Aug 25, 1994 11:56 AM
by K. Paul Johnson
Recent comments about the current state of the Theosophical
movement and its prospects for surviving as an influence in the
future bring to mind a striking fact that recently came to light
in my research.
This involves comparing Theosophy to Baha'i. There are many
points of similarity. Both emerged in the mid and late 19th
century, stress brotherhood among all religions, aim for a future
world in which prejudices of race, caste, sex and creed are
overcome, have their largest number of members in India but their
richest and most influential membership in the US. Both even are
headquartered in America in Chicago suburbs with names starting
The doctrinal contrasts are equally striking, but are beside the
point of this post, although they are addressed in the
forthcoming book. It also finds some common historic roots for
both movements. But the main contrast is in terms of success.
In 1906 there were twice as many Theosophists in America as
Baha'is-- ca. 4500 vs. 2200. Now, there are 100,000 Baha'is in
America while we languish at the same level we were at 90 years
ago. Worldwide there are 5 million or so Baha'is to our 25 or 30
thousand. So at some level Baha'i has been vastly more
successful than Theosophy. Its members are in more countries,
its books in more languages, etc. etc.
But here's the contrast. Looking at OCLC (Online Computer
Library Center) for all books in any language on the subject of
Theosophy, we find 3100+. On Baha'i, 900+. This includes
multiple editions of the same book, or translations thereof, so
in each case the number is inflated. There are about 225 books
on the subject of HPB listed, 55 or so on Baha'u'llah. Now who's
more successful? By my reckoning, on a per capita basis
Theosophists have been 356 times as influential as Baha'is.
Look at the last 100 pages of Cranston's HPB, and you find an
astounding record of Theosophy's cultural influence. Baha'is can
point to nothing like that.
What's the point of all this? Darned if I know, but it means
something. I'd suggest that some worry may be healthy and
productive, but let's not get too gloomy about the future of the
Theosophical impulse. Remember that it continues to reverberate
in many many ways that are long since detached from any conscious
relationship to Theosophy.
This is an occult movement in more than one sense. Not only does
it focus on heretofore secret teachings, about subjects which are
inaccessible to "ordinary" consciousness, derived from unknown
sources. It also ACTS in an occult manner, as a hidden impulse
which affects many people who are unaware of any such influence.
My main message here is one of hope. The evolutionary impetus
that was embodied by HPB has not died, because it cannot. It may
transform itself into so many diverse manifestations that we
cannot recognize it; that would be our loss. Eldon and Jerry H-E
are right about the need to preserve and promote understanding of
HPB's teachings. At the same time, I would suggest that lack of
spectacular progress on that front should not discourage us.
I'll close with a quote I chose for the epigraph of The Masters
Revealed: "There is more to this movement than you have yet had
an inkling of, and the work of the T.S. is linked with similar
work that is secretly going on in all parts of the world...know
you anything of the WHOLE brotherhood and its ramifications?"
(Master Morya, Mahatma Letters, pp. 271-2.)
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