THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 12, October, 1962
(Pages 548-552; Size: 16K)


[Article number (25) in this Department]

DISCUSSION of the pamphlet The United Lodge of Theosophists: Its Mission and Its Future -- such as was attempted by one study class recently -- should inevitably lead to an analysis of the conception of "authority" in relation to Theosophical teachers. For instance, on page 21, it is stated that "the Parent Lodge at Los Angeles specifically and absolutely disclaims any authority over or responsibility for any other Lodge or any Associate." Previously, however, under the reading "Support and Direction of the United Lodge," it is remarked that "it was recognized that the assumption of responsibility without power or knowledge could only result in dissipation of energies and consequent loss."

Those who "assume responsibility" might certainly be thought to acquire a measure of "authority" in the direction of Theosophical activities. Yet an earlier section of the pamphlet speaks of authority in still a different way by stating that, in ULT study, "the only 'authority' is the recorded Teaching as found in the books and articles of the Teachers."

No doubt a number of meanings are implied by the word "authority." One of the definitions supplied by Webster's Unabridged is: "power derived from opinion, respect [or] esteem, influence of character." The word is clearly a derivative of "author" which comes from the Latin auctor, meaning "to increase or produce." Therefore anyone who originates a line of endeavor is an authority in the sense that he bears the responsibility of authorship or creation, so that what he has to say about the creation is of basic relevance. Shipley's Dictionary of Word Origins points out that "a man who increases something," as an author, may be referred to as an authority regarding such increase. So certainly it can be said that Robert Crosbie and the original Associates of ULT were authors of a new embodiment of Theosophical effort and that particular reference to Mr. Crosbie in regard to the ULT intent follows the natural authority of inauguration -- also a related word.

In Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm discusses attitudes toward authority. He writes that "there is a fundamental difference between a kind of superiority-inferiority relation which can be called rational authority and one which may be described as inhibiting authority." Dr. Fromm continues:

An example will show what I have in mind. The relationship between teacher and student and that between slave owner and slave are both based on the superiority of the one over the other. The interests of teacher and pupil lie in the same direction. The teacher is satisfied if he succeeds in furthering the pupil; if he has failed to do so, the failure is his and the pupil's. The slave owner, on the other hand, wants to exploit the slave as much as possible; the more he gets out of him, the more he is satisfied.

The dynamics of authority in these two types are different too: the more the student learns, the less wide is the gap between him and the teacher. He becomes more and more like the teacher himself. In other words, the authority relationship tends to dissolve itself. But when the superiority serves as a basis for exploitation, the distance becomes intensified through its long duration.

In this context, it is not difficult to trace both types of authority-embodiment throughout the course of Theosophical history since 1875. Those who have sought leaders, or who have flocked to men and women already self-established as authorities, are those who, in Fromm's terms, wanted an "escape from freedom." The leader complex originates in "the tendency to give up the independence of one's own individual self and to fuse one's self with somebody or something outside of oneself in order to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking," hence "the attempt to become a part of a bigger and more powerful whole outside of oneself, to submerge and participate in it." Dr. Fromm then touches on that aspect of the typically religious temperament which makes a closed-minded definition of authority, and ends with an almost totally closed mind on the part of the devotees. Fromm proceeds:
This power can be a person, an institution, God, the nation, conscience, or a psychic compulsion. By becoming part of a power which is felt as unshakably strong, eternal, and glamorous, one participates in its strength and glory. One surrenders one's own self and renounces all strength and pride connected with it, one loses one's integrity as an individual and surrenders freedom; but one gains a new security and a new pride in the participation in the power in which one submerges. One gains also security against the torture of doubt. He is also saved from the doubt of what the meaning of his life is or who "he" is. These questions are answered by the relationship to the power to which he has attached himself.

The authoritarian character does not lack activity, courage, or belief. But these qualities for him mean something entirely different from what they mean for the person who does not long for submission. For the authoritarian character activity is rooted in a basic feeling of powerlessness which it tends to overcome. Activity in this sense means to act in the name of something higher than one's own self. It is possible in the name of God, the past, nature, or duty, but never in the name of the future, of the unborn, of what has no power, or of life as such. The authoritarian character wins his strength to act through his leaning on superior power.

A true "authority," recognized by most students of ULT, is that of authorship. But the particular authors known to us as H.P.B., W.Q.J., and R.C. are completely nonsectarian. From the basic statement of the Third Fundamental Proposition of The Secret Doctrine through Judge's Letters That Have Helped Me and Notes on the Bhagavad-Gita, to Mr. Crosbie's published correspondence in The Friendly Philosopher, the influence is toward arousal of the individual will through "self-induced and self-devised efforts." And it is in this context, certainly, that one must regard the largely spontaneous origins of new centers of ULT study. When a Lodge comes into being, it does not come by way of some sort of "organizational expansion" from a center known as the Parent Lodge, but from the determination on the part of an individual or individuals to add to the "authorship" of Theosophical teachers their own "increase" through promulgation. While authoritarian tendencies may exist or persist in the human beings who work according to the method of ULT, they are bound to be diminished by that very method, since so little is offered in the way of "power" or even personal recognition. If the going is difficult between new students who come together to form a Lodge and if the inaugurating person or persons conceivably provide too much "direction," it must be remembered that the modulus of ULT has enabled such situations to work themselves into a true associative harmony with a continual "increase," also, in the sharing of responsibility.

Recently, a contributor to THEOSOPHY unearthed a hitherto unpublished paragraph by William Q. Judge on the subject of authority and successorship printed in the New York Daily Tribune for May 9, 1891, on the occasion of Madame Blavatsky's death, in the form of an interview. Judge said:

We have known that Madame Blavatsky has been an invalid for a long time, and it was only her indomitable pluck and endurance that have kept her alive so long. Up to her death she was working heart and soul for the cause for which she so ably preached. It is of course a shock to us, and I, who have known her intimately for years, have lost a dear friend. She can have no successor. Of course somebody will be elected president of the European Theosophical Societies, but that is only a mundane matter. In the spiritual sense nobody can succeed her. ... The death of Madame Blavatsky will have no effect upon the movement here. We shall work as diligently as ever and try to carry out her teaching and wishes.
Genuine authority, like genuine authorship, carries its own credentials and is represented by the power of ideation, rather than by the power of manipulation. On this view, there are certain "authorities" which lead, educatively, away from all conceptions of external power or provincial partisanship. In a classical work titled Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, first written by Prof. F. W. H. Myers in 1903 and recently republished, the Theosophical student may note the way in which a genuine philosophy of immortality leads away from the authority of manipulation toward the authority of ideation. Prof. Myers discusses the fear of death which inevitably follows when a man seeks his security in "tribal strength and cohesion." Myers writes:
Such fears, I say, vanish when we learn that it is the soul in man which links him with other souls; the body which dissevers even while it seems to unite; so that "no man liveth to himself nor dieth to himself," but in a sense which goes deeper than metaphor, "We are every one members one of another." Like atoms, like suns, like galaxies, our spirits are systems of forces which vibrate continually to each other's attractive power.

All this as yet is dimly adumbrated; it is a first hint of a scheme of thought which it may well take centuries to develop. But can we suppose that, when once this conception of the bond between all souls has taken root, men will turn back from it to the old exclusiveness, the old controversy? Will they not see that this world-widening knowledge is both old and new, that always have such revelations been given, but develop now into a mightier meaning, -- with the growth of wisdom in those who send them, and in us who receive?

Surely we have here a conception, at once wider and exacter than ever before, of that "religious education of the world" on which theologians have been fain to dwell. We need assume no "supernatural interference," no "plan of redemption." We need suppose only that the same process which we observe to-day has been operating for ages.

Clarification on the matter of "authority" seems to be one of the central labors of the Theosophical Movement in any age. Yet it is never for the Theosophical student to press his own idea of devotion upon others. At the conclusion of the H.P.B. compilation, What is Theosophy? Its Nonsectarian Spirit, Madame Blavatsky speaks with obvious application to the subject of "authority":
Concerning the deeper spiritual, and one may almost say religious beliefs, no true Theosophist ought to degrade these by subjecting them to public discussion, but ought rather to treasure and hide them deep within the sanctuary of his innermost soul. ... A ray from the absolute truth can reflect itself only in the pure mirror of its own flame -- our highest Spiritual Consciousness. [Note: The pamphlet entitled "What is Theosophy? Its Nonsectarian Spirit" is the 8th item that's listed for sale on this page of THE THEOSOPHY COMPANY web site.--Compiler.]
The crucial question in respect to "authority" is whether one wishes to possess an authority who will take over the responsibility for one's own acts -- or one's beliefs. It is this sort of authority which Theosophical teachers have consistently refused to accept. The Theosophical student, in parallel fashion, endeavors to become sufficiently self-reliant so as not to request such "ceremonial and adventitious" aid. In any case, arguments about the relative virtues of proposed or pretended authorities, within the Theosophical Movement, are clearly inappropriate, as H.P.B.'s words imply.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. 

--Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

[Reminder: The "QUESTION--AND COMMENT" department has now ended.]
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