life learned by all of us in order to fulfill successfully the aims and objects of the Theosophical Society.