On Anonymity and Impersonality

An Unusual but Effective Approach of the United Lodge of Theosophists

United Lodge of Theosophists

There is one thing which some people find slightly peculiar about the methods and approach of the United Lodge of Theosophists. That is the fact that the vast majority of articles, magazines, books, and other endeavours for the spreading of Theosophy undertaken by Associates of the ULT are unsigned and anonymous as well as distinctly avoiding all references to the personal opinions and experiences of the Theosophist responsible.

This “peculiar” trait also extends to the actual Lodges and meetings of the ULT all around the world, where it can be found that programmes or advertisements do not name or identify who will be speaking at which meeting and the regular students and attendees frequently make a point of avoiding all references to themselves when addressing their fellow students in talks and discussions – sometimes, albeit in some Lodges more than others, even purposely referring to themselves during talks and study groups as “this student” as opposed to “me, myself, and I” or using the more impersonal “we” rather than the personal “I” – as well as making efforts to keep their own personality and individual character traits in the background.

ULT associates and colleagues are of course on friendly first name terms and often in close acquaintanceship with one another but when it comes to actual Theosophical work and public efforts they deliberately choose to keep themselves in the background so as to better draw attention to Theosophy rather than to themselves as imperfect individuals, which we all undoubtedly are.

Over the course of the 113 years since the United Lodge of Theosophists was founded, this deliberately impersonal and anonymous approach has occasionally resulted in some misunderstanding and even accusations that the ULT people remained anonymous because they had “something to hide” or were “secretive” or “suspicious characters.” None of this is true in the slightest. On some Theosophical forum sites online can be found remarks from other Theosophists along the lines of: “The ULT people are such truly good and sincere folks but I just don’t get why they never sign their articles and why their magazines and websites and programmes etc. don’t have any names on of speakers or leaders.”

One Theosophical writer once described the people within the ULT as having “a fad for anonymity,” a very mistaken accusation which rather misrepresents the matter.

If we refer to the words of Robert Crosbie (the founder of the ULT) in the book “The Friendly Philosopher – Letters and Talks on Theosophy and the Theosophical Life,” we find a ready answer and explanation of all this:

* “Our purpose is to draw attention to the Teachers and the Teaching, not to any others; hence it is conservation, safety, to maintain the impersonality of “U.L.T.”.” (p. 368)

[Note: “The Teachers and the Teaching” refers to H. P. Blavatsky and William Quan Judge and their teaching of Theosophy.]

* “If attention is attracted to the living workers, it is thereby detracted from the real issue.” (p. 373)

* “No room is found here for leader or authority, for dogma or superstition.” (p. 411)

* “Living persons, if made prominent, will detract from that attempt, will be attacked, to the injury of the Movement. So we will keep their names out of consideration. Let the curious and the antagonistic surmise all they want to – the really earnest will then judge by the fruits, not by persons. Theosophy does not emanate from any society nor from any living persons.” (p. 368-369)

* “Now possibly it may be seen what our Lodge stands for: the three objects as laid down by H.P.B. and Masters, and along the lines laid down by Them; no dogmatism, no personal followings, no “spiritual authority.” . . . In this way, true discrimination is gained and the bane of all spiritual movements, authority, dogmatism, and their corollary – personal followings – avoided.” (p. 29)

* “Strange, they do not see, if some human beings know the existence of the most important message to the world in untold centuries, and bring the fact and the message to their attention, leaving it to be accepted or rejected without drawing any attention to themselves, that an act of self-effacement has been performed in order that the Message may be judged on its own merits. They are evidently not aware that it was the prominence of persons and their claims of personal knowledge that drew the attention of enquirers from the Message itself. Nor does it seem to be understood by them that the “anonymity” adopted was for the very benefit of such as they and all others who desire to obtain that message at first hand with no intermediate distractions.” (p. 189)

* “As persons concerned with the Message and its propagation, we certainly are not “hiding,” for we exist and can be found; but as “persons” of intelligence, character and self-sacrifice, we desire most of all to place the Message of Masters in the hands of those who wish to learn and know, without attracting attention to ourselves or seeking any distracting notoriety. For many years this has been done at a tremendous cost of time, money, and effort; for with us it has been a constant and consistent giving and we have asked for nothing in return. Nor can it be said that we are seeking recognition or fame of any kind, since no names are presented to which fame may be attached.” (p. 190)

* “The policy and methods of U.L.T. were instituted to avoid personalities altogether and make the effort dependent upon a body of students who desire no recognition for nor of themselves, thus putting the Teaching directly in the hands of those who would know, to be studied and applied; hence the “anonymity.”” (p. 190)

* “An impersonal presentation of Theosophy without placing persons in the lime-light – all of it for the undiluted benefit of those who seek to know Theosophy.” (p. 191)

* “Let “U.L.T.” flourish on its moral worth alone. The work we have to do, the knowledge we have to give out, depends on no other names than those of the true Teachers, H.P.B. and W.Q.J. Associates must learn to look to Them, to point to Them and to the Masters whom They served. Nothing else will restore the Movement. Unity is the key note of our attempt . . . So far as the world and all Theosophists are concerned, Theosophy comes from H.P.B. and W.Q.J., or rather, through them. So, to avoid misconceptions, we get back of living persons to the Message and the Messengers.” (p. 368-369)

* “What is at the root of the schisms that have disrupted the Theosophical Society that H.P.B. left? Personalities every time. What is the opposite and corrective of Personality? Nothing less than Impersonality which seeks nothing for itself and everything for the Cause of Theosophy pure and simple. There is no worldly fame, glory or profit in such a course, yet it, and it alone, removes every obstacle that might intervene between the Message of Theosophy and those who desire to study and apply it on its own merits. For that reason, and that reason alone, are the magazine Theosophy and “The United Lodge of Theosophists” conducted anonymously. The mind of the race is still obsessed by the idea that it is important and essential to know who the active agents are, whereas the important thing is the merit of the thing done.” (p. 407-408)

In an e-mail reply to a visitor to this site who had asked some questions about the ULT, we explained:

The ULT is unique in that it doesn’t have a “head” or “organisational leader.” Every Lodge of the ULT around the world is entirely independent. The Los Angeles Lodge is sometimes spoken of as “the parent Lodge” but this is due to the fact that it was the very first ULT Lodge, when the ULT began just over 100 years ago, and that it serves as the central registry where the ULT’s books and publications are printed and where a list of ULT associates from around the world is kept.

We use the term “associates” rather than “members,” since it isn’t a membership organisation but is a non-organised group, in which every Lodge and every person is independent and free. In every ULT Lodge there are usually a few people who help to oversee things in that particular Lodge, in the sense of ensuring that everything runs smoothly and of making themselves available to offer help and support to other attendees of the Lodge. It is usually the oldest or longest serving attendees of a particular Lodge who fulfill that role. But they are never looked upon or thought of as being “leaders” or “senior teachers” or anything like that.

The whole essence of the ULT, right from its inception by Robert Crosbie, was that there was to never be any “authority,” neither assumed nor conferred, and that everyone in the ULT should simply view themselves and others as “students of Theosophy,” never as “teachers” or as being more important or better than anyone else. So, every ULT Lodge is independent but none of the Lodges have a “head.” The whole focus is unity, equality, and focus on the Teachings rather than on human personalities and individuals. This is one of the main reasons why many ULT writers write articles anonymously or just signed with initials; because they don’t wish to draw attention in any way to themselves but want to draw attention to Theosophy instead.

We also added that –

Although the Los Angeles Lodge may be called the Parent Lodge, no-one there is a “leader” or “head” of any kind whatsoever. There are a few people there who help to oversee things in that particular Lodge but they are not “leaders” of that Lodge, nor of the ULT as a whole. It just so happens that the registry of associates is kept there and that the publications are printed there. The reason for this is because, like I said, this was the very first ULT Lodge and so those things have always been kept and done there and it makes sense for them to carry on being done at that particular location.

It may possibly seem strange to imagine that the ULT can exist without leaders or any organisational structure but it does. The ULT uses the phrase “independent devotion to the cause of Theosophy” as the main reason given for why people may wish to become ULT Associates. So it is the case that everyone involved in the ULT has very similar aims, views, and intentions, and is genuinely committed to the service of the spreading of Theosophy, and as a result the ULT tends to be a very harmonious group of people.

This method and approach of the ULT that we have been discussing is indeed undeniably “peculiar” and “strange” when compared with the world’s regular way of doing things. But it should not seem abnormal or unusual to Theosophists, since it is really the practical application of a theme which can be found throughout the Theosophical teachings.

“What the Theosophist has to do above all is to forget his personality,” says HPB in “The Key to Theosophy.”

In “The Voice of The Silence” the sincere aspirant beginning to tread the Bodhisattva path is told, “Ere thy Soul’s mind can understand, the bud of personality must be crushed out, the worm of sense destroyed past resurrection.”

One of the rules for would-be disciples in “Light on the Path” reads, “And that power which the disciple shall covet is that which shall make him appear as nothing in the eyes of men.”

Our lower self – our personal nature consisting of name, form, personal identity, personal likes and dislikes, personal opinions, personal aims and ambitions etc. – is sometimes referred to in Theosophy as “the false personality.” Why is it false? Because it is not who and what we really are. It is but a temporary, evanescent, and very impermanent garment and outer shell in and through which we have reincarnated for this particular lifetime.

Our true Self, according to Theosophy, is the Higher Self – the Atman – which is not personal or individual in any way. It is the ONE Universal Self of ALL. All is One because the One is All. There is no separation in the Universe. In our essential nature, each one of us is the One Supreme Infinite Brahman. And in light of this, why should any of us wish to force our “false personalities” onto others by endeavouring to get them to focus on or pay attention to our names, our bodily appearance, our age, our nationality, our gender, our personal characteristics, our achievements and failures, or any other of these ultimately illusory things?

The impersonal approach of the ULT also serves as an invaluable and ongoing exercise in self-discipline and self-mastery for those who choose to follow it. Our self-centred and incredibly shallow modern culture and civilisation has unfortunately bred into many of us the seeds of personal ambition, resulting in us often feeling eager or even desperate to seize any possible opportunities that may arise to make ourselves come across as important, superior, or authoritative or to attract a crowd of admirers and worshippers for ourselves.

Seeing how such attitudes had gripped some of the most prominent people in the Theosophical Movement following the passing of H. P. Blavatsky and always to the detriment of both their followers and Theosophy itself, Robert Crosbie realised that an impersonal and anonymous approach, wherever possible, was the best way forward.

Having said this, it must be stressed that nothing is a hard and fast “rule” in the United Lodge of Theosophists and so there are also a number of ULT Associates who choose, for whatever reason, to keep their names and personal identities visible to a certain degree on their websites and in their writing. If they feel that this is the best thing for them to do, then so be it. In their case they may be right. And as we said in our recently updated (2022) explanatory article about the ULT: At present, there are one or two ULT Lodges that do advertise the names of speakers, etc. Although unusual from the standard ULT perspective, this is not to be criticised, since Robert Crosbie himself emphasised that the ULT “should never at any time, nor should any of our policies and practices, degenerate into hard and fast conclusions as to men, things, or methods of work.” (“The Friendly Philosopher” p. 381)

But the essence of the matter comes down to the fact that it is only Theosophy – the Timeless Truth of the Ancient Wisdom – to which we wish to draw the world’s attention. Just a few weeks before she departed from her physical body, HPB wrote these words:

“Every wish and thought I can utter are summed up in this one sentence, the never-dormant wish of my heart, “Be Theosophists, work for Theosophy!” Theosophy first, and Theosophy last; for its practical realization alone can save the Western world.”

One reader commented, “Blavatsky and Judge never wrote anonymously and never hid their names, so nor should any other Theosophist.” While this is true of their books, it is not the case for all of their many hundreds of articles. HPB wrote numerous articles under pseudonyms, others signed with just a seemingly random initial such as “S.”, and others still were just left completely unsigned. The same is true, but to a far greater extent, for William Judge. He had quite a number of regular pseudonyms under which he wrote articles, in an attempt to avoid drawing much attention to himself. In Judge’s monthly magazine “The Path,” HPB once wrote the following:

“The society has more victorious disciples than is commonly supposed. But these stand aside and work instead of declaiming. Such are our most zealous as well as our most devoted disciples. When they write they hide their names; when they read garbled translations of sacred books, they see the real meaning under the veil of obscurity that western philologists have thrown upon them, for they know the mystery language. These few men and women are the pillars of our temple. They alone paralyze the incessant work of our theosophic moles.”

In closing, however, it must be acknowledged that the mere fact of doing something or writing something anonymously does not automatically equate to true impersonality in the sense encouraged by Theosophy. In a ULT setting it should certainly aid its development but we are mistaken if we imagine that a Theosophist who does not follow or practise our conception of what constitutes “true impersonality” is therefore not being truly impersonal. That may indeed be the case but equally it may not be. So while the above references from “The Friendly Philosopher” are important to bear in mind and reflect upon, they should ideally be taken alongside the following, also from Robert Crosbie, from p. 127-128 of “The Friendly Philosopher”:

“The question of personality is so large that it might seem as though its successful solution should resemble the working out of a complicated mathematical problem. But the greatest truths are the simplest. And if we reflect a moment on what impersonality is not, perhaps that will help us to see what it is.

“Some orate forcibly against personality. That does not prove they are free from it.

“Some say little, but the effect of what is said is to imply that they are impersonal. They seem so modest, but are only politic.

“Some are afraid to talk about personality, thinking that it must be shunned as an ogre.

“Yet others preach a doctrine of impersonality which takes everything human out of life and makes of it a cold negation. This doctrine has no patience with evolution – all faults must disappear at a single stroke.

“Impersonality isn’t talking; it isn’t silence; it isn’t insinuation; it isn’t repulsion; it isn’t negation. Above all, it isn’t a diplomacy which masks ambition.

“Impersonality means freedom from personality, but none of us are going to attain that, right away; we are doing well enough if we are persistently, albeit slowly, overcoming.

“For practical purposes: if we are developing the child-heart; if we are learning to love things beautiful; if we are becoming more honest and plain and simple; if we are beginning to sense the sweet side of life; if we are getting to like our friends better and extending the circle; if we feel ourselves expanding in sympathy; if we love to work for Theosophy and do not ask position as a reward; if we are not bothering too much about whether we are personal or impersonal – this is traveling on the path of impersonality.”

~ * ~

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