December 2016 Newsletter
The following articles are reproduced from the December 2016 Newsletter to members. Non-members may or may not be able to relate to the contents.
Experiencing Brotherhood at the 13th Triennial Conference of the Indo-Pacific Federation
By Wu Xueying
The Auckland Rose Garden Hotel conference room is a big, cozy, carpeted space with cushion chairs and it provided us with much needed warmth throughout the conference. The conference opened Theosophy-style, with representatives of the delegates from the various TS Lodges of our Indo-Pacific region each reciting the prayer of one of the religions of the world. Annie Besant’s Universal Prayer came at the end and everyone in the conference room rose from their seat to chant in unison. After we all sat down again, John Vorstermans, the National President of the Theosophical Society in New Zealand and President of the Indo-Pacific Federation, welcomed us with a speech and one by one, representatives from international and local groups greeted everyone and introduced themselves. Our International President Tim Boyd also greeted us and memorably said that let us not question for the sake of getting answers, but for new questions to arise. There were people from New Zealand, Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil and France, and it felt pretty magical to be surrounded by fellow Theosophists from other parts of the world.
The theme of the conference was “The Why of the Theosophical Society” and we had several talks lined up for us for four days. The very first talk was The Why of the Theosophical Society by John Vorstermans. Linda Oliveira, National President of the Australian Section, talked to us about The Dharma of the Theosophical Society. Jacques Mahnich, the only representative from France, gave his talk called Theosophy, A Remedy for a Sick World and Michelle de Jong from Indonesia talked to us about Darmakitri: The Adept of Indonesian Archipelago. Our international president Tim Boyd gave two talks, namely, The Critical Change, and The Importance of the Centre. Pedro Oliveira, the Education Coordinator of the TS in Australia, gave us a talk titled Theosophical Society: Body, Soul and Spirit. The inspirational Vic Hao Chin from the Philippines gave his talk entitled Applied Theosophy – The Pivotal Factor for the 21st Century. Ng Ay Na, President of the Selangor Lodge from Malaysia shared her personal experiences in her talk, The Values of the Theosophical Teachings and Philosophy, and Murray Stentiford from the Auckland Theosophical Centre gave the second short talk, The TS and the Rise of Global Consciousness. Our very own President, Brother Chong Sanne, gave us a talk that we at the Singapore Lodge are very familiar with: An Overview of the Mahatma Letters. Before he started, he came to me and Jasmine and asked if we had heard him give that talk at our lodge and that he had made it a little different for this conference. We said that of course we had heard it and loved it! Sure enough, many people, including Tim Boyd, went up to Brother Sanne telling him how great his talk was. Dorothy Bell from the Australian Section gave a talk Getting to the Heart of the Matter. The last talk was given by Mahendra P. Singhal, former International Vice-President of the TS Headquarters in Adyar, entitled Theosophical Society: Purpose, Role and Relevance.
Each gave us different ways of thinking about the purpose of the Theosophical Society. A few of the highlights for me were John saying that “truth will remain theories unless you explore them and take them deeper on your own (and to add to them if need be)”; Tim’s idea that we are only able to make a genuine choice with greater spiritual development and unfoldment, which would enable genuine change to take place in the world; Pedro’s ending words: “compassion was the voice at the beginning of the TS, can you hear it”; Dorothy’s reminder to us with Madame Helena Blavatsky’s words that “the very root idea of the Society is free and fearless investigation”; Vic’s presentation of the practical aspect of the TS, urging that we set up more Theosophical Schools, and Brother Sanne’s wondrously detailed presentation of the fruits of his study of the Mahatma Letters that blew me away a second time with its reverence towards the true founders of our Society.
We had two workshops. The first was the Purpose of the Theosophical Society – Workshop where we sat together in our local groups and discussed answers to several questions given to us. The questions were about the purpose of the TS and we went round in a circle each giving our own answers while Jasmine and I wrote them down on a flip chart. After one hour was up, each group sent one representative to the front to present their group’s answers. Sanne picked Jasmine to go up! She endeared herself to everyone with her genuinity and youthful energy, even though she was nervous and inexperienced at public speaking. After her turn, she was asked by Pedro to help hold up his flipchart as he presented. She hid herself completely behind the chart and everyone laughed at how small she was! The second workshop was on The Work of the Indo-Pacific Federation. We mainly discussed what we could do to raise a public awareness of Theosophy and how we were going to reach out to the youth. Some of the suggestions were making a film about Theosophy, leaving Theosophical flyers or books at public places for people to pick up, creating mobile games based on Theosophy, and working with youth in crisis. Jasmine and I both gave our suggestions too. The session ended with group photos by the outdoor pool. Vic took a few pictures with the DSLR before setting it on timer and joined us. The weather was warming up so we didn’t freeze to death as we stayed in the same pose for about four to five shots, smiling as wide as we could without having to shout “New Zealand!” We started talking to a fellow youth member Sandi Wilson and found that we had very similar ideas about Theosophy and couldn’t contain our fascination and gratitude for it.
We also had a panel discussion session where Tim Boyd, Linda Oliveira, Vic Hao Chin, Dorothy Bell and John Vorstermans formed the panel and they gave their thoughts on some of the questions some of us dropped into the Q&A box. They gave us some insightful views on such topics as Truth and the inclusiveness of the TS.
The buffet meals the hotel provided were fully vegetarian except for the occasional bacon appearing at breakfast. For breakfast we got cooked food like grilled mushrooms, tomato pasta, scrambled eggs and roasted tomatoes, cereal varieties with soy or cow’s milk to go with them, cubes of mixed fruit, customizable salad, and jam and toast! At lunchtime we had the same amount of food with different cooked food such as rice, baked baby potatoes glazed in creamy sauce, either broccoli or bok choy, and my favourite, fried vermicelli! The food at dinner consisted of more pasta, the same baked potatoes and hot soup that was different every day.
In the evening of the second day we were taken on a sightseeing coach tour around our part of Auckland. The coach driver was our tour guide as he explained the significance behind each building, street and monument. We got down the coach to take in amazing views at the harbour and atop a hill. The coach finally dropped us off at the Auckland Theosophical Centre where we listened to Dorothy’s talk. The people at the Centre prepared two tables of supper – one vegetarian and one vegan! Our favourite were the super yummy handmade mini cupcakes and handmade veggie rolls. Everyone mingled with one another and the eating area was congested!
We had plenty of free time throughout the conference. Jasmine and I had enough time to explore our suburb Parnell and beyond and tried some amazing Mediterranean pasta (pasta-pro Jasmine was very particular about how al dente she likes her spaghetti). Sushma Webber from the Wellington branch, Jasmine, Sandi, Satchin (another youth we pulled into our group) and I had an informal and impromptu youth group session out in the Rose Garden. We exchanged views about Theosophy and how we can raise greater awareness of it, about our materialistic world and fellow youths these days who believe that that’s all there is, and also found out that we are all cat lovers. We met Brother Raghava and his wife Sister Malathi as we were walking out of the garden and decided to walk down the street together and have some drinks (non-alcoholic of course) at a nearby café. We basically chatted about what Theosophy meant to us and shared stories and ideas, took selfies, and I remember laughing a lot.
The conference was coming to an end and as the new president of the Indo-Pacific Federation, Gerard Brennan, gave his closing speech, I couldn’t help but already feel nostalgic for our memories. Soon we were having a sing-along session with the same band as the night before, playing us oldies like John Lennon’s Imagine, Eagle’s Hotel California and Abba’s Chiquita. Jasmine and I got emotional during Imagine and teared up at the meaning of the words and the love we feel for the people around us. Simon Webber from the Wellington branch (Sushma’s husband) and Michelle de Jong led the singing and sang their hearts out. The intense way that Simon sang Hotel California really cracked us up and me and Sandi laughed till our faces were all red. Then there were a few small but bad typo errors in some of the lyrics on the screen (like “bruh” mispelt as “bra”) that made us lose it. Jasmine was still teary though, still overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The Bangalore Cousins performed singing a folk song in their native language. Pedro and Sushma decided to form a conga line which got longer as more people joined in. They danced to the rhythm of the song as they travelled up and down and around the room. Sister Lily, especially, was having a blast in the conga line, laughing and dancing!
Some final thoughts on the conference? I don’t think words can describe how humbled and honored I am to simply have been in the presence of so many great Theosophists, let alone have had conversations and shared warm hugs with them. The brotherhood and unity I have experienced is truly one of a kind and definitely something I will carry with me forever. The talks crystallized in me the idea that independent thinking is crucial and vital in our study of the Ancient Wisdom.