Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. - President, Theosophical Society in the Philippines
A Vision to Go Mainstream
Dear fellow Theosophists, the time has come when we must set a very bold vision for the future of Theosophy in the Philippines, namely to make Theosophy part of the mainstream of our national life.
“Mainstream” refers to “a prevailing current or direction of activity or influence.” Something that is in the mainstream is something widely known, even if the practitioners are few. For example, the word “Zen” is part of mainstream thought, even if only a very, very small number of people are practicing it. A mainstream thought or practice is something that people keep in mind in their thinking, planning, and behavior. It has a direct or indirect influence because it has become a benchmark in human values and practice. Three things are needed to achieve such mainstreaming in a wholesome way.
1. Associated Key Ideas. We must make a strategic decision on how Theosophy will be known in the public mind. The word “Theosophy” must be associated with several ideas (or words) that will immediately come to mind when anyone refers to Theosophy. When we mention the word “Zen,” meditation is an immediate association. When we say “Yoga,” it conjures up physical postures and meditation practice. What do we wish the word “Theosophy” to be associated with? Universal brotherhood? Religious unity? Esotericism? Education? Spirituality?
Many of us have difficulty processing complicated and multilayered ideas. We tend to have a simple impression about things like social work, peace advocacy, conversion, ecology, spirituality, or fundamentalism, namely whether they are good or bad, honest or dishonest, genuine or fake, helpful or unhelpful. Notice our reaction when we encounter words such as Jesuits, Taliban, Carmelites, Iglesia ni Kristo, Dalai Lama, Cory, Marcos, Communists. Our reaction tends to be based on a general impression and not a set of complicated ideas. Whether we show interest or not, whether we interact with them or not, depends greatly on our initial impression.
2. Institutionalization. We need to institutionalize the work and mission of the Theosophical Society. The world consists of people, institutions, social systems, bodies of knowledge, structures, etc. They are, for want of a better word, the “institutionalized” reality that arises out of past knowledge, beliefs, culture, and levels of maturity, as well as the continued influence of previous experiences. These institutions, once congealed, become powerful and almost omnipotent determinants of social realities. They condition education, public opinion, political institutions, customs, beliefs, morals, etc. The Theosophical Society must take part in such an institutionalization process.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an institution as “a significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture <the institution of marriage>” and to institutionalize is “to incorporate into a structured and often highly formalized system <institutionalized values>.” In other words, institutionalizing is translating ideas into standard practices among large masses of people.
The Theosophical Society must actively help in making the principles of the ageless wisdom become a living part of current institutions, practices, and customs. This cannot be done simply by lectures or articles. Words easily go with the wind. We must translate the wisdom into institutionalized practices. I am aware that organized or codified knowledge and practice are no longer true wisdom, but the problems of the world inevitably arise out of organized knowledge and practice, which at present are unfortunately rooted in unwholesome soil. Since conditioned knowledge and practice are unavoidable, let them at least be rooted in right knowledge and principles.
Helping to form institutions that mold the thought, practice, and customs of society has a variety of possibilities: public magazines, communication media (radio, TV, newspapers, and the Internet), schools that train the minds and behavior of young people who will become leaders of the future, youth programs that shape the lifestyles of the young, new educational initiatives, work for social amelioration to change the values and outlook of society, movements to foster compassion (vegetarianism, animal welfare, harmony among religions), and so on.
We must learn from history how religious movements have been able to redirect the flow of civilizations and mold their cultures, institutions, and social life. Such redirection is not done simply through canons and doctrines, but through active involvement in the institutionalization process of doctrines. Church services and schools have been two powerful instruments for such institutionalization.
We must go mainstream rather than just watch and comment from the sides. We may make mistakes, but we have centuries ahead of us to learn from our experiences as well as those of others. If we wish to effect changes, we must immerse ourselves in applied Theosophy.
3. Core Body of Theosophists. But there is an absolute prerequisite in pursuing this vision – so absolute that it is better not to pursue the vision if this prerequisite is not met. That prerequisite is having enough Theosophists who know and live Theosophy. They should be people who not only can expound the ageless wisdom, but who are models of the Theosophical life.
Preparing ourselves to become worthy representatives of Theosophy does not mean that we have to live perfectly way. That is nigh impossible. What is required is a genuine earnestness of effort to address the major contradictions and incongruities in our lives. The work of the lofty spiritual teachers needs such human representatives in society. If there are too few, then the message of the ageless wisdom cannot be conveyed to the world at large. The wisdom can only be embodied through human lives, not through the pages between the covers of books.
In specific terms, this call entails the following:
• Do we have an integrated and profound understanding of the ageless wisdom we call Theosophy or the perennial philosophy?
• As individuals, do others (including our family members) see in us the example of a more mature, more effective, and wiser life as a result of our living the Theosophical life?
• Have we somewhat freed ourselves from the clutches of imprisoning emotions, such as anger, resentment, depression, and fear? Is there equanimity in our lives?
• Is there a noticeable spontaneous emergence of understanding and compassion in us when we are dealing with people and the world in general? Are we service-oriented?
• In our areas of work—whether as educators, professionals, business people, house persons, workers, or volunteers—do others see us as sources of harmony, counseling, wise solutions, goodness, and constructiveness?
To help prepare ourselves to become such representatives of the wisdom amidst society, the Philippine National Board has arrived at the consensus that we must have a long-term educational program on Theosophy and the Theosophical life among our members. This shall be done in two modes: through distance courses in the internet or mail, and through regular gatherings, such as retreats and trainings. We have a course on Theosophy through the Internet (http://theosophy.ph/corrcourse.html). By next year, more advanced courses in Theosophy will be available, covering a wide area of study and practice. This program is a long-term one, because such self-preparation entails years and decades.
If many of us respond to this call to prepare ourselves to become worthy representatives of Theosophy, Theosophy will become part of the mainstream in our society. This vision may take ten, twenty, or fifty years to realize, but when pursued properly and persistently, it will be achieved.