Politics, social issues, religion -- at this point in our national history, we Americans seem particularly bent on picking a point of view and sticking to it.
We seek opinions that support our own and discount facts and ideas that contradict our beliefs. We eschew civil discourse and consider compromise a sign of weakness.
If you goWhat: TheosoFEST
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: The Theosophical Society national center, 1926 N. Main St., Wheaton
Details: Presenters on topics such as astrology, meditation and philosophy; vendors, yoga and tai chi; kids activities
Cost: Free admission; $5 for parking, but free for hybrid cars and bicycles
Info: theosophical.org or (630) 668-1571
The Theosophical Society in America, however, stands opposed to that approach.
The international organization, which has its national center in Wheaton, encourages members to explore the world and connections among religion, philosophy, art and science with a goal of understanding themselves and others better. What draws members together isn't a shared belief or world view, but rather a shared search for truth.
Through a range of special programs, discussions, workshops, retreats and more, members and guests seek to understand differences, discover commonalities and embrace diversity while engaging in self-discovery, said Juliana Cesano, publicist for the Theosophical Society in America.
Those interested in learning more can attend the society's TheosoFEST, an open-house festival featuring presenters on topics such as astrology, meditation, healing and Western and Eastern philosophy.
The event Saturday, Sept. 8, offers informational booths, vendors, vegetarian food, yoga, tai chi and meditation practices throughout the day. A family area features storytelling, singalongs, puppet show and face painting. An outdoor drumming circle closes the event.
"This event is a more extensive example of what we normally offer to the community: a variety of teachings and experiences, a place for people to meet without distinctions and find other fellow seekers, self-discovery, and opportunities for enjoyment," Cesano said.
Today, Cesano tells us more about the Theosophical Society in America.
Q. What is your group's mission?
A. The society has a vision of wholeness that inspires a fellowship united in study, meditation, and service. Its mission is to encourage open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of the ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation. Its ethics hold that our every action, feeling and thought affect all other beings and that each of us is capable of and responsible for contributing to the benefit of the whole.
Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?
A. The Theosophical Society has Three Objects:
• To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
• To encourage the comparative study of religion, philosophy and science.
• To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in humanity.
With those Objects as our foundation, we provide an open space in which people can freely grow into a broader comprehension of life and their part in it.
We offer a range of opportunities to connect with what resonates most with each individual. Classes, lectures, workshops, retreats, group discussions and occasional special events are open to the community year round. We present a variety of topics and speakers.
Most of our activities are either free, donation-based or very inexpensive. Our goal is not profit, but to present opportunities for individuals to grow in self-understanding. The affordable nature of our activities are in keeping with our priority of making practical applications of the ageless wisdom teachings readily available.
Q. When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?
A. The Theosophical Society is an international organization that was founded in 1875 in New York. The intention for its founding was to bridge the chasm between science and religion. The international society has centers in more than 50 countries. The American Section was founded in 1886. At that time it was composed of branches in 14 cities. Today, we have 89 branches in 35 states.
Q. What kind of successes have you had?
A. The society was influential in the founding of many later movements, a number of which were founded by former members. Some notable examples are Dr. Gerard Encausse (Papus), founder of the modern Martinist Order; William W. Westcott, co-founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; Max Heindel, founder of The Rosicrucian Fellowship; Alice Bailey, founder of the Arcane School; Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society; the Russian painter and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena, founders of the Agni Yoga Society; and Guy and Edna Ballard, founders of the "I AM" movement; among others. Its influence also is recognized in the field of arts through theosophists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian.
Throughout its history, the TS has been actively supportive of interfaith efforts from the first Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1893 to hosting a mega event with His Holiness the IV Dalai Lama of Tibet last year in Chicago, the theme of the event being "Bridging the Faith Divide."
Q. What challenges do the organization currently face? How are you dealing with these challenges?
A. As with many organizations today, one of our main challenges is remaining relevant in people's overbusy lives.
Although the need for genuine methods of self-discovery and self-unfoldment never have been greater, the demands of time that we all face seem to place constraints on our ability to fully engage in the necessary practice.
One of the ways we have approached this challenge is to find ways to make the study and practice more accessible through focused classes and workshops, and through Internet-based seminars and lectures.
Q. What is your group best known for in the community? How does the group contribute to the community?
A. The Theosophical Society usually is regarded as a nondogmatic and altruistic source of knowledge in the field of spirituality with an emphasis on self-transformation.
The group's greatest gift to the community is to offer those unique qualities and provide an open space for that to happen. Our greatest gift to the community is to offer not only resources, but a peaceful and open space for individuals to pursue their interests.
We offer a wealth of online and on-site resources, from hundreds of free MP3 lectures, articles, videos, online classes and self-study courses to our library's collection of about 25,000 titles of books, periodicals and video and audio recordings.
Also, our beautiful grounds of 42 acres of land are open to the community every day until sunset.
Q. What would people experience if they spent a month or a year with the organization?
A. The society stands for a complete freedom of individual search and belief, while promoting in its members a willingness to examine any concept and belief with an open mind and a respect for other people's understanding.
One of our young volunteers, Lauren Rourk, recently wrote: "I've continued to volunteer at the Theosophical Center because it goes beyond what I've known and what I have experienced. … The Theosophical Society has expanded my awareness, and it has made me rethink what my world is and what my role in that world is. … I know that I will be able to take the feeling with me and that same reverence, honesty, and admiration."
When people spend some time at the Society, they encounter a welcoming group of wholehearted people and experience a sense of fulfillment that comes from having touched something within themselves that may become a permanent source of inspiration in their lives.
Q. Who are your members? What qualities do you look for in new members?
A. Our members are women and men of all ages, social backgrounds, races, and religious affiliation from all over the world interested in self-transformation, open-mindedness with devotion to truth, love for all living beings, and a commitment to a life of altruism.
Q. What do you expect of your members?
A. The society does not impose a particular commitment on our members, although it is desirable that they participate in the activities they feel attracted to and help with the society's mission if they feel inspired to do so. The only requirement for membership is to be in sympathy with the three objects of the society.
Q. How can readers get involved?
A. There are a number of ways to get involved with our organization.
Volunteer opportunities abound and are waiting in the Henry S. Olcott Memorial Library, the Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Book Shop, and departments such as Member Service, Public Programming, Accounting, Information, and Maintenance.
Volunteers are welcome all year round and enjoy special benefits, like free Thursday night lectures, free membership in the society, free use of library services, free vegetarian lunch, 20 percent discount at Quest Book Shop and 50 percent discount for most classes.
Membership is always available and appreciated and provides additional benefits.