It was thought by some at one time in the history of the Theosophical Society that a society fund was an indispensable prerequisite to the growth of the movement. This was a natural idea to a Western man because most of the achievements of the West are the result of the use of money, but if one has a good knowledge of human nature and remembers what has happened in other organizations it must be evident that, while money is necessary in order to get bread to eat, it is not entirely necessary for the work of the Theosophical Society. The Roman Catholic Church is probably the most powerful religious body, controlling vast sums of money and owning the best property everywhere, but its great achievements have been in the line of fostering dogmatism and chaining the minds of men; its latest one a few months ago consisting in compelling St. George Mivart, who is a Roman Catholic, to recant what he said in a prominent review tending to show that eternal damnation is impossible. The Methodist and other Churches of the dissenting side of Christianity sustain large missionary enterprises for which they get millions of dollars from their adherents, and the result is that they pay the salaries of many missionaries, enabling their secretaries at home to accumulate money, produce but few converts abroad, and keep up the breach in brotherhood between the East and West by fostering the idea that the heathen are unregenerate and damned. If the Theosophical Society as an organization had always possessed a fund and property, there would always be those who, moved by selfish motives, would struggle to gain possession of the money and the use of the property for their own benefit. But without a fund belonging to the treasury, the Society has steadily grown in influence and numbers. This is because instead of money to fight for we have had an inspiring ideal, and instead of corporate funds to work with we have had devotion which causes the members to use in the work of the organization their own private means untrammelled by the treasury rules. Thus the Society is poor, and it is sincerely to be hoped that it will always remain without a fund as a temptation to the cupidity of man.
The Headquarters in America, situated in New York City, is a piece of property the title of which is vested in the local Branch, which is a corporation formed for the purpose of holding the property. It does not belong to the Theosophical Society, but it is devoted, under the same spirit of devotion as has moved all true Theosophical workers, to the uses and the benefit of the T.S. The Headquarters in London belongs also to a body of persons, not to the Theosophical Society. Exceptionally, the Headquarters in Adyar belongs as a center to the Theosophical organization as a whole. It has been said by some that all donations, all legacies, all bequests of property, all general acquisitions of all property for the T.S. work should be to and for the Theosophical Society as legal beneficiary, but with this view I for one cannot agree. The funds that are used in the work, outside of the necessary funds belonging to the various Sections and spent during the year, should remain the property of private persons who devote them to the uses of the Society freely and in whatever direction their conscience permits. If we accumulate a large corporate fund we will also accumulate around it those human beings who unconsciously as well as deliberately conceal their motives, who ask to be allowed to work so that they may be paid, and who as members of the whole body owning the fund have a right to demand its division. May Heaven defend us from such a state of things! If persons have money which they desire to devote in large sums to the Society's work, they should either use it themselves in the line of that activity or deliver it over to such devoted workers as have shown that their guide in life is self-sacrifice for the whole.
Take a few concrete examples. In the American Section, for instance, salaries are not paid, unless you call board and lodging a salary to certain persons who are without means. There are workers in the official departments of that Section who spend their entire time from early morning till night, and all the money they can spare over their actual necessities, in toiling for the Theosophical Society without a salary and at the same time giving out of their means to the needs of the work. In England it is the same. There Mrs. Besant and others work unceasingly for the Society, she supporting herself and contributing all that remains of her earnings to the needs of the Society. H. P. Blavatsky did the same. Col. Olcott did also and is still doing it. Thus in every direction the real lasting and beneficial activities of the Society are carried on by those who, willing to work for it, do not ask a salary; and those of them who possess means do not wish to be trammelled by rules and regulations relating to a general fund which will always be source of annoyance and a temptation to the wicked. In our history of many years we have had this proved in the case of a treasurer in India who, having the small general funds under his control, stole all that he could lay his hands upon. He was but a mortal thrown into the midst of temptation. If the money were his own and he were working in the Society with it, he would not steal it for he could not.
We ought not to encourage large donations to the treasury, but should spread abroad the principle that private means should be liberally given to the tried ones for use in their discretion when the giver does not know how or has not the opportunity to use it himself. Let them do as has been done; just as one man gave H. P. Blavatsky $5000 for the Girls' Club at Bow, London, for which it was judiciously used by Mrs. Besant as agent; or as another gave a large sum to help start a headquarters; or like another in giving the money to print quantities of tracts and pamphlets; or as another who paid over from time to time to an official enough to sustain a well-tried, devoted, but penniless worker in further hard travelling and speaking for the Cause. In this way devotion becomes more valuable than millions of money; those who are capable of speaking and writing but have no means will be enabled to go on by others who, favored by material fate, have a surplus. But make a large treasury fund, and then no barnacle or drone could be shaken off once it had fastened on the old ship, because he would have a voice in the management of means. Again, those captious, suspicious persons who always know the date of a penny or the number of a bill would harass those who had the spending.
Again, our poverty and lack of earthly applause and reward have saved us from cranks and sectarians who subliminally attracted by wealth, would prate of doctrine and duty while they stood guard over the cash-box. In the strength of our ideal and devotion is our power, and that work which is done without reward or the hope of it and without the blighting influence of a debit and credit account goes further and lasts longer than any which is given as return for a money consideration.
From The Path, February, 1894, pp. 354-57.