Discipline Precedes the Mysteries

By Kirby Van Mater

What was the purpose behind the theosophical center at Point Loma, and was that purpose fulfilled there? The center was started as the School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity, announced almost immediately after Katherine Tingley took charge of the Theosophical Society in 1896. It was an attempt to bring into modern life the atmosphere of the Mystery schools of the ancient world, and to demonstrate theosophical ideals in practical terms. How did this School evolve, and in what ways did it succeed in carrying out its mission?

In her childhood Katherine Tingley imagined schools where students were educated so that their true spiritual qualities were developed along with regular studies. The little girl gave talks to the imagined students in her "White City" to be built in "the West." Her grandfather, mystic and Freemason Nathan Chase, and his neighbor John Greenleaf Whittier understood her dreams and encouraged her. Later she learned from General John C. Fremont of a place in the West such as she had imagined. He told her of a point of land in California sweeping westward and then turning south so that it enclosed San Diego Bay on one side and faced the Pacific Ocean on the other. Its atmosphere, he said, attracted him back whenever he traveled in that part of the country.

On Point Loma Mrs. Tingley would build her "school in the West." At the ceremony when laying its cornerstone, she said:

Few can realize the vast significance of what has been done here today. In ancient times the founding of a temple was looked upon as of world-wide importance. Kings and princes from far distant countries attended the ceremonies of the foundation. Sages pregathered from all parts of the world to lend their presence at such a time; for the building of a temple was rightly regarded as a benefit upon all humanity.

Men, women, and children came from all over the world to the School of Antiquity, where the whole person was exposed not only to academic learning but to drama, music, and a regimen of daily living which communicated by sound, beauty, and action what words could not tell.

In keeping with its inner mission, the keynotes of life at the School were discipline and living theosophical ideals. In Mrs. Tingley's words:

Let us not forget that we are working together for the purpose of serving humanity and bringing to it the knowledge that it needs; that this is not a commercial effort, nor simply an ordinary educational effort, but that it is a spiritual effort in the highest sense; and for that reason we must be spiritually endowed with those qualities that make for true nobility.
* * * *
We cannot bring great ideals into concrete expression until we are the living expression of those ideals. We cannot set right the affairs of the world in a way that shall build spiritually for the future, until our lives are based absolutely right. The nations are wandering today, . . . but no one can help them in a lasting way whose own little nation -- the individual life -- is not spiritually what it should be. -- Theosophy: The Path of the Mystic, pp. 49, 66

Residents were reminded of the value of harmony, silence, constant aspiration, and the need to do the smallest duty with full attention. They were expected to take part in the cultural, educational, and practical activities, to work during the day and attend meetings and classes in the evening. Periodically Mrs. Tingley would request them all to keep a particular thought, such as brotherhood, constantly in mind during their daily duties, so that they would be inwardly unified:

Our problem is to transfer more and more of ourselves to the real battlefield. That field is one that consists of the feelings and thoughts of men; therefore, by right feeling and thought is the battle maintained. Our strength lies in keeping positive; in holding a steady joy in our hearts; in a momentary meditation on all floating great ideas till we have seized them and made them ours; in a meditation with the imagination on the life of humanity in the future, and its grandeur -- in dwelling on the conception of brotherhood. -- Ibid., p. 21

How can we evaluate the lasting import of the theosophical work conducted at Point Loma? For thirty years it continued educational and humanitarian work under Mrs. Tingley's direction. People from all over the globe, well known and obscure, visited the grounds, attended dramatic performances and concerts, and heard lectures in person or on the radio, or read them in books and periodicals. Her work for peace, internationalism, the abolition of capital punishment, and educational reform received wide notice. She highlighted the practical application of theosophy, in contradistinction to intellectual study or psychic development, while demonstrating the fundamental distinction between the cause of theosophy and any organization or title.

After Katherine Tingley's death, the focus of theosophical work changed. She was succeeded as theosophical Leader by her associate of many years, Gottfried de Purucker. On December 5, 1929, he called a congress at Point Loma to amend the Constitution of the Universal Brotherhood organization, which resumed its original name, The Theosophical Society. Many activities were phased out, and eventually Theosophical University alone remained of the Raja-Yoga schools. In June 1942 the International Headquarters moved to Covina, California, near Los Angeles.

James A. Long points out that theosophical leaders have three basic aspects to their work: the outer, the inner, and the seed-sowing aspects:

On the surface, KT's work at Point Loma could very readily be asserted by her critics and those who take the narrow point of view to have been a failure. But KT was sowing seeds -- not simply in the minds and the hearts of the pupils of the Raja-Yoga School, for that was only a minor aspect of it, the very outermost aspect of it. She was sowing seeds in the bedrock of civilization itself. And we have seen those seeds bear fruit, . . .

for example, in the increasing calls for world peace, in the growing sense of human beings as citizens of the entire earth, in protesting against capital punishment, in more enlightened care of prisoners, in various reforms of the educational system in the United States, in the handling of youth and in organizations taking an interest in their problems. As Mr. Long remarks, people "may or may not be doing it in the name of theosophy, nor may they be doing it in as theosophical a manner as we would probably like them to do, but they are doing it."

However, there was another aspect to the Point Loma efforts, and particularly the Raja-Yoga School:

there were but relatively few who succeeded in withstanding the training that it involved. It was not what many, many members thought, a purely educational thing. It was a terrific test of the souls of the individuals who went into that School; . . . -- Remarks at meeting, May 1951, Stockholm, Sweden

Mrs. Tingley's efforts were an experiment. They exposed that most people cannot yet benefit from such intense training, and that it is difficult but crucial to find truly qualified teachers and other personnel in order to put such educational ideals into practice. But fundamentally the School of Antiquity was a re-expression of the Mysteries, those schools of living and learning that existed in ancient times. Just as there were widely known Mystery-centers in the distant past, so will they return in time by karmic law. Katherine Tingley's efforts helped sow the seeds for the eventual restoration of these universal spiritual institutions to public life.

More immediately, Mrs. Tingley's endeavor laid the foundation of discipline, aspiration, and distillation of theosophical teachings into practical living which called forth from her successor, G. de Purucker, the tremendous exposition of theosophical philosophy, which he gave largely to students prepared to understand him by their training under Mrs. Tingley. For truly, discipline and "living the life" precede the Mysteries: "Once we attune our minds to the great principles of brotherhood and service, our hearts open, our minds clear, and the new light that we long for will break" (Path of the Mystic, p. 44). The inner atmosphere of the Point Loma School is well summed up in Katherine Tingley's paraphrase of the Gayatri:

O my Divinity! thou dost blend with the earth and fashion for thyself Temples of mighty power.
O my Divinity! thou livest in the heart-life of all things and dost radiate a Golden Light that shineth forever and doth illumine even the darkest corners of the earth.
O my Divinity! blend thou with me that from the corruptible I may become Incorruptible; that from imperfection I may become Perfection; that from darkness I may go forth in Light.
  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press.)

  • Tingley Menu