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Decline and expansion

Apr 08, 1998 11:44 AM
by K Paul Johnson

Govert points out the seeming contradiction between saying that
the TS expanded by 50% in the 1920s and then shrunk by the same
percentage in the 1930s, and saying that the TS decline began in
1907 with Besant's election. I would say this is a paradox
rather than a contradiction, in that membership numbers rising in
the Besant presidency do not reflect an increase in the value of
the Society's work to humanity as a whole.

Here are some criteria that matter to me in defining when decline
began. How much influence on wider culture outside Theosophical
ranks did HPB's writings have? Did Olcott's work have? How does
that compare with the cultural impact of Besant and Leadbeater's
writings? (I grant Besant her full due as a leader in Indian
education and the Freedom Movement, but these were separate from
her Theosophical work.) By this criterion, Theosophy was a vital
movement with an impact on cultures around the world in the
19th century, but from early in the 20th it declined into a
self-involved cult not taken seriously by anyone much outside its

As to whether Besant and Leadbeater were onto something real with
Krishnamurti or simply delusional crackpots-- it's not an
either/or choice. I think they were both, although how
significant the "something real" in Krishnamurti was is hard to
say. I can tell you, though, from my travels in India that he
is/was very widely recognized there and highly regarded as well.

As for the emptiness/fullness discussion, I see both sides of
that. On one hand, the "teacher" who rings my chimes the most,
Edgar Cayce, is appealing because he's so empty. That is, the
readings are overwhelmingly responsive to the needs and concerns
of the diverse group of people who sought Cayce's counsel, rather
than being expressive of some agenda based on Cayce's own
interests, axes to grind, etc. This is a grassroots kind of
esotericism as opposed to the Theosophical trickle-down model of
elite Masters handing out crumbs to unworthy supplicants. But
there is also a kind of fullness in Cayce that is not found in
Krishnamurti, in that he gave specific information on a huge
number of topics, rather than philosophical abstractions or
evasive Socratic word- and mind-games which is mostly what I find
in K.


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