As always, my aim here is not to accuse people. I deliver facts, hopefully objective and no judgements. The following figures are based on Adyar's Transparency. I would like to highlight this. At least I do not know such figures from other TS. In the following, however, I often address other TS as well, because it affects many.
How the current state is
I came across this topic via the The National President’s Annual Report (in it's quarterly Theosophy in Australia) of TS Adyar Australia.
As at 30 June 2021 this TS had 700 members (Source), a loss of 60 members over the last 12 month, means a lost of 8 %. In 2009 (see Theosophy in Australia, November 2009, page 120) membership stood at 1,287, so within the last 12 years this TS achieved a loss of 54 % of its members. If we go back 100 years, i.e. in 1921, the membership in TS Adyar Australia was 2,309 (Source), which clearly and bold underlines even more how dramatic the loss of the last decade is.
It's not a secret, that this generally applies to Adyar (and very likely all other TS). 1929 (the Year Krishnamurti left the Theosophical Society Adyar) the world membership stood at 43,600 (Source), 2016 at 28,000 members (thereof 40%-50% from India (Source 1, Source 2)). Membership of the Indian Section in 2021 stood at 9,039 compared to the membership of 10,413 in 2020, a loss of 13 % (Source).
So today one can assume a membership of the TS Adyar worldwide of about 20,000, if any, means also: only in the last 5 years a lost of almost 30% of it's membership and since 1929 more than 50%. That's quite remarkable.
By the way: Can you guess, how many members TS Adyar Germany has, a country with 80 million inhabitants where spirituality is developing magnificently? I tell you: There are 125 people (Source).
And now we must not forget, "that the Adyar TS has within it some 85 or 90 per cent of the theosophical movement worldwide" (Source). So we can conclude: The whole organized theosophical movement has a worldwide impact in these times of not more than round about 23,000 people (as members of theosophical organisations). And if the momentum of the last decade continues, by mid-century there will be no more than 5,000.
Do you think that's OK, better to have 20,000 than nothing, so it's nothing to be "ashamed" of?
Possibilities, how it could be
Have we become less on this planet? World population is now 7.9 billion (Source), was in 1900 1.6 billion (Source), a fivefold increase in the last 120 years. Are people less interested in such spiritual topics? The word Spirituality increased its presence in books sixfold since 1970 (Source).
In light of these facts, a five-fold increase (let's say from 35,000) in the number of members of the TS (is 175,000) would not be a gain but only a stagnation in "market share". That would be the normal development, only calculated on the world population. If I also take into account, that the subject of spirituality also experienced a six-fold increase in interest, then the normal development would be a number of members today of 1,050,000. Again, stagnation in market share.
Under favourable conditions, it might have been possible to double this, then we are talking about 2,100,000 members. But we are facing a loss of 50%, i.e. only half of what it was 100 years ago, and most of it in the last 20 years. Currently, the entire organised movement: 23,000. Almost by a factor of 100 less.
Yes, that's roughly calculated, but not taken out of the air. It is only supposed to give an idea, and it does, even if you halve the final number and I include all TS. More than 80% of the readers of this newsletter think that Theosophy falls far short of its potential (Source). And they are not the only ones. So why the discrepancies?
Some reasons for this disaster
"Schism" and fragmentation has for sure a share in it, it means weakening, but then they should all together have achieved growth, at the very least stagnation.
It may also be, that even 140 years later, one could still claim, that the material is still too demanding for a broad mass (which may well be, if it is to carry us through the next 2000 years) but things will have changed in these 1.5 centuries and even in this respect, too, one should at least retain one's "market share". And if so, why not take a step back? For example, read something by Eckhart Tolle, one of the most successful spiritual authors in America and worldwide (who also counts Krishnamurti among his teachers at least in the German Wikipedia). In my opinion, it is the simplicity and taking people by the hand that makes him so successful.
Or the real founders made a mistake and withdrew? I personally do not think that is possible, not as far as Theosophy and the "great cause" itself are concerned, even if Blavatsky already had a different opinion at least about Adyar during her lifetime and that certainly plays a role. The times we live in and the system? Yes, that too, but here Blavatsky already taught us better with her success.
There are a lot of aspects, but what I think:
This old fashioned membership concept is a dead concept. Today, people are members of Netflix, Spotify or Amazon prime and are happy to pay. Why?
That's the second point. I do not recommend any of these portals, but people like to pay there because they get something for their money. But what can TS offer their members that they can't find for free on the net, that is full of spirituality? Nothing (but I'm happy to be corrected along with everyone here, social contacts of like-minded people f.e., yes, but only for the 50+ generation via this way).
Today, if you like and want to support someone, you follow them on the numerous social media platforms. And a lot of money is earned there with advertising (e.g. YouTube) and donations (e.g. Twitch), if the community is large enough (100,000+), of course, and the content is advertising-friendly. YouTube alone pays out billions of dollars to its content creators every year (Source). And a large additional part of the income of these Social Media "Stars" comes from donations and other advertising deals (product placement etc.).
This is what has been understood in America, whose YouTube channel is full of content (over 550 videos and over 11 million views so far). In my personal opinion, it will not be as much selflessness as it seemed recently in one of the regular electronic donation begging letters to push the channel like this. They earn 50 up to 500 dollars a month with the channel (probably more at the top end), according to Socialblade. They have over 100,000 subscribers, although, as Social blade shows, they probably bought in to make it a little nicer, see the total subscriber weekly statistic below left (what many do).
However, not that I want to turn Theosophy into a business and a donation-begging club. But this is how "business" of "membership" works today. You deliver a constant stream of authentic, interesting, fancy content to the "target audience" and you have with your reach (your fans and followers and YouTube does the advertising itself, you only have to provide the content) exactly what advertisers are looking for access to their target groups and these are rather young than old and that brings us to the next point.
Total failure in youth work over decades, that is unfortunately another bitter fact in my opinion (there have been a few small efforts in recent years). I don't mean proselytising and advertising, no, I mean thinking about how to and act to reach and inspire young people with theosophical content in a modern form via modern media. Theosophy would have so much to give, just the lost history and development of only this round that was given to us, what a treasure trove of content - almost completely unused.
What prevents young people (and others), when they hear about Theosophy, from turning to it? The next point: Since the T.S. do not do what they should do, to defend Theosophy against all too harsh attacks - they have done next to nothing for decades - Theosophy has often degenerated into a Nazi-racist-antisemite-liars-horror-cabinet in the general public. Root races and Aryans, only these two words are enough in Germany to awaken the above-mentioned association. Who wants to have anything to do with something like that? Nobody.
One could certainly go on here, but let me come to the main point and what I think about it: All this structured failure over decades, in fact one must say over a century now, in so many generations, places, TS and circumstances, is anyone going to tell me that this is a coincidence?
Solution - small step with big effect
There can only be one first step: Dissolution of the esoteric sections, 2/3 of the people reading here are of the opinion, that such secret sections must be dissolved immediately. Read here why in the 2020/04-issue. There is no coincidence, that's the obstacle!
Then turning to the topic of morals, ethics, virtues:
Theosophy has to INCULCATE ETHICS; it has TO PURIFY THE SOUL ... It is not by studying Occultism for selfish ends, for the gratification of one's personal ambition, pride, or vanity, that one can ever reach the true goal: that of HELPING SUFFERING MANKIND. (H. P. Blavatsky in "The Key to Theosophy" (Section 2 Exoteric and esoteric Theosophy))
When humanity becomes more reasonable again, suffering subsides. A topic, that could be worked on without differences by all parts of the movement, whether organized or not, in unity! So if unity were really important, here is the issue. From there we could go further.
But until the first point is not true, there will be no hope of improvement and any attempt to change anything fundamental. The best concerns and ideas and no one doubts that there have already been many good ideas and efforts (f.e. here, see point 4 or a bit older here) will sooner or later fail within the organization due to the inner force and the counteraction of the given warnings. In this way organized Theosophy will thus always fall short by 100 times its potential.
Share your thoughts at the end in the comments section.
Thank you for your work. The…
Also, I did not see any…
@Raum: It may be that I have…
@Ramu: It may be that I have overlooked it, it may also be that the policy has changed and we will no longer know the numbers in the future, or perhaps there were significantly fewer than last year and they prefer to keep a low profile, etc.
Traditional Theosophy is…
Hello Steven Chernikeeff,…
Hello Steven Chernikeeff, thanks, yes, that there are many more theosophists, of course I am aware, that's why I often talk about the organized movement, not that Bailey or Roerich groups are not organized, but nothing official, I think you understand me, I have to draw that line. And since you can't link into groups in Facebook, unfortunately, that gets a bit lost when the organization is limited to a Facebook group.