February 2011 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the February 2011 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
The Singapore Delegation
at the 135th International Convention
By Jillien Foo
It was 10.45 pm Indian Standard Time when Tiger Airways flight TR2638 landed at Chennai International Airport with 31 out of the 36 members from the Singapore Lodge who were attending The 135th International Convention of The Theosophical Society at Adyar, Chennai.
The night was mildly chilly and it was drizzling but, after the turbulent three and a half hour flight braving the fury of the north-east monsoon, we were glad to have our feet firmly planted on Indian soil! We were met by familiar faces at the airport... Brother Raghava and Sister Malathi who had very kindly made arrangements for much of our stay in India.
After a quick check that all the “sheep” were in the flock, we were whisked away to a waiting coach for a two and a half hour ride to Pondicherry, some 160 km south, for two days of pre-convention sighteseeing. A French colony for 300 years, our “home” here was Hotel Pondicherry Ashok Beach Resort at Kalapet Beach.
Over the next two days, we visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a centre for learning and cultivation of spirituality without renunciation of the world, and its offshoot, Auroville - an experimental township in realization of human unity endorsed by both the Government of India and UNESCO.
It was certainly our good fortune to have Bro. Raghava and Sis. Malathi organise our itinerary. Our group of predominantly non-Indians witnessed the performance of sacred temple rites right in the inner sanctum of the Chidambaram Temple, a architecturally splendid temple with a history of more than 1,600 years.
This was followed by a ceremony when we were shrouded in shawls, garlanded with flowers and blessed by a temple priest from the endogamous community which had guardianship of the temple. I truly believe that, for many of us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is not likely to be repeated!
This segment of the trip would not be complete without mention of the pleasure of immersing ourselves in the culinary delights of Indian cuisine!
At meals catered by the hotel especially, a whole array of Indian dishes were prepared for us to partake. The selection at breakfast was particularly amazing and most of us rather ate more than we should when we dug into servings of prata, idly, dosai, poori, vadai, and naan served with a delicious assortment of curries and sauces. With choices like these, the non-vegetarians amongst us didn't miss their regular fare one bit!
Soon it was time to leave Pondicherry and head for the International Convention at Adyar. Still we found time to stop at Vadalur to visit the Sathaya Gnana Sabai temple, established by the famous saint Ramalinga Swamigal popularly called ‘Vallalar’ who was said to have prophesied the coming of H. P. Blavatsky and H. S. Olcott and who left his earthly existence by “disappearing into light”. Certainly an interesting piece of information for us theosophists to mull over!
Early afternoon on Christmas Day, we arrived at the Green Gate of the Adyar grounds and first-time visitors within the group set eyes on its lush, verdant grounds for the first time!
At Adyar, nature has free expression and trees are pruned only minimally. We left bustling Chennai with its sounds of traffic and incessant horns, and entered a sanctuary for birds, wildlife and, quite possibly, human sanity for those of us unused to high levels of noise pollution! We lost no time exploring the Adyar grounds with the limited time we had and checked out the banyan tree, reputed to be the second largest in India.
The convention, attended by more than 1400 delegates from 28 countries, was officially inaugurated the next day with the Prayers of the Religions.
The International President, Mrs Radha Burnier, in her presidential address spoke on the need to develop spiritual intelligence and reject all attempts to bound the mind in order to attain understanding based on the absolute unity of existence. This was followed by a report on the work of the society around the world.
The Singapore delegation, with a contingent of 36 members, was a splash of bright yellow in the auditorium that day as we had saved our sunny societal T-shirts for the occasion.
Over the next five days, speakers from India and around the world spoke on the theme of “Theosophical Teachings On The Path”. Our president, Bro. Chong Sanne, speaking on the sub-theme “Qualifications For The Path” touched on teachings in the Buddhist tripitaka, as well as all major religions and exoteric traditions, exhorting aspirants to live a life of virtue and purity in harmony with nature.
Various other speakers spoke on self-transformation and the need for one to discover one’s nobler qualities before one could walk the path. On the sub-theme “Nature and Us”, delegates were also reminded that modern findings in the areas of quantum mechanics, chaos theory and ecological research confirm spiritual teachings that we are One Humanity and One Life - emphasizing the need for each and every one of us to evaluate our behaviour and modify our actions not simply for the least negative effect, but to achieve the greatest positive effect.
We were struck particularly by the beauty of the metaphors used such as: a young phoenix rising from the ashes of a dying phoenix being likened to the personal journey in human evolution when our higher self awakens to progressively higher spheres of consciousness; a small earthen lamp which burns its oil and wick while providing light to its surroundings as a reference to an unselfish motive which exhausts he or she who seeks to minimise pain, sorrow and suffering in others; a dewdrop reflecting its surroundings, other dewdrops as well as itself (through other dewdrops!) in a kaleidoscope of interconnectedness to emphasize Man's unity with everything in his environment.
In between seminar programmes, we found time to visit the Adyar Archives and Museum where we viewed portraits, artefacts, statues, sculptures, busts, plaques, medallions, as well as household items, knick-knacks, and memorabilia of our early founders.
It was a poignant moment when we set eyes on the famous teacup and saucer, a surprisingly large cup still brilliantly-coloured despite the passage of time. It was also with a feeling of awe that we looked at Master Morya's turban left for Colonel Olcott.
We are indebted to Bro. Raghava who made our tour of Adyar buildings and grounds especially meaningful. Having spent ten or so years of his life on Adyar grounds with his family, Bro. Raghava pointed out the places of significance, including the building where HPB had her quarters, the room where Annie Besant lived, the Octagon where C. W. Leadbeater lived and trained to be clairvoyant, the apartment where Krishnamurti dwelled when he was with the TS, and the house where Geoffrey Hodson put up at when he was at Adyar.
Bro. Raghava also shared stories of his childhood exploits outwitting the Adyar watchmen when the fruit trees were in season. We surmised that Bro. Raghava honed his skills in planning and strategic thinking from a very young age!
The convention was officially closed on 31 December, and the Singapore group celebrated the coming of the new year with a special dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Many of us also joined in the activities and singing at the campfire organised to usher in the new year.
Those of us flying back to Singapore on New Year's Day had a last chance to catch places of interest in Chennai in the early part of the day in a city tour with our Indonesian friends. It was particularly awesome that we visited the National Shrine of St. Thomas Basilica – one of only three churches in the world built over the tomb of an apostle of Jesus!
All too soon, it was the end of the trip for 17 members of the delegation who departed Chennai for Singapore on the night of New Year's Day. Except for Bro. Ong Chin Guan and Sis. Padmini who were attending a course at the School of Wisdom, the rest of the members boarded the flight for home the following night.
I believe each of us took something back with us from the trip - whether it's the memory of being in that very special place where our Masters made several appearances, or the thrill of walking the same grounds as our early leaders and breathing the same air ....
But, there's more... the hours spent exploring barefooted, temples and temple grounds damp and strewn with sand, dust and lord knows what... the little forays into Chennai city battling traffic, soot, fumes and chaos in search of shopping, coffee, snacks and late-night supper... and, for some of us, the nights spent at the canteen and the rooftop of Leadbeater Chambers where we had the rare opportunity to fraternize with our brothers and sisters on the trip....
For these reasons (and, there are many more, I'm sure!), the last ten or so days of 2010 will surely have a special place in our hearts!