Category Archives: 1. The Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society

The Theosophical Society held its first regular meeting on November 17th, 1875 in New York City (Campbell 29). The Society had been envisioned only two months prior by its first President, American Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, supported by his fast friend, the German-Russian Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (Campbell 27), or H. P. B., as she preferred to be called (Campbell 2). To distinguish itself from other organizations (Campbell 78), the Society claimed three essential goals: to create a universal brotherhood, to compare humanity’s diverse ways of knowing, and to gain a better understanding of the hidden laws of nature and the abilities which lay dormant within humans (Scott 179). Rather than asserting a single doctrine for its members, the Society embraced an eclectic method of research, examining all religions and the Absolute Truth being pointed to by each of them (Olcott 58). Merriam-Webster defines theosophy itself as a way of coming to know the divine through mystical experiences. Similarly, in India, it was translated as brahmavidya, meaning the study or knowledge of the divine (Ingalls 87). The Theosophical Society would go on to have broad influence across the globe, with special relevance to the revival of Hinduism in India, and its heightened popularity in the West.

The Society was inspired by a number of previous traditions, such as American Transcendentalism and Spiritualism, which were in vogue during the 1870s (Campbell 9, 20), as well as Occultism (Campbell 10) and Free Masonry (Campbell 12). While these traditions were in part a response to existing dilemmas within Christianity (Campbell 9), the Theosophical Society very quickly began to align itself more with Eastern traditions than those of the West (Campbell 87). This shift toward the “Orient” became clear in 1879, when founders Olcott and Blavatasky moved the headquarters of the Theosophical Society first to Bombay, and then on to Adyar, south Chennai (then Madras), Tamil Nadu, India in 1882 (Campbell 78, Cranston xiv).

The Society rapidly grew in size and influence after Blavatsky and Olcott’s arrival in India, due in part to the moderate success of their magazine, The Theosophist, which they had co-founded with Alfred Percy Sinnett (Morrisson 8), and to their deep reverence for India as well, which warmed many locals to their cause (Campbell 79). More than one hundred Theosophical Society branches were opened within five years of Blavatsky and Olcott’s arrival to India (Campbell 86). Most locals who joined the Society were of the Brahmin class, and had been educated in the British schooling system, which left them torn between the religion of their childhood and the rationalism in which they were trained (Bevir 104). The reconciliation, which the Society offered, between the ideologies of Hinduism and science (Bevir 104) was another significant reason for the rapid growth of the Society.

This ability to reconcile the “old” and the “new” was one of the characteristics of Neo-Hinduism, a movement which was instrumental in reigniting India’s passion for her own religious history (Bevir 105). The Theosophists were a major landmark on the map of Neo-Hinduism, along with the Brahmo Sabha and Arya Samaj movements (Bevir 105). Blavatsky’s choice to attribute the purest source of ancient wisdom to India, rather than Egypt or any other Eastern country, connected well with the Samajists in particular, who sought to bring back the sanatana dharma of the Vedas (Campbell 77). The Samajists and the Theosophical Society were already closely connected prior to Blavatsky and Olcott’s arrival in India, and united into a single organization for a brief period of time before Olcott and Blavatsky came to realize that the organizations had too many significant differences (Campbell 77). Their biggest concern was that the Arya Samaj organization, which was founded by Swami Dayanand Sarasvati in 1875 (Campbell 77), asserted the absolute superiority of Hinduism (Bevir 105), which went directly against the eclectic stance of Theosophy. Although their formal ties were dissolved, the impact of these Neo-Hindu organizations continued to shape the future of society and religion within India for many years to come.

In 1884, only two years after the move to Adyar, controversy overtook the Theosophical Society. Emma and Alexis Coulomb were old acquaintances of Madame Blavatksy’s, who had worked as members of the staff in Adyar until being discharged (Campbell 88). Seemingly in anger at their dismissal (Cranston 266), the Coulombs sent forty letters of reputed communication between Madame Blavatsky and Madame Coulomb to the Christian College Magazine; the letters indicated widespread fraud on Blavatsky’s part (Campbell 88). Although H. P. B. wanted to take the Coulombs to court, Olcott and the rest of the Society barred her from doing so, fearful of the trial becoming an attack on their beliefs rather than on Madame Blavatsky herself (Campbell 91, Cranston 280). Fierce debate on the authenticity of the Coulomb letters continued for some time thereafter (Cranston 270-272).

The fires of the debates around the so-called Coulomb Affair were fanned by Richard Hodgson when he released a damning report on the Theosophists for the British Society for Psychical Research in late 1885. He determined that everything he saw during his time with the Theosophical Society was deeply fraudulent (Campbell 93), despite his friendly opinion of Theosophy prior to his arrival in Adyar (Cranston 277). Although some have accused Hodgson’s report of being deeply biased (Cranston 277), his judgement had widespread influence on the court of public opinion. However, in an unexpected turn of events, this attack upon the Society went on to cause its global popularity to rise, rather than to diminish (Cranston 284).

Following this dramatic period, Madame Blavatsky experienced a brief and life-threatening illness, and consequently resigned as the Theosophical Society’s secretary and leader of the Esoteric Section in March 1885. H. P. B. moved to Europe, where she bonded with Annie Besant, began to print her second magazine, Lucifer, and founded the Blavatsky Lodge of London in 1887 (Cranston xv). She remained in England until her death at age sixty on May 8, 1891 (Cranston 407). Colonel Olcott, however, had remained in Adyar after Blavatsky’s departure to Europe in 1885, touring throughout India and working to rebuild the Society’s reputation in the wake of the Coulomb Affair (Campbell 95).

Despite Olcott’s existing position as President, there was a four year struggle over who would lead the Esoteric Section of the Society following Madame Blavatsky’s death (Campbell 103). The struggle was ultimately ended when the man behind Theosophical expansion in the United States, and fellow competitor for the role of Esoteric Section leader, William Quan Judge, spearheaded a secession from Olcott’s Theosophy, declaring “The Theosophical Society in America” as separate in 1895 (Campbell 111). Olcott remained at the head of the Society at Adyar until his death in 1907, when the Englishwoman Annie Besant ran to succeed him as the Society’s President, and won by a large majority (Campbell 118).

Besant had been politically active in England, advocating for socialism, contraceptives, and atheism before ultimately aiming her sights on Theosophy (Ingalls 85). She moved quickly through the Society’s ranks, becoming so trusted that she would go on to speak as one of the representatives of Theosophy at the first World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, only four years after she had joined the Society (Campbell 102). Mahatma Gandhi himself held Besant in very high esteem after having met her and Blavatsky in London, and had some of his own spiritual beliefs shaped by his time with the Theosophists (Bergunder 406).  Annie Besant moved to India in the same year as the World’s Fair (Mortimer 61), where she became interested in Colonel Olcott’s early initiatives to improve the lives of the Dalits (Campbell 114).

Following Olcott’s death and her consequent election as President, Besant endeavoured to build upon the work which Olcott had previously started; she focused on reformation of religion, education, and problematic social norms in particular (Mortimer 61). Some of her most important accomplishments included founding the Central Hindu College in Banaras, the Adyar Library (Ingalls 86), raising the marriageable age of girls, and stoking the flames of Indian nationalism (Mortimer 61, 62). Besant also produced an exceptional amount of literature for the Theosophical Society, wrote a much respected translation of the Bhagavad Gita and studied other classical Sanskrit works; moreover, she declared India as her own land of spiritual origin, claiming to have lived there in at least nineteen of her previous lives (Ingalls 86).

Besant turned her focus to politics in 1913, when she formed the Brothers of India group and published a book entitled Wake Up India! (Mortimer 64). Shortly thereafter, she joined the Indian National Congress, and began publishing a weekly newspaper, The Commonweal, which outlined a plan of Indian independence (Verma & Bakshi 292). Besant then purchased and renamed the New India daily newspaper in 1914, using it to support an idea of Indian Home Rule (Mortimer 65) which she fashioned after the Irish Home Rule movements (Ingalls 87). Besant supported universal suffrage and a complex democratic system of jurisdictions and electorates (Mortimer 68), and worked tirelessly across India throughout World War I until she was placed under house-arrest by the government in June 1917 (Mortimer 73). This action pushed the debates on Indian independence to a breaking point (Mortimer 75); between August and December of 1917, the Secretary of State for India announced the imminence of the nation’s independence, and Annie Besant was freed and elected President of the Indian National Congress (Mortimer 76), the only Western woman ever elected to this position (qtd. in Bevir 112).

Throughout her life with the Society, Besant was closely tied to fellow Theosophist C.W. Leadbeater (Ingalls 88), an Anglican priest-turned-Buddhist (Campbell 114). Leadbeater’s reputation crumbled in 1906, when he was formally accused of pedophilia (Vas 1); the accusations, coming from young boys, centered around his recommendations of masturbation as an occult practice. While the Theosophical Society accepted his resignation in response to these allegations (Campbell 116), Leadbeater was controversially reinstated to the Society only a year later, following Besant’s election to the Presidency (Tillett 33).

Two years after his reinstatement, Leadbeater discovered the young Jiddu Krishnamurti living with his family at Adyar, and promptly declared him to be the next great World Teacher and vehicle for the Christ (Campbell 120). Annie Besant worked with Leadbeater to gain custody of Jiddu and his brother, Nityananda (Campbell 120), after which they sent the boys to England for further education during World War I (Ingalls 88). Although their father attempted to regain custody of his sons twice, once after their move overseas and once following Leadbeater’s alleged sexual assault of Jiddu, Mr. Krishnamurti’s attempts were unsuccessful, and Leadbeater remained very much a part of the boys’ lives (Vas 2).

While Nityananda was accepted to Oxford, Jiddu was not, allowing him to train full time for the day when he would officially become the next World Teacher (Vas 3). He was thought to have taken on the role in 1925, and Annie Besant consequently suspended the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, deeming it unnecessary (Campbell 129). An organization was built around Krishnamurti, called The Order of the Star in the East (Campbell 121), which grew throughout the 1920s, but was dissolved by Krishnamurti himself in 1929 (Campbell 129). While he went on to be a prolific lecturer and author, Krishnamurti left the Theosophical Society in 1930 (Campbell 147). Annie Besant died only three years after Krishnamurti’s departure, allegedly of a broken heart (Ingalls 88); her position as Society President was filled shortly thereafter by George Arundale (Campbell 130). However, the success which Krishnamurti found throughout his adult life, until his death in 1986, left some wondering if he was the World Teacher that Theosophy had promised after all (Vas 5).

Krishnamurti’s international fame (Campbell 148) serves as an excellent example of the way in which the Theosophical Society and many of its charismatic members helped to revive Hinduism in India and to popularize it in the West. While the effects in the West may be less noticeable, they are just as influential. Perhaps most importantly, Krishnamurti’s beliefs regarding meditation became popular in Hollywood, drawing many celebrities to his side, including Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo (Altman 213). Much of Krishnamurti’s appeal seems rooted in the disillusionment which many North Americans were feeling with Protestant Christianity at the time; furthermore, the meditative, inward-looking nature of his teachings – and those of the other Yogic teachers active during the same period, such as Yogananda and Vivekananda – allowed Americans to participate in “Americanized” Hindu practices without their fellow citizens noticing (Altman 213).

By the turn of the century, Americans were well-acquainted with the Theosophical Society; William Quan Judge’s schismatic organization, the Theosophical Society in America, already had seventy-one active branches within the United States by the year 1900 (qtd. in Morrisson 8). Theosophical ideas, such as the universalism and Unitarianism that Krishnamurti championed, formed a kind of bridge between the American disenchantment with Protestantism and their embrace of Asian religions. One can see the powerful effects of these Theosophical ideas still influencing spirituality today, especially in the current vigour for “neo-Vedantic” spiritual discourses formed largely within the context of Hinduism, such as those of Amritanandamayi Ma, better known as Amma (Huffer 377, 378). Although Amma’s teachings are rooted in Advaita philosophy, and she praises many aspects of Hinduism, she promotes non-denominational spirituality above all else (Huffer 377) – much as the Theosophists would have done, and continue to do.

The Theosophical Society in America still functions within the United States and internationally, simultaneously with the Theosophical Society at Adyar. These organizations are only two of the many spiritual movements which can find their roots within the rich, albeit short, history of Theosophy and its membership.


















Altman, Michael J. (2016) “The Construction of Hinduism in America.” Religion Compass 10 #8: 207-216.


Bergunder, Michael (2014) “Experiments with Theosophical Truth: Gandhi, Esotericism, and

Global Religious History.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82: 398-426.


Bevir, Mark (2003) “Theosophy and the Origins of the Indian National Congress.” International

Journal of Hindu Studies 7 #1/3: 99-115


Campbell, Bruce (1980)   Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement.

Berkeley: University of California Press.


Cranston, Sylvia (1993)   H.P.B. The Extraordinary Life & Influence of Helena Blavatsky,

Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Huffer, Amanda J. (2011) “Hinduism Without Religion: Amma’s Movement in America.” Cross

Currents 61 #3: 374-398.


Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India”

            Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 109 #2: 85-88.


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:


Morrisson, Mark S. (2008) “The periodical culture of the occult revival: esoteric wisdom,

Modernity, and counter-public spheres.” Journal of Modern Literature 31 #2: 1-22.


Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of

Contemporary History 18 #1: 61-78.


Olcott, Henry Steel (1885) Theosophy, Religion and Occult Science. London: G. Redway.


Scott, J. Barton (2016) Spiritual Despots: Modern Hinduism and the Genealogies of Self-Rule.

Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.


Tillett, Gregory (2012) “Modern Western Magic and Theosophy.” Aries 12: 17-51


Vas, Luis S.R. (2004) J. Krishnamurti Great Liberator or Failed Messiah? Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.


Verma, B.R., and S.R. Bakshi (eds.) (2005) British Policy and Indian Nationalism (1858-1919).

New Delhi: Commonwealth Publishers.



Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Amma (Amritanandamayi Ma)

Annie Besant

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott

C.W. Leadbeater
Free Masonry
H.P. Blavatsky
Indian National Congress

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Mahatma Gandhi


The Order of the Star in the East


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:


This article was written by: Jamie Lewis (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).






Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass


Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.


Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.


Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.


Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.



Related Topics for Further Investigation


Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky


nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’


‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Jiddu Krishnamurti was an influential Indian spiritual leader with worldwide devotion to his unique combination of Indian religious philosophy and mysticism (Shringy 353; Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti’s path as a spiritual leader began after he was brought under the care of the Theosophical Society, which was a group intent on preparing him to be a great world teacher and the physical vehicle for Maitreya Buddha, which is the Buddha’s next incarnation (Martin 8). In 1929, after approximately 20 years with the organization, Krishnamurti left Theosophy, and dissolved the Order of the Star, which was an organization formed to carry out his work (Shringy 31-32). When dissolving the order, Krishnamurti asserted that “Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect.” For “Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path.” (Shiringy 31-31) Any belief that becomes organized “becomes dead.” Krishnamurti instead desired “those, who seek to understand me, to be free, not to follow me, not to make out of me a cage which will become a religion, a sect” (Lutyens 272).

A successful summary of Krishnamurti’s ideas should start by saying he would likely find any attempt to provide an accurate account of his philosophy uninteresting (Martin 3). In fact, he would probably be averse to the label of philosopher, for he was not well versed in philosophy and was opposed to philosophical theories (Holroyd 9; Martin 3). Instead of being labeled a philosopher, he might be called a teacher; however, that label would also be inadequate, for he was only a teacher insofar as he led people to discover that nothing of importance can be taught (Holroyd 10). Krishnamurti thought truth must be discovered for oneself. However, despite rejecting philosophizing, he inevitably did talk and write about issues pertinent to philosophy (Martin 3). It is these contributions that will be considered here.

Krishnamurti encouraged people to push past the limitations of language, dogma, religious ritual, and even knowledge because these are claimed to prevent the mind from understanding the workings of itself (Jayakar 197; Rodrigues 71). His teachings consistently encourage audiences to become engaged in a journey inside their own minds. Krishnamurti’s view of the mind is central to understanding this journey; in Krishnamurti’s opinion, there is no dichotomy between unconscious and conscious states. He maintained that human consciousness includes what is normally considered to be the unconscious, and that the deeper levels of the mind are largely free of the conditioning by which the surface levels are bound. Krishnamurti claimed that because they lack conditioning, the deeper levels of consciousness can be explored and become a source of new things (Holroyd 50).

Krishnamurti thought that the mind was conditioned by reason and the expectations of our society, culture, and personal needs (Holroyd 50). He held that having a conditioned mind is an obstacle that needs to be overcome through insight in order for an individual to move to a higher state of consciousness (Rodrigues 67). Krishnamurti talked in multiple ways about the conditioned mind. One of these ways is through the analogy of the pendulum. He used this analogy to show that normal consciousness swings from past to future, and then reverses. Humans are always in one of the two states, either the past which consists of memories, or the future which consists of expectations. Krishnamurti claimed that at the center of the pendulum swing, the present exists, and it is at this infinitesimal moment when a preconscious state of mind can be cultivated (Holroyd 52). By training the mind to “live” in the present, it can be emptied of all content in order to facilitate a true awareness of what is (Holroyd 53). Awareness of what is comes through insight and signifies the development of the religious mind (Rodrigues 123).

Knowledge was thought by Krishnamurti to be an impediment to perception of what is. His explanation of why this is forms his epistemology, or theory of knowledge. Krishnamurti’s goal was not for individuals to erase all of their knowledge, for some knowledge is clearly necessary for survival (Rodrigues 122). He rather placed his emphasis on knowledge that relates to values. This is the knowledge that informs people’s expectations or inhibitions, and is suspect because it acts as a barrier to the way people experience the world. If this knowledge informs someone’s expectations, then it prevents them from experiencing anything new (Holroyd 58-59). Having insight depends on shedding knowledge that biases experience of the world because it causes a distorted picture to be seen instead of reality. Religious dogma comes under this category of knowledge because it shapes an individual’s values, and thus their experience of the world (Holroyd 61).

Another impediment to true awareness of what is, according to Krishnamurti, is the self (Shringy 221-222). Like knowledge, the view of the self is also made up of the past; it is a collection of perceptions and memories to which people give substance. This collection of perceptions and memories is seen as the entity, or the “I,” that has agency in actions; it is through this misconception that people become more tied to the past, and further from the present where true awareness of what is exists (Holroyd 54). Krishnamurti claims to have eliminated the “I” from his experience, though the path to this elimination comes about not by any specific or concentrated effort, but by indirect means (Shringy 223). The elimination of the “I” is thought to accompany insight and is a hallmark of the religious mind. Through an acute awareness it becomes possible to dissolve the barrier between the self and its experiences (Rodrigues 109). This acute awareness is also the path to what Krishnamurti thought to be true intelligence. He said that a “sensitive awareness of the totality of life” is intelligence (Krishnamurti 122), without being caught up in the particulars, such as life’s “problems, contradictions, miseries, [and] joys” (Krishnamurti 121). It is necessary to have a choice-less awareness, or freedom from interpreting and evaluating each aspect of life, in order to see what is as it is (Shringy 223).

The mind that is free of thought that is capable of perception, and this is insight (Rodrigues 108). True insight into what is frees the conditioned mind. However, the movement from the conditioned to the religious mind cannot be experienced in any way because through insight the self is dissolved, and is no longer the separate agent necessary for experience to occur (Rodrigues 115). True insight into what is- is the movement to the religious mind, and according to Krishnamurti, religion becomes the activity of the free mind. The religious mind sees its connections with the whole of reality. Krishnamurti emphasizes that to understand the whole of reality is to understand oneself because they are one and the same (Rodrigues 124).

Revelation of what is- is a permanent and instant occurrence that ends conditioned thinking and induces Mind, which is a transformed state of consciousness (Shringy 147). The Mind in meditation is the religious mind, and this state is Truth. Truth is holistic in Krishnamurti’s view, for the heightened reality is both induced by Truth, and a manifestation of Truth; Truth to the religious mind is reality (Rodrigues 198; Shringy 74).

Bibliography and Related Readings

Holroyd, Stuart (2002) The Quest of the Quiet Mind: The Philosophy of Krishnamurti. Wellinborough: Aquarian Press

Jayakar, Pupul (1986) J. Krishnamurti: A Biography. Penguin Books

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (2003) Krishnamurti’s Notebook. California: Krishnamurti Publications of America

Lutyens, Mary (1975) Krishnamurti:The Years of Awakening. Boston: Shanmbala Productions Inc.

Martin, Raymond (2003) On Krishnamurti Belmont: Thompson/Wadsworth

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (1990) Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti’s Thought New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Shringy, Ravindra Kumar (1976) Philosophy of J. Krishnamurti: A Systematic Study New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers

Related Research Topics

Theosophical Society

The Order of the Star




Ultimate Reality

Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Self

Philosophy of Truth






Related Websites

Written by Cam Koerselman (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Krishnamurti (Jiddu)


Born into a Brahmin family in 1895, Jiddu Krishnamurti was an important man. His words capture many readers and listeners like that of a modern day God-man or Messiah. Numerous parallels to Hinduism and Buddhism are evident in his life even though he does not follow the religious values they have set in place. An example of these parallels can be seen in his renunciation of all statuses given to him by different people over his 91 years of life. The term samnyasin refers to the final stage in one’s life where a renunciation of all things occurs (Rodrigues 2006:357). This notion of samnyasin is akin to what Krishnamurti embodied. Furthermore, even though he would eventually renounce all religions (and even systems of learning) his Hindu background laid the seed of the life he was to lead. When Krishnamurti (or K as he and many others called him) was just one day old, a local astrologer, Kumara Shrowthulu, told K’s father that his new son would be a great man – encountering many obstacles on his way to becoming a great Teacher (Jayakar 16). His importance was, prophetically speaking, imminent.

Most of the books he has written are taken from oral lectures he gave throughout the world. The body of work he left behind is enormous with tremendous amounts of audio and visual materials available on the internet. A quick internet search reveals much of his body of work. Many different books can be obtained from any major retailer and many of the audio/visual resources available come from institutions bearing his name [an international website that offers audio recordings from 1966 to 1985 and a catalogue of video resources dating as far back as 1968 can be found at]. Along with the plethora of web-resources, many Krishnamurti foundations are still in existence. Foundations representing K are located in Spain, England, the United States, and Britain. In addition, Krishnamurti schools are also open in India, the United States, and Britain. Separately there are 42 countries worldwide that have autonomous committees in place sharing resources, transcribing books, and lecturing on audio/visual presentations they prepare with materials from Krishnamurti [see]. But to reaffirm, the background he was born into is seemingly causal towards the path he chose to lead his life.


Born in Madanapelle, South India, Jiddu Krishnamurti was the eighth child born to Jiddu Narianiah (father) and Sanjeevamma (mother). At 12:30 am on May 12, 1895 Krishnamurti was born in the puja room of his parent’s home. This room is an unusual place to birth a child as the room was to be pure and unpolluted in order to worship the household gods (gryha devatas) (Jayakar 16). The room was made auspicious by implementing Puspa (fresh flowers) and Dhupa (incense) and it could only be entered after a ritual bath and changing into clean clothes (Jayakar 16). Pupul Jayakar (1986) also states that birth, death, and the menstrual cycle are all ways of obtaining ritual pollution, thus, it is worthy to note that having a child born in the puja room is a strange occurrence. It is believed his mother, who was thought of as psychic, knew of K’s impending future through visions she had, otherwise she would not “have challenged the gods” by having her baby in this room (Jayakar 16).

As a child K was constantly sick, suffering frequent episodes of malaria which at one point kept him away from school for one year and when at school his “vagueness, few words, lack of interest in worldly affairs, and eyes that glazed out at the world, seeing beyond horizons” were thought of as some form of mental retardation by his teacher (Jayakar 18). Additionally, Mary Lutyens (2003) wrote in the original foreword of Krishnamurti’s Notebook about a “spiritual experience” K went through in 1922 that was followed by years of constant spine and head pain. Krishnamurti’s teacher felt he had some sort of a handicap. However, Charles Webster Leadbeater didn’t quite see the same thing. When he saw K playing with the other children he saw the boy who was to become a great spiritual teacher (Jayakar 24). Leadbeater met K four years after the death of his mother Sanjeevamma and what struck him about Krishnamurti was his kindness, or the unselfishness he exhumed when playing with the other children (Rodrigues 1990:9). Charles Webster Leadbeater was a European man in the Theosophical Society who would bring K to meet Annie Besant (the newly appointed president of the Society) by the end of 1909 (Jayakar 29).

The Theosophical Society was: “Based on the tenets of a universal brotherhood of humanity which sought to study ancient wisdom and to explore the hidden mysteries of nature and the latent powers of man. It established an occult hierarchy drawing from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, in particular the Tibetan tantric texts and teachings” (Jayakar 21). Coincidentally the co-founder of the Theosophical Society (TS), Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, wrote before her death in 1891 that the real purpose of the TS was to prepare for the coming of the World Teacher (Jayakar 21). Charles Leadbeater arranged a meeting between Krishnamurti and Besant which took place in late 1909 and by the end of 1909 Krishnamurti had entered the Esoteric section of the TS.

The transition that took place at this time is looked at as the time when K was “stripped of all his Indianness” (Jayakar 27). K and his brother, Nitya, were adopted by Annie Besant. They were told only to speak English, were only allowed to wear Western clothes, and they were “taught to bathe the British way” (Jayakar 27). Essentially, they were encouraged to grow up as young British gentlemen. The boys were also kept distant from their father to limit his influence. However, Narianiah (the boys’ father), felt that Annie Besant had misled him and he filed suit to regain custody. Annie Besant lost the case in both the local and High Court of Madras but she did win her appeal to the Privy Council. With the victory, the boys continued their schooling and would not see India from 1912 to 1922 (Jayakar 37). At this time, while in England, Krishnamurti developed a close relationship with Lady Emily Lutyens and her daughter Mary; feeling as though Emily Lutyens was like his foster mother (Rodrigues 1990:11). It was Lutyens who introduced K to all things a British aristocrat would encounter. Her daughter Mary was regarded as a friend and biographer who penned books about his life [see The Role of a Flower].

In 1911, the Order of the Rising Sun (to be renamed the Order of the Star in the East) was created with the purpose of preparation for the arrival of the World Teacher (Rodrigues 1990:10). This period would mark the first acknowledgments of his status as the “vehicle for the World Teacher.” His father Narianiah’s concern for his son’s well-being had come true (which led to the eventual lawsuit). In 1929, as leader of the Order of the Star, K gave a shocking speech in Ommen, Holland where he rejected organized religion and dissolved the Order of the Star. In the film, The Role of a Flower, Mary Lutyens talks of how the Theosophical Society was a very rich organization and Krishnamurti, in his renunciation, gave everything back to the owner and divested himself of all property. In this, the example of samnyasin rings true. He did not want to be followed; in fact, he never expected people to follow him in the first place (Rodrigues 1990:42). He didn’t want his talks held for enjoyment. His lectures were not for entertainment, though he did want people to pay attention. His attitudes also reflect the notion of moksa, which is “freedom from the bondage of ignorance into the liberation that comes with knowledge of the Self or Absolute Reality” (Rodrigues 2006:52). At this point in his life, K was being regarded as a secular philosopher that was hostile towards religion with representatives of the TS saying that the coming of the World Teacher had become corrupt and incorrect (Jayakar 80).

The rest of his life, up to his death from cancer on February 17, 1986 was a tremendous journey that led him all over the world. He spent his time talking with great world figures, scholars, and mass assembly audiences. He spoke an estimated 175 times per year, whether it was to 50 people or 8,000 audience members [see Rodrigues 1990:22 and] and many of these dialogues are transcriptions that became the books available today. Although sometimes difficult to read [see Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti’s Thought], his lectures have topics that are important to vast amounts of people. Fear, love, insight, truth, intelligence, freedom, religion, conditioning, desire, death and sorrow are all themes recurrent in Krishnamurti’s talks with important messages obtained from each topic. He also helped open schools across the globe that represented his ideals towards education and knowledge. Over his 91 years, Jiddu Krishnamurti showed incredible will in wanting to help set man free (Rodrigues 1990:19). With the ideas he has left behind, to say he strove to set humanity free seems more appropriate.


Collins, Bob, & Jay, Sue (producers) (1986) The Role of a Flower [documentary]. Great Britain: Television South

Jayakar, Pupul (1986) J. Krishnamurti: A Biography. Penguin Books

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (2003) Krishnamurti’s Notebook. California: Krishnamurti Publications of America

Krishnamurti, Jiddu (1973) The Awakening of Intelligence. New York: Harper and Row Publishers

Krishnamurti, Jiddu, Rajagopal, D (Ed.) (1964) Think on These Things. New York: Harper and Row Publishers

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (1990) Insight and Religious Mind: An Analysis of Krishnamurti’s Thought. New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Rodrigues, Hillary Peter (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge Publishing

Related Topics for Further Investigation

World Teacher

Nitya (brother)

Annie Besant

Lady Emily Lutyens

Mary Lutyens

Theosophical Society

Charles Webster Leadbeater

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

The Order of the Rising Sun (The Order of the Star to the East)

The Role of a Flower

Brahmin caste






Gryha devatas


Rishi Valley School

Brockwood Park School

Oak Grove School

Links Related to the Topic

Article written by Chad Eggebrecht (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.