The Theosophical Society in America: A Brief Tour


The Theosophical Society is located in Wheaton, IL, which
is a suburb outside of Chicago. And the building, which we now occupy as our main headquarters building, was built in 1926. There are forty acres of land here and it’s a beautiful space, particularly
for people who live and work here. It is quite a joyful experience
just to be on this very natural setting. In the nineteen twenties we had a very dynamic national president,
L. W. Rogers, who was the one who actually brought the national headquarters
to the Chicago area. There was a stop on the Metra-train, which gave easy
transportation to and from Chicago. When they got here, and saw the land, they could see the
potential for it. Actually at that time it was just
nothing more than very flat cornfield: no trees, no shrubs, nothing; but they had the vision of what it could be. In many ways we honor our past here at the national headquarters. Anyone who would come into the building
would encounter, in various places throughout the building itself, portraits: many of the founding members of the
Theosophical Society, as well as, some of the luminaries that have developed throughout
the time. But the first thing one would see when they
enter the main building would be the lobby area, which is quite impressive just in terms of its
architecture, with the lighted space, the wood paneling: all of that’s
beautiful. But the main thing that one would see there
is the mural, that is really quite an outstanding
piece of art, and it surrounds the entire space. In terms of the purpose for the Theosophical Society’s existence, it is to provide a means for people to become what we as members describe
as Theosophists, which is someone whose focus is really on a genuine regeneration: Self-unfoldment for the purpose of benefitting the advance and the growth of all humanity. Probably one of the real jewels of the
Olcott National Center is our library, which is one of a kind in terms of its
collection and in terms of its physical beauty. The collection is more than twenty
thousand books all on subjects related to Theosophy, world religions, science,
and we have a children’s collection. It’s a lending library for the general public as well. We have a series of ongoing programs
here at the national headquarters, everything from Yoga to Tai Chi to
workshops that go on on the weekends. We have meditation
classes, we have healing groups, classes of various sorts, which have been on a variety of subjects from world
religions to astrology, tarot, all of the various kind of concerns that
relate to the broader view of Theosophy. And those are things that are open to anyone who chooses to come. You would find that there are a number of
places that would be very conducive for personal reflection, meditation, where you will frequently find people
sitting simply just think, simply just
to be still. This has been the place where non-violence has been practiced, it’s been vegetarian for all of that time, where awareness that we are, in fact,
linked with a larger life has been a primary focus. The Theosophical Society in America is
a membership organization and as such we have staff functions and departments that relate to
our members all around the nation. We have different departments from
audio-visual to membership to some of our other imprints which
come under the label of the “Quest.” The Theosophical Publishing House publishes
“Quest Books,” which are sold throughout the country. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all the big stores
tend to carry them. We also have the “Quest” magazine. It’s a very high quality publication, which always has had thought-provoking
and oftentimes inspiring articles. And then we also have the Quest Bookshop. It’s quite a frequented location here
in our area and it’s something that’s very cozy, and always has been a “go to” kind of place
for people in this community. There are a number of things that we do that touch our local community. On our third floor, just outside the
auditorium, we have an art gallery, which has a rotating collection. It has been a curated collection that about every two or three months, you’ll
find local artists displaying really some wonderful works of art. During the course of the summer,
every year, we have had what we call Theosofest,
which is an open-air festival here on our grounds. Just a whole range of things related to
the spiritual life, to health. Generally we do it in the first week
of September. We’ve had as many as four thousand
people on a given day. Bring the kids, listen to some talks, eat some good food, and just get to meet one another. We also have begun a new cooperative
effort with the Prairie School of Dupage. As part of this effort we have created a space here in our campus building for the school to
operate out of. Many of their classes actually take
place out here on the grounds. Every day the students have Yoga, they have music, and it’s something that is really in
keeping with our Theosophical philosophy. All of these things are examples of ways
in which we are opening up and reaching out to the
greater community. From the founding days of the
Theosophical Society, there has been a strong focus on
interfaith efforts. Going all the way back to the Parliament
of the World’s religions in eighteen ninety three, which had its reprise in nineteen ninety
three, we were very very involved in that, not only with speaking and with
providing resources, but with hosting events here at our headquarters. Currently we’ve been very involved in a
number of things, probably most notably when we hosted an event, which was
attended by about ten thousand people, with His Holiness the
Dalai Lama of Tibet. We organized that event, put it on in Chicago. It was something that really was directed at interfaith activity and the need for an understanding and
appreciation of the world’s faiths. As a part of that event we had a panel of the various representatives
of the Abrahamic faiths, all of the faiths that come from Judaism,
Christianity, Islam; who were in conversation His Holiness. The basis for the event that we held
with His Holiness went back to nineteen fifty six when he made his first trip outside of Tibet,
to India, and on that trip he visited our
international headquarters in Chennai. The Dalai Lama himself in one of his
books, “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths,” described that event at which for the
very first time he was exposed to the world’s religions, which were present
their at our international gathering. And he said, it was the first time he saw
that, and also it was the first time he had ever become aware of a movement of people, the Theosophical Society, who not only tried to respect and
appreciate the world’s religions, but actually saw in all of them something that’s very central to everyone,
that there was a universal core that we appreciated. One of the objects of the Theosophical
Society speaks about religion, science, and philosophy as areas of search for sincere students, and we have
consistently presented very high level programs with cutting-edge scientists, such people as
Rupert Sheldrake, Ian Stevenson and all of his work on reincarnation, Amit Goswami who is most well-known
for his quantum physics. In our time so much of the awareness and so much of people’s focus
has been placed in the sorts of connections that are made
now over the Internet. We have a number of programs that are really Web-based. We’ve been doing a
great deal of Webcasting of particular talks that we think may be interest,
through the avenue of [people’s] computers at home. We have Webinars, which are interactive classes and discussions and studies that are attended by people all around the world, that makes it quite easy for someone who is
not perhaps able to travel to these things, to have something of the feeling of it. There is a great deal of knowledge to be
found in the study and the literature. Obviously now, as in all times, the world and the individuals in it
are in need. The focus now, as in the past, has been: How do we, in fact, unfold our potentials for compassion, for deeper understanding, for kindness? And so these are the things that I would hope that in our future it would be something that would become
the focus for each and every one of our members and friends who contact this
place.

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