The Main Focus of the Theosophical Project
Carlos Cardoso Aveline
A statue of Helena P. Blavatsky, made by Alexey Leonov
The modern esoteric movement was created in New York in 1875. Its two main founders are Helena Blavatsky and Henry Olcott. The importance of William Q. Judge, who participated in the foundation, was to be recognized later.
These are the declared objects of the movement, in its best-known formulation:
1) To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour;
2) The study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences, and the demonstration of the importance of such study; and
3) The investigation of the unexplained laws of Nature and the psychical powers latent in man.
With small variations, this phrasing of the three objects has been adopted by the various lines of theosophical work that are active around the world. However, such goals are both broad and complex. They transcend words and can be expressed in various forms. In an 1886 text which has been published under two different titles, one of them being “The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society”, H.P. Blavatsky included valuable information that even today is ignored by many.
While describing the objects of the movement at the moment of its foundation, Blavatsky wrote that the blind beliefs of conventional religions should be unmasked, and that the subtle energies of life, both positive and negative, ought to be described and identified, for human illusions to be destroyed.
From a practical point of view, such a task creates a dilemma. One must find a way to promote the universal brotherhood and at the same time to fight the fanaticism and hypocrisy present in the main religions. Can one do that without looking like intolerant?
Life has shown the task is inevitable; however, it presents obstacles. Some theosophists seem to believe that the practice of brotherhood forbids all criticism. This is of course a dangerous sort of delusion. One must combine instead an open mind with firmness in ethical principles. The practice of kindness does not authorize anyone to abstain from correcting error. Unmasking fraud is the duty of those who love truth. It is no “kind action” to support falsehood.
Describing in 1886 the objects of the movement, H. P. Blavatsky wrote:
“Sent to the U.S. of America in 1873 for the purpose of organizing a group of workers on a psychic plane, two years later the writer received orders from her Master and Teacher to form the nucleus of a regular Society whose objects were broadly stated as follows:
“1) Universal Brotherhood;
“2) No distinction to be made by the member between races, creeds, or social positions, but every member had to be judged and dealt by on his personal merits;
“3) To study the philosophies of the East – those of India chiefly, presenting them gradually to the public in various works that would interpret exoteric religions in the light of esoteric teachings;
“4) To oppose materialism and theological dogmatism in every possible way, by demonstrating the existence of occult forces unknown to science, in nature, and the presence of psychic and spiritual powers in man; trying, at the same time to enlarge the views of the Spiritualists by showing them that there are other, many other agencies at work in the production of phenomena besides the ‘Spirits’ of the dead. Superstition had to be exposed and avoided; and occult forces, beneficent and maleficent – ever surrounding us and manifesting their presence in various ways – demonstrated to the best of our ability.”
And Blavatsky went on:
“Such was the programme in its broad features. The two chief Founders were not told what they had to do, how they had to bring about and quicken the growth of the Society and results desired; nor had they any definite ideas given them concerning the outward organization – all this being left entirely with themselves. Thus, as the undersigned had no capacity for such work as the mechanical formation and administration of a Society, the management of the latter was left in the hands of Col. H. S. Olcott, then and there elected by the primitive founders and members – President for life. But if the two Founders were not told what they had to do, they were distinctly instructed about what they should never do, what they had to avoid, and what the Society should never become. Church organizations, Christian and Spiritual sects were shown as the future contrasts to our Society.”
In order to better clarify the original programme of the movement, Blavatsky described two other recommendations given by the Masters:
“1) The Founders had to exercise all their influence to oppose selfishness of any kind, by insisting upon sincere, fraternal feelings among the Members – at least outwardly; working for it to bring about a spirit of unity and harmony, the great diversity of creeds notwithstanding; expecting and demanding from the Fellows, a great mutual toleration and charity for each other’s shortcomings; mutual help in the research of truths in every domain – moral or physical – and even, in daily life.”
“2) They had to oppose in the strongest manner possible anything approaching dogmatic faith and fanaticism – belief in the infallibility of the Masters, or even in the very existence of our invisible Teachers, having to be checked from the first. On the other hand, as a great respect for the private views and creeds of every member was demanded, any Fellow criticising the faith or belief of another Fellow, hurting his feelings, or showing a reprehensible self-assertion, unasked (mutual friendly advices were a duty unless declined) – such a member incurred expulsion. The greatest spirit of free research untrammelled by anyone or anything, had to be encouraged.” 
In the 21st century, such guidelines are as updated as ever.
The Paradox of Brotherhood
Active research is a fundamental factor in Theosophy, while baseless belief is only harmful.
One of the main differences between a church and a philosophical school is that, for the church, belief is the most important factor, while in a school of philosophical thought the main activity is research. In it the honest, respectful debate is welcome and even seen as an essential tool.
The theosophical movement must avoid promoting an outward show of tolerance in which the need to look like a kind person is used as a pretext to prevent people from making criticism, or from being sincere, so that the personal feelings of those who have a blind faith and an attachment to mental routine will not be hurt.
The gradual widening of horizons is healthy. On the other hand, the “tolerance” regarding the infringement of ethical principles is inacceptable for a very practical reason: it produces bad fruits.
There must be firmness in ethics and a flexibility in the way of thinking. We must have a universal thought, capable of making a synthesis among different traditions, yet accepting no absence of honesty. And we need discernment and wisdom to manage in daily life this seeming paradox.
The existence of a universal dimension in religions means that different traditions meet “somewhere”. And the “place” where the various religions get together must be the common respect for truth.
The trees are known by their fruits, and the fruits of religions and philosophies are, of course, the practical actions of their students and followers. A beautiful “philosophy”, deprived of beautiful actions, is but a form to hide a failure. Hence the centrality of ethics.
There is an apparent contrast between the universality that includes different traditions, on one hand, and on the other hand the promulgation of an ethics that is actually lived in daily life. The ideal of a moral existence can be seen by unprincipled persons as if it were rigid and mechanistic. The creative contradiction between a wide horizon and specific actions creates difficulties. The paradox between the general view and particular action produces tests and probations that are necessary for one’s learning to be real.
Many lessons emerge, as one tries to reach in daily life the main objects of the movement inaugurated in 1875 in New York. A slow progress in that direction opens little by little a new page in the history of mankind.
 From the monthly magazine “The Theosophist”, Adyar, Madras, India, in August 1931, see pp. 561-564 for the quotations made here. Title: “The Original Programme of the Theosophical Society”. Also published in the pamphlet “Theosophical Objects, Program and Organization”, H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophy Company, Los Angeles, California, USA, 38 pp., see pp. 16-18. This is the first part of the document.
The above article is a translation of the Portuguese language article “Os Verdadeiros Objetivos do Movimento”. It was published in our associated websites on 8 December 2018.
Read also the articles “The Fourth Object Of Theosophists” and “The Seven Principles of the Movement”.
On 14 September 2016, a group of students decided to found the Independent Lodge of Theosophists. Two of the priorities adopted by the ILT are learning from the past and building a better future.