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Arundale, George Sydney

(1878-1945). Third International President of the Theosophical Society (TS) was born in Surrey, England, December 1, 1878. He was adopted at a young age by his aunt, Francesca E. ARUNDALE. He joined the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society in 1895. He graduated from St. John’s College, Cambridge with an M.A. in 1902. The next year he became a professor of history at the Central Hindu College. After a year of teaching, he was appointed Headmaster of the school department in 1907. The following year he was promoted to Vice Principal, and in 1909 he succeeded Dr. Arthur Richardson as Principal of the College.

Based upon his belief in the near coming of a great teacher through the vehicle of J. KRISHNAMURTI, in 1910 Arundale established the Order of the Rising Sun of India as a private group of faculty and students of the college who shared the same beliefs. The Order became public in January of 1911, but the college trustees did not approve and raised a protest. Annie Besant, International President at the time, intervened and changed the name of the organization to The Order of the Star in the East, made it into an international organization, and asked Krishnamurti to be its head. In the meantime, the antagonism over Arundale’s connection with Krishnamurti was so great that he resigned his position from the College and traveled through Italy for almost a year with Charles W. LEADBEATER, Krishnamurti and Krishnamurti’s brother Jiddu NITYANANDA. By 1915 he returned and took a position with the British Red Cross. In May of that year, he organized a Theosophical Fraternity in Education, founded on the objective of realizing the ideal of “education as service.” In October of the same year, Arundale was elected General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in England. However, he only served two years of his term before Besant recalled him to India in 1917 to work as the Organizing Secretary of the All-India Home Rule League. In June the government of Madras (now Chennai) issued an order of internment to Arundale, Besant and Bahmanji P. Wadia under the rules of the Defense of India act of 1915. These orders required that they take residence outside of Madras, and the three were prohibited from writing or publishing speeches. Further, all previous publications by them were banned. The three relocated to the Nilgiri hills and spent the first part of the interment at “Gulistan,” a cottage Henry S. OLCOTT had purchased for his and Helena P. Blavatsky’s retirement. During their internment, their correspondence was subject to censorship. On Sept. 18th, Besant sent a telegram to Adyar saying that they had been released the night before.

Shortly after his release, Arundale returned to education and became Headmaster of the National University in Madras. The next year, he helped to organize the Society for the Promotion of National Education, an organization designed to address the problems of education in India. The educational system at that time was dominated by missionaries and the curriculum was not sensitive to the needs of Indian culture. The purpose of this new Society was to develop a curriculum that helped to preserve Indian culture rather than destroy it. In 1920, Arundale was appointed Minister of Education to the Maharajah Holkar of Indore. The next year, Robert Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, appointed Arundale as one of the two Commissioners for the Indian Scouts. In August of 1923, Besant gave Arundale the directorship of the Young Theosophist Movement. Early the following year, the National University at Madras conferred the degree of Doctor of Letters on Arundale. After Besant’s death in 1933, Arundale was involved in the establishment of the Besant Memorial School in Adyar, Madras. The school opened in 1934 and he was made honorary Educational Advisor.

In 1920, at the age of forty-one, Arundale proposed marriage to sixteen-year-old Rukmini Devi (see ARUNDALE, RUKMINI DEVI), daughter of Nilakanta Sastry, Madras. The announcement of the marriage created controversy and strong opposition over issues of their age and cultural differences. To avoid further opposition, they quietly married in a civil ceremony in Bombay with no mention of the event in any of the theosophical journals at the time.

On July 26, 1925, Arundale was ordained into the priesthood of the Liberal Catholic Church, and was consecrated as a Bishop the following Sunday. Four days later, on August 8th, Arundale reported that he, along with Jiddu Krishnamurti, C. JINARAJADASA, and James I. WEDGWOOD were initiated as ARHATS (the fourth initiation). Two nights later, Arundale said he received from the MAHĀ-CHOHAN the names of ten of the twelve apostles that were chosen to work with the Lord MAITREYA when he comes into this world. George Arundale believed himself to be a direct pupil of the Mahā-Chohan and was to be one of the twelve disciples.

The next year, Arundale became the General Secretary of the Australian Section of the Theosophical Society, and founded the short-lived journal Advance Australia, as the organ for an Australia-India League. He also created a new section journal, The Australian Theosophist, which premiered in July. In the June edition of Theosophy in Australia, Arundale launched a “Theosophise Australia Campaign,” where he called for the doubling of the membership of the Australian Section in one year, and the mass publication and distribution of theosophical tracts. Arundale was also instrumental in the opening of 2GB, a theosophical broadcasting station in Sydney. The station officially opened on August 23rd, and broadcasted from the Manor, a theosophical center situated overlooking Sydney harbor. At the December 1928 international convention, held at Benares (now Varanasi), Arundale was elected General Secretary of the Indian Section, thus becoming the first person to have been the General Secretary of three sections. Shortly before the opening of that Convention, a controversy arose over whether ceremonies should be performed. Krishnamurti had earlier criticized the use of ceremony at theosophical functions. Consequently, Besant made a ruling to prohibit any ceremonies. Arundale, in defiance of her orders, performed a Liberal Catholic mass within sixty feet of the headquarters. Ernest Armine Wodehouse published a protest in Ānanda, a journal that promoted Krishnamurti. His protest was rebutted in the February 1929 issue of The Theosophist, where it was reasoned that Arundale had a right to his opinion and that Besant’s authority was limited to the Headquarters’ property.

In 1929, George and Rukmini Arundale began an extensive speaking tour through Java, Australia, the United States and Europe. In Australia, George inaugurated a “Who’s for Australia League,” and in the February 1931 issue of World Theosophy, he claimed over 100,000 members. The couple continued to tour the various sections almost continuously through 1934. From a series of lectures in the U.S., Arundale published Mount Everest: Its Spiritual Significance.

With the death of Annie Besant in September 1933, the office of International President for the first time became vacant without a nomination from the previous President. In November, both Arundale and Ernest WOOD were accepted as nominees for the Presidency. This was the first time more than one person ran for the office, so there was no precedent regarding the conduct of the electoral campaign. Albert Powell WARRINGTON, interim International President, refused to allow the pages of The Theosophist to be used for campaigning, since such activities would likely result in the candidates and their supporters indulging in criticism of their opponents. Though The Theosophist held to this principle, other journals had differing policies. C. Jinarajadasa created a major controversy when he had two letters written by Besant in 1926 published in the Indian Theosophist. The private letters expressed Besant’s belief that the Masters wanted Arundale to be her successor to the presidency. Protest appeared in many sectional journals. The January 1934 issue of the American Theosophist published Ernest Wood’s manifesto, then devoted the March issue almost entirely to Arundale and why he should be elected. Further controversy ensued over Arundale’s position as a Liberal Catholic Bishop and its potential to conflict with his duties as International President, were he to be elected. In response to the concerns, Arundale agreed not to wear clerical robes as President, and that he would be addressed as Mr. or Dr. The election was held in June. The July The Theosophist reported 15,604 for Arundale and 4,825 for Wood, with seventy-two percent of the membership voting.

During his presidency, Arundale launched several campaigns aimed to promulgate Theosophy to the public and to increase membership: “Straight Theosophy, 1935-36;” “There is a Plan, 1936;” “Campaign for Understanding, 1937-38;” “Theosophy is the Next Step, 1939-40.” In late 1934, Arundale sent a letter to the General Secretaries requesting cooperation in a “Straight Theosophy” campaign for 1935 and 1936. Each Section was asked to change the old modes of presentation by “. . . a garbing of the eternal Theosophy in some mode of presentation refreshingly different and, it may be, striking.” The “There is a Plan” campaign called for semi-weekly Lodge meetings all over the world beginning October 1st to March 24, 1937. The “Campaign for Understanding” was launched in the October 1936 issue of The Theosophical World in order to counteract the misunderstandings which break out in ill will and war. In the March 1937 issue of The Theosophical World, Arundale explained that the campaign above all “involves an understanding of the Great Plan of the Inner Government of the world, and of a realization that everyone is moving on his appointed way under the direct guidance of the Inner Government, which is the active apotheosis of his Higher Self.” At the end of 1937, Arundale introduced a new campaign in the October 1937 issue of The Theosophical World, called “Theosophy is the Next Step.” His objective was “to make the whole world acquainted with the outstanding value of Theosophy in helping to solve its problems, by showing how Theosophy indicates what is the next step forwards, onwards.” But because of the ongoing interest in the Campaign for Understanding, the new campaign was delayed for a year.

In January 1936, Arundale began publishing The Theosophical World as an enlargement of The Adyar News for the “busy Theosophist” while The Theosophist was to be “dedicated to the needs and interests of the general public.” With the April 1939 issue, the name of the journal was changed to The Theosophical Worker. Also in January 1936, he published Gods in the Becoming, which one reviewer described as a book that “traces the way of release and self-realization through right education.” Arundale was also instrumental in establishing the Blavatsky Foundation fund in 1937. The anonymous foundation was established to publish “cheap editions” of classic literature. In 1938 they began the publication of the six volume “Adyar edition” of The Secret Doctrine. Also in 1937, Arundale inaugurated a campaign for the beautification of Adyar and encouraged the members to visit the headquarters.

As early as 1933, strains from the growing crises in Europe began to have an increasing sway over the actions of the Theosophical Society. Divided political opinion over the dictatorships forming in Italy and Germany caused continued protests from the members whenever the theosophical journals voiced any opinions concerning them. Such a controversy began again when Arundale published an editorial in the August 1937 Theosophist calling for a confederation of free states of Europe. Tullio Castellani, General Secretary of the Italian Section published a rejoinder in the December 1937 issue of the Theosophistpointing out the inherent conflict of Arundale as President of the Theosophical Society also speaking his personal opinions in the official organ of that Society. In order to solve the inherent conflict between the official political neutrality of the Theosophical Society in the desire of the members and leaders to discuss politics, Arundale began early in 1939, a biweekly magazine called Conscience. The new publication contained anonymous articles commenting upon the state of world affairs without reference to Theosophy or the Theosophical Society.

In 1939, Arundale finally enacted his “Theosophy is the Next Step” campaign, changing the name to “World Campaign 1939-40.” because some members protested that the former name was “too dogmatic.” The plan was to distribute booklets on various subjects addressing immediate problems of living, such as art, business and politics. By mid-1939, there were twenty-two titles. In mid-1940, Arundale began a Peace Committee and contacted Mohandas K. GANDHI and the Moslem leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah to unite with Britain to help in the war. In November 1940, Arundale sent a letter to the General Secretaries inaugurating a Peace Department, and filed a world charter for peace.

In late 1944, Arundale launched a “Greatness Campaign” and declared its three objects:

1. To form a common meeting-ground for the discovery and active reverence of Universal Greatness as the heart of the Universal Brotherhood of all Life. 2. To encourage the study and understanding of Greatness as manifest in every kingdom of nature.

3. To investigate the Science of Greatness in its deeper and less recognized expressions.

In the March 1945 issue of the Theosophical Worker, Arundale called for a dissociation of Theosophy from its subsidiary organizations (e.g., Liberal Catholic Church, Co-Masonry) when Theosophy is introduced to prospective members. After an illness that had lingered for about six months, Arundale passed away at the Adyar headquarters on August 12, 1945, at about 12:45 a.m., universal time.

Major works:

The Growth of National Consciousness in the Light of Theosophy (1911)

Thoughts on At the Feet of the Master (1919)

The Bedrock of Education (1924)

Thoughts of the Great (1924)

Nirvāṇa (1926)

Mount Everest (1933)

You (1935)

Freedom and Friendship (1935)

Gods in the Becoming (1936) 

Understanding is Happiness (1937)

Kuṇḍalini: An Occult Experience (1937)

Understanding Godlike (1937 poem)

From Man to Superman: A Practice in Symbolic Yoga (1938)

The Lotus Fire (1939)

The Night Bell (1941)

Adventures in Theosophy (1941)

Further Reading:

Personal Memories of G. S. Arundale (1967)




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