Since its inception, the Theosophical Society has been actively engaged in spreading the esoteric philosophy. This knowledge was conveyed to the public primarily by means of informative lectures and written material, a method that worked fairly well in the past. Today, however, we are no longer reaching the public in an effective manner. The causes for this deficiency are complex but include the fact that, during the last forty years or so, our culture has changed in two important ways.
First, during the early decades of the Society, esoteric philosophy was little known in the West, so our organization was the most important source of knowledge about it. People who were looking for a spiritual approach other than the religious one were attracted to these “new” Theosophical ideas. In time, chiefly as a result of the Society’s work, the main topics of esoteric philosophy became more and more accepted, and an ever-growing number of organizations were created to promote these ideas. Unfortunately, this later popularization was done at a rather superficial level and did not create a deep understanding of the tenets. Nevertheless, today esoteric philosophy is no longer perceived as a novelty, and the Theosophical Society is seen as one organization among many dedicated to the spreading of these teachings.
Second, another change has also taken place in our culture, affecting the way Theosophy is received. When the Theosophical Society was founded, science was at a peak of influence, creating a general thirst for its knowledge. Access to it was not as easy then as today, so any public avenue to that knowledge attracted interest. Today, since the dawning of the information age, people have become relatively saturated with knowledge. They no longer look for new theories, but for the means to cope with the pressures and stresses that modern life imposes upon them. In consequence, informative lectures no longer quench people’s thirst or even attract their attention.
How should we address these changes? Some members think that Theosophy is too complex and that we should adopt a more New-Age approach in order to attract a larger audience. But that will not work because it would cause the Theosophical Society to lose its distinctive nature and be placed on the same level as hundreds of other organizations in an already overpopulated market. But most importantly, people attracted by the New Age are generally neither willing nor able to take the serious approach to spirituality that Theosophy really represents. After some time, they become disenchanted and eventually leave the Society. We need to take full advantage of the depths of Theosophy by refocusing the way we relate to the teachings and how we present them to the public. If we want Theosophy to become a living force in our world, we have to present it, not merely as a philosophy, esoteric or otherwise, but as a spiritual path. We should present Theosophical teachings, not as abstract philosophical concepts, but instead as tools to help people face today’s challenges and enable them to lead their daily lives spiritually.
To achieve such a presentation, whatever we convey through our lectures and writings should aim at throwing light on the path of spiritual development. If we are talking about karma, for instance, we should not focus on the details of how the law works. After having given the basic technical information on the subject, we need to show how knowledge of karma can help us live differently.
For example, we could talk about the equanimity we get when we deeply feel a sense of justice, of purpose, in everything that happens to us. Such equanimity is essential to spirituality, as a way to go through life with inner peace. We could also talk about the need to develop a perception of the spiritual order behind life, and then point out basic practices to develop that perception. Such presentations should be our first approach to the public. In a couple of articles published in the Theosophist I have tried to examine some teachings from the Secret Doctrine in this way; see my website (pablosender.com). More technical information about the workings of karma may be important for a deeper understanding of it, but that can come later, after the person has had an insight into the more spiritually relevant aspect of the subject.
To share Theosophy in this way we, as Theosophical Society members, need to study Theosophical teachings in a serious way, trying to grasp the fundamentals, but also making an earnest effort to live according to what we study. In doing so, we will discover how Theosophical teachings can help us in our daily lives. Without this effort, our approach will be superficial and our answers to people’s questions and problems will not carry the living force of our own realization.