The Raja-Yoga Schools of Point Loma

By Bernard Parsons

While Katherine Tingley was overseas in 1896 on her first theosophical world tour, she heard from her representative in the United States that 132 acres were available on Point Loma, a peninsula on San Diego Bay. She urged him to purchase them without delay, and by 1900 the pre-existing hotel and sanitarium were being transformed and the Raja-Yoga School had been started. Within a few years three hundred children of all classes and twenty nationalities were in attendance. At the height of its activity, the Point Loma community had a preschool for three to five year-olds, primary and secondary schools, a university, a School of Antiquity, a scientific research department, a school of music supporting a full orchestra, string quartet, choral groups, and a program of drama.

To grasp the guiding principles that determined the policies and programs of the Point Loma schools, it is necessary to understand the term raja yoga, the "royal or kingly" method used in the eternal battle of the human soul to control its weaknesses and earn its way to union with its inner god. Students on this path must become aware of the inner god that is their teacher, and of the body as the temple of the spirit, to be kept strong and fit. They must learn that the gentle promptings of the divinity within are best recognized in moments of silence and attentiveness. There is law in every department of life, and one of the skills of raja yoga is to discover what comes naturally. This path is for the dedicated; it is not a debating school exercise, nor is it a collection of facts. It is not a path merely to be read about; it must be traveled, explored, and lived with wisdom and knowledge.

H. P. Blavatsky had strong views on education:

If we had money we would found schools which would turn out something else than reading and writing candidates for starvation. Children should above all be taught self-reliance, love for all men, altruism, mutual charity, and more than anything else, to think and reason for themselves. We would reduce the purely mechanical work of the memory to an absolute minimum, and devote the time to the development and training of the inner senses, faculties and latent capacities. We would endeavour to deal with each child as a unit, and to educate it so as to produce the most harmonious and equal unfoldment of its powers, in order that its special aptitudes should find their full natural development. -- The Key to Theosophy, pp. 270-1

And for her students, young and old, she repeated the words of her own teacher:

Behold the truth before you: a clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, an unveiled spiritual perception, a brotherliness for one's co-disciple, a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction, a loyal sense of duty to the Teacher, a willing obedience to the behests of Truth, once we have placed our confidence in, and believe that Teacher to be in possession of it; a courageous endurance of personal injustice, a brave declaration of principles, a valiant defence of those who are unjustly attacked, and a constant eye to the ideal of human progression and perfection which the secret science (Gupta-Vidya) depicts -- these are the golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the Temple of Divine Wisdom. Say this to those who have volunteered to be taught by you. -- H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings 12:591

These are some of the principles on which the Point Loma schools and community were based. They were not conjured up out of Mrs. Tingley's brain. She was passing on to the West an ancient tradition long lost to it, and demonstrating the ideas and ideals that Blavatsky and her teacher spoke of. How did she set about to apply this philosophy to the running of her schools? She has sometimes been judged as having been an autocrat. Words change in meaning, and in her day it meant that she was in full control, that she exercised this control, and that she was determined to see her plan well carried out. She had her life work, and with great strength of purpose she set about carrying it through. Her guiding thought was to establish a school of compassion, and those who knew her said that it was indeed the keynote of her schools. She established a student-centered school rather than a teacher-centered one, encouraging independence of spirit in her students, which it was hoped they would gain by basing their actions on the promptings of their inner heart. In carrying out these aims, she sought the willing cooperation of students, staff, parents, and community.

To translate principles into practice is never easy; weaknesses, heredity, and the traditions of our community get in the way. Mrs. Tingley saw very clearly in what manner the principles were to be applied. She agreed with Blavatsky that it wasn't enough that schoolrooms be clean, bright with flowers, and kindly in tone, as at last they were beginning to become, or that the school day be enlivened with music and games. The curriculum at the Point Loma schools took account of Blavatsky's statement that "The real danger is the cultivation of the mere intellect as the means for material advancement, leaving the higher nature of man to go to seed utterly uncared for."

Mrs. Tingley disposed of the very strong competitive element that permeated the educational and examination system of the day, feeling that it bred selfishness and jealousy. She put forward the practice of compassion as an ideal and asked the students to be considerate of all others, as distinct from a select few. The children were taught that their duty was a special spiritual obligation. They should therefore be concerned with their own business and leave others to theirs. The school set about creating and maintaining a beautiful working environment. She was so successful that the once barren acres became tree-clad with sufficient orchards and gardens to supply the schools with flowers, fruit, and vegetables.

The curriculum was balanced. The theoretical was offset by the practical; the humble tasks were shared by all, even the most distinguished. The temple of the spirit was well fed and exercised in appropriate ways. She started out with the common sense basis of a proper physical development -- correct habits, right living, good food, fresh air, proper exercise. She did not believe in torturing the flesh -- still less in indulging it; but she did insist upon the necessity of a strong healthy body as a fitting temple of the spirit, a well tuned instrument for the soul's use.

With constant insistence on the primacy of a man's inner divinity as the source of inspiration, the schools were dedicated to making this a living feature of daily life. Mrs. Tingley set about calling for self-control in her pupils from a very early age. Self-control comes "not from the brain-mind but from the immortal indestructible part of man. . . . There exists the Divine will, the spiritual will." Many, she said, use instead the will of the brain-mind, the will they think gives them the right to drink, gamble, and make their mistakes when they want. The children had a marvelous awareness of their inner guide and friend, and this gave them the boon of hope, confidence, and calm. With help in the skill of concentration, the students became practiced in silent, intense, efficient study.

All qualities were thought of as being capable of development. Music was taught formally to every child almost before he or she could speak, in preschool at about three or four years of age, and study on an instrument was commenced quite early. In those days there were few, if any, orchestras in schools, and choirs existed in a few secondary schools. At Point Loma the school had a full orchestra and several choirs.

Raja-Yoga Symphony Orchestra, Academy Rotunda, 1912

Mrs. Tingley said of music that "it becomes a part of life itself, and one of those subtle forces of nature which, rightly applied, call into activity the divine powers of the soul."

The world has a wrong conception of the ideal in music, and not until it has rectified this can it perceive that true harmony can never proceed from one who has not that true harmony within himself.
There is an immense correspondence between music on the one hand, and thought and aspiration on the other, and only that deserves the name of music to which the noblest and the purest aspirations are responsive.
There is a science of consciousness, and into that science music can enter more largely than is usually supposed. A knowledge of the laws of life can be neither profound nor wide which neglects one of the most effective of all forces. -- Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, 3rd ed., pp. 152-4

In the field of music, good taste, a discriminating judgment, and creativity were encouraged. The result was very sensitive musicianship of such quality that one hearer, the great operatic soprano, Nellie Melba, wept with pleasure and said, "I never felt that way but once before in my life and that when I heard Parsifal for the first time."

Katherine Tingley was aware of the value of drama as a medium for the development of imagination, effective voice and gesture, and sharpening perceptions. "True drama," she said,

points away from unrealities to the real life of the soul. . . . We are within sight of the time which will restore the drama to its rightful position as one of the great redemptive forces of the age. . . .
Has not a Wise One among the ancients taught us that "out of the heart come all the issues of life?" . . . It is the heart that music and the symbolic drama reach. That is the secret of the power of these arts to regenerate.

"The Eumenides" Finale, Katherine Tingley's production, Greek Theater, Point Loma, 1922

The ancient Greek Eumenides of Aeschylus was the first of many dramas performed under Mrs. Tingley's direction, and often the whole community became involved, from the young to the aged. Again, the standards were extremely high. Plays which carried a mystical meaning had this thread-thought emphasized by all the dramatic skills proper to the occasion. Of one performance a theater critic of the San Diego Union, "Yorrick" (E. C. Clough), wrote: "The Benson Players are the most famous amateur players in the world. They live at Stratford upon Avon. I cannot say more of these San Diego amateurs than that for grace of action, harmony of diction, accuracy of dramatic detail, they could understudy every actor in the Benson school."

Anyone who even casually studies Katherine Tingley's life appreciates how her efforts included all classes of people -- the rich, the poor, prisoners in jails, anyone who would listen regardless of race or creed. She realized that the same intuitive flame burns bright in every child, whether from a slum or a palace. Given help, any child will write imaginatively, act with a good sense of drama, and develop good taste in the arts, once it learns to trust its own inner powers. This inner-self-reliance was what education needed to encourage.

With these fundamentals, when pupils arrived at the age of discretion, their minds were more apt to be open to the truth. They had studied languages, many being proficient in more than one, as Mrs. Tingley rightly insisted that to know another language taught respect for tradition and people other than one's own. This knowledge of other languages bred in them a cosmopolitan culture, while interest in the realms of literature, music, art, philosophy, and drama gave them high standards. Furthermore, their association with Mrs. Tingley as teacher, friend, and guide imbued them with that deep sense of duty to humanity upon which all true morality must rest. This was well expressed in her injunction to them: "As ye go forth into the world, seek to render noble service to all that lives." One student, Iverson L. Harris, recalled:

With K.T. the fundamental teachings of Theosophy were not only intellectual studies concerning the great problems of life, death and immortality, not solely invaluable aids in meeting the trials and difficulties of mundane existence, they were all these things and more besides. They were the daily path, with its myriad ramifications, upon which she found numberless ways to serve, to cheer, to chasten or inspire those whose Karman had brought within her sphere of influence. These ranged from the youngest in her school to men and women of international repute. To illustrate -- so axiomatic with K.T. was the doctrine of the divinity and the perfectibility of man that she regarded as failures only those who ceased their efforts toward this goal, as successful only those who ever strove therefor.

Katherine Tingley aided those who accepted her guidance, keeping alive within them the divine dissatisfaction with things as they are -- not on account of other peoples' doing, but as they are within ourselves, with their own imperfections and undeveloped potentialities for good. She was in the truest sense an educator, one who drew out the very best in her students and kept ever before them the vista of infinite spiritual growth.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

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