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Sri Ram, Nilakanta

(1889-1973). Fifth president of the Theosophical Society (TS), born on December 15, 1889, to A. Nilakanta Sastry and his wife Seshammal — both of them theosophists.

He graduated from Presidency College, Madras, with a B.A. in mathematics. From his youth he was deeply interested above all in theosophy and he did not pursue his university studies further. He began working as a teacher in the theosophical “National Schools” founded by Annie BESANT to re-awaken Indian youth to their own culture and philosophical tradition. He later worked on the editorial staff of the well-known newspaper The Leader in Allahabad, until he was invited to join Besant’s influential daily newspaper New India, of which he became Assistant Editor — as also of her weekly Commonwealth. As a journalist he was meticulous even in details and balanced when expressing disapproval. He was at the same time closely involved in Besant’s political activities, participating in the work of the Home Rule League, as well as in the labor union movement. He helped to draft the Commonwealth of India Bill, presented in the British Parliament in the twenties. He was Besant’s Private Secretary from 1929 to 1933. She always had a high regard for him and he was the only one she trusted to write her editorials for her, since they thought so completely alike.

He served for various terms as Treasurer, Recording Secretary and Vice-President of the Theosophical Society. Both George Arundale, and Curuppumullage Jinarājadāsa, when they held the office of President, often relied on and greatly valued his advice and assistance. From 1953 until his death in 1973, Sri Ram was himself President of the Society.

He brought to the office of President much experience and qualities of character. He combined in a balanced nature serene gentleness, simplicity and modesty — a complete absence of self-conceit — with great inner strength and tenacity of purpose when occasion demanded. He had a most apt sense of humor. He was constantly ready to help others but did so “behind the scenes.” He evinced deep spiritual insight and, at the same time, a constant awareness of world affairs and problems and a shrewd appraisal of them, as evidenced by his “Watch-Tower Notes,” as editor of The Theosophist, dealing with such subjects as economics, art, ethics, etc. as well as the latest findings of modern science. But he viewed everything from the standpoint of deep spiritual Wisdom — the “Wisdom of the Seers of the Essence of things.”

In his twenty years as President, he guided the Society almost imperceptibly into a new era, adapting it to a changing world and at the same time upholding changeless values. He altered the entire emphasis of theosophical perspectives, stressing selflessness and freedom of inquiry as against blind belief in doctrines and personal leadership in the spiritual life. At the same time, drawing attention to the problems affecting the whole of humanity, he emphasized the need to live Theosophy rather than merely study it intellectually. Thus he abolished the dichotomy between the spiritual and the worldly life. He demonstrated that there can be no real contradiction between the teachings of Krishnamurti, for whom he had the highest regard, and those of Theosophy.

When asked to give the keynote of his teachings, his reply, after reflection, was: “When you are one with every heart that beats, you are nothing in yourself.” He died on April 8, 1973, at Adyar, Madras.

His Books include:

Thoughts for Aspirants (First and Second Series)

The Human Interest

A Theosophist Looks at the World

An Approach to Reality

Man, His Origins and Evolution

Life’s Deeper Aspects

On the Watch-Tower (A compilation of his Watch-Tower Notes)

Seeking Wisdom

The Nature of our Seeking

The Way of Wisdom (A compilation of records of his talks on three theosophical classics: At the Feet of the Master, Light on the Path and The Voice of the Silence)

He also wrote a number of booklets, for example:

Theosophy, the Divine Wisdom

The Real Work of the TheosophicalSociety

The Ancient Wisdom from the Modern Standpoint

Theosophical Education

Buddhism, Northern and Southern

Death and Its Meaning

Human Regeneration

Consciousness, its Nature and Action

Modifications of the Mind

The Significance of Each Present Moment

Evolution and Life

Undiscovered Powers in Man and Nature


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