from The Theosophist May 1958
By HUGH SHEARMAN
Although this whole refers to the members of the Theosophical Society, there is still good reason to devote a special chapter to Lodge members.
Attracting New Members
The Society cannot exist without members, and the gaining of new members is a natural part of its work. Yet the meetings and activities of the Society ought to be carried on for the purpose of fulfilling its objects and not primarily for the purpose of attracting new members. If the programmes of a Lodge are excessively dominated by an anxiety to attract new members, the true purpose of the Society is lost sight of, and it may presently be found that there is little to attract new members.
The best advertisement for the Society, and the best means of attracting new members to it, must always be the existing members. If they are quietly engaged in carrying out the objects of the Society and letting the implications of those objects penetrate deeply through the very stuff of their daily lives, members cannot fail to make some impression on those with whom they come in contact. People of like sympathies and interests do tend to be drawn towards each other.
Explaining to Others
Talkativeness and a compulsive anxiety to make our views known will not be helpful. What a man has to talk about very insistently is rarely something that he has deeply assimilated. It is in the quality of our response to an unexpected situation, in the tranquility of our attitude, and in the comprehensiveness of our understanding that we may show how far we are really Theosophists- not by earnest protestations or lengthy explanations.
Wisdom, after all, does not lie merely in explanations; and an explanation given at the wrong time can repel. We cannot helpfully offer certain kinds of explanations until people are to some extent prepared in their own deeper feelings and are already themselves groping towards the solution which our explanation embodies. Wisdom does not engage in propaganda, nor does it anxiously strain to convert people to some kind of opinion or belief.
In what are sensitively perceived to be the right circumstances and the right time, wisdom will make available useful information or a helpful idea; and since the time and circumstances are wisely chosen or intelligently recognized, the information or idea may produce fruitful results.
As well as a right time and circumstances for any communication of thought or information, there is a right way of expressing it. Other things being equal, it is eminently desirable that our way of speech should not be uncouth, our facts of dubious accuracy and questionable authority, and our manner pompous and unconvincing. If we are going to quote history or science, we must quote them without solecism and with the ease of real acquaintance. If we are going to quote words some foreign language, we ought not to mispronounce them ludicrously.
It is true that the stranger, if he has wisdom in him, can sometimes recognize a deeper value lying behind an uncouth lecture or conversation. But we must try to remove any unnecessary barrier to understanding; for, since most people are rather superficial and conventional in their judgments of anything new, our barriers of inadequate expression can often be completely successfully in driving a newcomer away.
A person who is vaguely seeking some kind of truth has usually met with many disappointments, and he has probably an unconscious expectations that the Theosophical Society, or the member of it whom he meets, is going to be another disappointment to him. He is often much more ready to be convinced that the Society holds nothing of value for him than that it has something of value. A foolish representation of the Society and what it stands for is likely to make him feel that he can dismiss it as he has dismissed other movements because they were limited, useless or inane.
The vast majority of people are not yet looking for what the Theosophical Society has to offer, or at least they are not looking for it in the form in which the Society can offer it; and their path in life will not lead them into membership of the Society. But there are some whose sympathies and questionings are daily making membership of the Society more right and appropriate for them; and, in our quest for new members, we need to make known quietly but persistently and pervasively that we have in the Society some of those things which such people are seeking. We need to be informative but not to engage in any sensational kind of self advertisement.
Some Considerations on Brotherhood
The bond of attraction for a newcomer ought not simply to be a common ground of opinion or ideas. It ought to be the unobtrusive reality of that brotherhood which we profess. He ought to be led to feel that he wants to be friends with us and to know that we want to be friends with him.
Brotherhood is the fundamental principle of the Society. It has often been said that many organizations and movements are preaching and practicing brotherhood and that, if the Theosophical Society cannot do something more original than that, it might as well close down. But such an idea arises from taking too superficial and too conventional to brotherhood. We are aiming at entering into a deeper and deeper experience of those fundamental realities of which brotherhood is only the outer expression; and through that experience we seek to bring into being an entirely new quality of brotherhood.
The brotherhood with which we are concerned has to transcend those outer forms of brotherly action in which many of our members engage, such as social service, work for international understanding, the relief of suffering, or the development of cultural and artistic work. It may be all these , but it is also something vastly greater, based upon the deepest realities in man and in the universe. And into that deeper experience of its meaning we have to enter, drawing from it inspiration and refreshment which will transform the outer expressions of brotherhood which we already know and give them a quality far surpassing the conventional meaning of that word.
One quality which must belong to the deeper levels of brotherhood is very important in our work. Brotherhood at its best and wisest is surely impersonal. If we look upon the idea of brotherhood in a very personal and emotional and sentimental way, we bring a false note into our relations with others. A sticky and cloying element enters into a relations which is personal and sentimental; and all too often it can develop in ways that are vicious and sensual and exploiting or else end in resentment. The experience of merely personal attraction is bound up with the experience of personal repulsion; and sentimentality is a fruitful soil for quarrels.
Right relationship within the Society depends upon some degree of recognition of the great universal and impersonal setting in which we work. When that vaster whole is even dimly felt in the background, then we have an incentive for working together in a way that does not give rise to the meaner forms of competition, to personal resentment or to personal clinging.
Brotherhood, moreover, is not really a proper theme for speech-making and for the uttering of rhetorical generalizations. Its true expression is in deep and largely self-forgetful understanding of others from moment to moment. To make speeches about it is too often to surround ourselves with a shell of unctuous words which cut off from that fresh and sensitive appreciation of the needs of our fellow human beings which is the essence of the experience which we call brotherhood.
Brotherhood is impersonal because it involves the dropping or forgetting of the more personal self. This is sometimes called liberation. This can come about as we become increasingly aware of the larger setting, the greater whole within which we live, and which alone gives meaning and value to our lives. In that awareness our meannesses, ambitions and resentments can fall away and our service to others can become increasingly realistic and effectives.
It might be felt that these considerations have a more appropriate place in a work of ethics than in what is intended as a guide to work in the Theosophical Society. But these problems of human relations are our work in the Society and can in no way be separated from any discussion of the Society's organization and practical functioning.
The New Member and His Motives
If a new member is to be stable, useful and lasting as a living component of our nucleus, brotherhood, in some form suitable to his temperament, must be his main motive in joining us. If he comes merely to gain information, to satisfy intellectual curiosity, to develop his "powers", to calm an uneasiness about life after death, to have access to our library, or any of innumerable other motives which are grounded on cultivation of self rather than love of humanity, he will not be a lasting member - unless he can move on from his initial motive to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of his membership.
A study of membership registers has shown that the fourth of fifth year of membership is a critical period. By that time a new member will have assimilated a good deal of the information which is superficially available in the Society's literature. If he joined with a merely acquisitive motive, he may begin to drop out at this stage, cease attending meetings regularly, and perhaps presently lapse from membership. If he has joined with a motive of brotherhood or has discovered that motive some time after joining, he will now be trying to apply what he has learned in order to render himself more fit to help others.
Causes of Stress
Membership, particularly new membership, involves certain psychological stresses and strains. It has often been noticed that some new members go through a phrase of being irritable and uneasy. The reason for this is simple enough. When we embark upon anything new, everything in our natures that is incompatible with it is thrown into prominence and brought to the surface. When, for example, we begin this experiment of working on friendly terms with others whose opinions may be quite different from our own, there will come to the surface in us a very acute sense of disagreement with them.
The subjects that are studied in the Theosophical Society have implications too, which can penetrate challengingly and disturbingly into every aspect of our lives. The more completely a new member plunges into Theosophical studies and into discussion and friendly relationship with his fellow-members, the more is he liable to experience a certain strain at the beginning. And later, as a member progresses in deeper understanding, he may find himself disturbed, in ways of which he his not always fully conscious, by new discoveries and new views which will demand of him a reassessment and reorganization of all the conceptions that he had already formed.
It is important in these cases that members should realize what is happening to them, or what is happening to others. Emotional disturbances blow over in time if they are allowed to do so and if no importance is attached to them. In oneself they ought to be recognized for the temporary conditions that they are, and not given embodiment in any course of policy or in estranging words. And when we see them occurring in other people we must deal gently with them and be prepared subsequently to forget them. Moreover, in a Society in which human nature ought to be in a state of change, a pugnacious claim to self-consistency can be a futile vanity.
Concerned as we are with "the powers latent in man", we are aware in our Society that in order to know people we must look more deeply than their surface behavior. This is particularly useful if we have to do at nay time with a member who is somewhat disturbed. In such a case we can strive to see and to speak to that deeper element within him which is not disturbed. It has been said that somewhere inside every insane person there is a person who is sane. In the same way we may remember that inside every person who is disturbed there is somebody who is calm; inside everybody who is unreasonable there is somebody who is reasonable. It is our happy task as members of the Theosophical Society to seek out that calm and reasonable person in others and , where necessary, address ourselves to him.
Guiding the New Member
A new member will usually like to find his own place in the Lodge quietly, and to discover gradually where and how his temperament and interests fall into relationship with those of the other members. Some Lodges introduce a new member through some form of entrance or initiation ceremony; but nowadays this can be inadvisable, and newcomers have been known to stay away from a Lodge because they were temperamentally repelled by the prospect of taking part in such a ceremony.
The advice has often been given that when new members join a Lodge some older member ought to be allotted the duty of looking after them and helping them to find themselves in their new relationship to the Society and to their fellow-members. This may be a very useful plan provided that no idea of superiority comes into it. The fact that a person is new to the Theosophical Society does not at all mean that he may not be wiser and better than ourselves. And no matter what his qualities and capacities may be, he is unique; and there is something that we can learn from him that no other person in the world can teach us.
The new member must therefore expand in his new relationship quite freely and in his own way. We may help him much in this, but his way will inevitably be somewhat different from ours; and we must not imagine that to help a new member means to mould him to a pattern like our own. Moreover, the aspect of Theosophical study which at any time seems most important to us is usually that which is connected in some way with the next step in our own growth. That is where the interest and the intriguing and stimulating quality of Theosophy for us will be found. But the next step for us is not necessarily the next step for the newcomer. Though it leads to the same summit, his path is and ought to be somewhat different from ours. And from that difference we may learn something.
Sometimes older members of the Society can display a certain negative anxiety about those who are new to Theosophical studies. They try to guide the new member away from certain studies, to protect him from reading what they believe to be the wrong books. But, although there are books that are obviously more suitable than others and some which are perhaps very unsuitable, Theosophy is not fundamentally concerned with right books or wrong books. It is concerned with the establishment of such a stability of attitude in ourselves that we can choose our studies rightly and confidently for ourselves. The one who has that stability can often evoke it in another and can give him true guidance without any anxiety.
At the same time the person who really has achieved a degree of inner stability must be careful. Often he has more power than he knows, and he must try not to use it disturbingly, still less coercively. By his very stability he can be a source of unconscious reproach to somebody else who is passing through an unstable phase. And the very clarity and lucidity of his answers can be deeply frustrating fro the person who question him; for the questioner is not seeking mere answers but is really seeking some kind of help in his own inner uneasiness. Thus every advance in knowledge or in self-mastery brings new responsibilities for kindly tact, patience and self-effacement.
A Source of Stability
In all activities and relationships among members, the most steadying thought to hold in mind is the great world setting of our work. If we look merely at the immediate and personal scene and think only of immediate considerations and short-term results, we are liable to become agitated. We begin to think that something terrible will happen if some particular person is elected or not elected to some office or if some particular policy prevails or fails to prevail. We become anxious and emotionally disturbed. But, if we recollect that all the personalities and the influences that enter into making the Society's history at any time are only small ingredients in something vastly big, we shall recognize that the thing that might, if we took a merely short-term view of it, agitate us today, will be of little real importance in a century's time.
Sometimes we perhaps think that we see something very wrong being done in the Society. Perhaps it may be our duty to try to prevent it; but we must not try personally to compete with those whom we believe to be wrong or mistaken. At the personal level, too, the clotted prejudices of another person are rarely dissolved by any form of frontal attack.
To be powerful and effective, our contribution and our attitude must be positive. It is by the very texture of our lives, the total quality of our thoughts and feelings and actions, that we build this nucleus of Brotherhood and give it a secure future. It is not by policy programmes or by influencing people's opinions or votes that we create a fair future. It is by our love and integrity and unselfishness, the completeness of our dedication to the service of humanity. When our work for the Society is really established upon those qualities in ourselves, we shall have discovered something which will enable us to live and act without doing or even thinking injustice to others and without agitation or anxiety.
1 From a forthcoming book, To Form a Nucleus: a Guide to Work in the Theosophical Society to be published by the Theosophical Society, Adyar.
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