The Campbell Library Newsletter

The Campbell Theosophical Research Library

An Educational Resource of The Theosophical Society in Australia

No 15 — November 2006

Focus on Annie Besant

Long before Annie Besant joined The Theosophical Society, in May 1889, she had established herself as a leading figure in Londons social activism scene, as a champion for the rights of the poor and dispossessed as well as a strong defender of freedom of thought and expression. She made history on taking up the case of the matchmaker girls by exposing before society and the judicial system the appalling working conditions those young women endured. Although her bold initiatives regarding family planning, together with Charles Bradlaugh, cost her the vicissitudes of a court case and the hypocritical spotlight of the Victorian mindset, she emerged with a unique leadership which was profoundly grounded in an altruistic perception of life

Drawing of Annie BesantBesant was asked by W. T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, to write a review of Madame Blavatskys The Secret Doctrine. The review was published on 25 April 1889. In it she wrote: “Mme Blavatskys views may not meet with acceptance, but they are supported by sufficient learning, acuteness and ability, to enforce a respectful hearing. It is indeed the East which, through her, challenges the West and the Orient need not be ashamed of its champion. We have here but given a few fragments of her lore, and injustice is necessarily done by such treatment to the whole. The book deserves to be read: it deserves to be thought over; and none who believes in the progress of humanity has the right to turn away over-hastily from any contribution to knowledge, however new in its form, from any theory, however strange in its aspect. The wild dreams of one generation become the commonplace of a later one, and all who keep an open door to Truth will give scrutiny to any visitant, be the garb of Asia or of Europe, the tongue of Paris or of Ind.”

She again courted controversy when she introduced to the world the young J. Krishnamurti as “the vehicle of the World Teacher”. Many saw in this a Messianic agenda, designed for self-promotion and with a cult-like mentality. But the fact remains that in 1909 very few people could see in a poor, malnourished, lice-ridden, vacant-looking South Indian boy a great spiritual teacher. And yet, Krishnamurti grew up to become a very relevant voice in the ideological cacophony that dominated the twentieth century, a passionate presence who reminded us that all knowledge without self-knowledge only breeds division, conflict and wars, precisely the scenario that dominates the world almost one hundred years after his discovery on the beach at Adyar.

In 1913, two years after the formation of the Order of the Star in the East, Besant clarified her own position regarding opinion and belief in The Theosophical Society. Her view helped to inform the future work of the TS as an organisation in which different approaches to Theosophy are welcome:

Some of our members echo the statements of one seer or another, and seem to consider that such a statement ought to preclude further discussion. But no one in the TS has any authority to lay down what people shall think, or not think, on any subject. We are not in the position of an orthodox Church, which has certain definite articles of faith, which imposes certain definite creeds in which all faithful members are bound to believe. The only point which we must accept is Universal Brotherhood, and even as to that we may differ in our definition of it. Outside that, we are at perfect liberty to form our own opinions on every subject; and the reason of that policy is clear and an exceedingly good one. No intellectual opinion is worth the holding unless it is obtained by the individual effort of the person who holds that opinion. It is far healthier to exercise our intelligence, even if we come to a wrong conclusion and form an inaccurate opinion, than simply, like parrots, to echo what other people say, and so put out of all possibility intellectual development.

(Adyar Pamphlets no. 36)

From Annie Besants writings:


But ah! How patient they were for the most part, how sadly, pathetically patient, this crucified Christ, Humanity; wrongs that would set my heart and my tongue afire would be accepted as a matter of course. O blind and mighty people, how my heart went out to you; trampled on, abused, derided, asking so little and needing so much; so pathetically grateful for the pettiest services; so loving and so loyal to those who offered you but their poor services and helpless love. Deeper and deeper into my innermost nature ate the growing desire to succour, to suffer for, to save. I had long given up my social reputation, I now gave up with ever-increasing surrender ease, comfort, time; the passion of pity grew stronger and stronger, fed by each new sacrifice, and each sacrifice led me nearer and nearer to the threshold of that gateway beyond which stretched a path of renunciation I had never dreamed of, which those might tread who were ready wholly to strip off self for Mans sake, who for Loves sake would surrender Loves return from those they served, and would go out into the darkness for themselves that they might, with their own souls as fuel, feed the Light of the World.[1]


The multiplicity of religious beliefs would be an advantage, not an injury, to Religion, if the religions were a brotherhood instead of a battle-field. For each religion has some peculiarity of its own, something to give to the world which the others cannot give. Each religion speaks one letter of the great Name of God, the One without a second, and that Name will only be spoken when every religion sounds out the letter given it to voice, in melodious harmony with the rest. God is so great, so illimitable, that no one brain of man, however great, no one religion, however perfect, can express His infinite perfection. It needs a universe in its totality to mirror Him, nay, countless universes cannot exhaust Him.[2]


What are we here for, save to help each other, to love each other, to uplift each other? Is the spiritual man to hinder or to uplift his fellow-men? Is he to be a Saviour of mankind, or one who throws back the evolution of his fellows, from whom one goes away discouraged? Watch how your influence affects others: be careful how your words affect their lives. Your tongue must be gentle, your words must be loving; no slander, gossip, or harshness of speech, or suspicion of unkind motive, must pollute the lips that are striving to be the vehicle of spiritual life. The difficulty is in us and not outside us. It is here in our own lives and our own conduct that the spiritual evolution must be made. Help your brothers, and do not be harsh with them. Lift them up when they fall, and remember, if you stand today, you too may fall tomorrow, and may need the helping hand of another, in order that you may rise.[3]

Selfless Action

It [the Bhagavad Gita] is a scripture of Yoga; now Yoga is literally union, and it means harmony with the divine Law, the becoming one with the divine Life, by the subdual of all outward-going energies. To reach this, balance must be gained, equilibrium, so that the self, joined to the Self, shall not be affected by pleasure or pain, desire or aversion, or any of the pairs of opposites between which untrained selves swing backwards and forwards. Moderation is therefore the keynote of the GITA, and the harmonizing of all the constituents of man, till they vibrate in perfect attunement with the One, the supreme Self. This is the aim the disciple is to set before him. He must learn not to be attracted by the attractive, nor repelled by the repellent, but must see both as manifestations of the one Lord, so that they may be lessons for his guidance, not fetters for his bondage. In the midst of turmoil he must rest in the Lord of Peace, discharging every duty to the fullest, not because he seeks the results of his actions, but because it is his duty to perform them. His heart is an altar, love to his Lord the flame burning upon it. All his acts, physical and mental, are sacrifices offered on the altar and once offered, he has with them no further concern.[4]

[1] Autobiography, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1983, p. 288-289.

[2] The Brotherhood of Religions, Adyar Pamphlets no. 24, February 1913.

[3] The Laws of the Higher Life, London: The Theosophical Publishing Society, 1912, p. 42.

[4] The Bhagavad Gita, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1987, p. 12-13.

This Newsletter is published quarterly. Editor: Pedro Oliveira
The Theosophical Society in Australia is not responsible for opinions expressed herein.

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